The Big 12 contest Saturday in Stillwater pitting Oklahoma State against West Virginia will not have much of an impact of the conference race, but for those fans who really relish wide-open, offensive-minded football and lots of scoring, you can't draw up a better pairing than this.
Neither team is mathematically out of the Big 12 title hunt, but with Kansas State, the conference leader, having already defeated both teams, it would take a total collapse by the Wildcats for either Oklahoma State or West Virginia to have any realistic chance of catching Kansas State. Oklahoma, with a 4-1 conference record, is the Wildcats' only real challenger, and the Sooners still have games left with both Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed Oklahoma State as a seven-point favorite in the Cowboys' game this Saturday against West Virginia, which comes into the contest reeling from three consecutive conference losses, the last two of which were at home to Kansas State and last weekend in overtime to TCU. The Cowboys and Mountaineers have a common opponent in Kansas State. Oklahoma State lost by two touchdowns to the Cats last weekend in Manhattan before a primetime TV audience. West Virginia wasn't quite as fortunate in their contest with the league leaders, suffering a crushing 55-14 beatdown in Morgantown.
Both Oklahoma State and West Virginia come into Saturday's game averaging 40 points a game. The problem for West Virginia is that its defense, ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring, gives up almost the same number of points to the Mountaineers' opponents. That presents a huge problem going up against an Oklahoma State offensive attack that is second in the country, averaging 575 yards of total offense through eight games.
Against Baylor, the nation's No. 1-ranked offense, West Virginia gave up 63 points and 700 total yards, almost 600 of it through the air. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, they scored 70 points and ran up over 800 yards of offense that day.
West Virginia may be new to the Big 12, but the Mountaineers have a good familiarity with Oklahoma State, even though the two teams have met only one time since 1929. West Virginia holds a 2-1 edge in the all-time series. Dana Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before leaving to take over as head coach at West Virginia two years ago. Joe DeForest, the West Virginia defensive coordinator, was on the Oklahoma State coaching staff along with Holgorsen.
A pair of freshmen, Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh, have shared the starting quarterback duties at Oklahoma State this season. The Cowboys also got a good performance last weekend from junior quarterback Clint Chelf, filling in for starter Lunt, who was injured in the third quarter against Kansas State with what appeared to be a head injury. There has been no definitive word from coach Mike Gundy on who will start at quarterback this week, but the Cowboys appear to be in good shape with any of their quarterback choices. Both Walsh and Lunt, who have seen action in six of the Cowboys' eight games, rank in the top10 in the conference in passing, pass efficiency and total offense.
Oklahoma State, with the conference's leading rusher in junior Joseph Randle, who is closing in on another 1,000-yard season, runs the ball better than West Virginia, averaging almost 100 more rushing yards a game (220 to 139). But both teams pile up large chunks of real estate throwing the football. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, at one point this season considered the front runner for the Heisman Trophy, has thrown 29 touchdowns this season with only three interceptions, and as targets he has probably the two best pass receivers in the conference in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Between them, Bailey and Austin have 27 touchdown catches.
Prepare yourself for a high-scoring game. Both teams have five wins, so the victor will become bowl eligible. Oklahoma State has the better defense and, combined with playing at home, the Cowboys will have the most points on the scoreboard at day's end. Game prediction: Oklahoma State 48, West Virginia 35
Three keys to the game
- Geno Smith of West Virginia will go to his talented receivers a lot in this game, but if the Mountaineers are not able to run the ball successfully, the West Virginia offense will have trouble sustaining drives and staying on the field. For the Mountaineers to win this game, their defense can't be on the field for substantially more minutes than the WVU offense.
- Oklahoma State's offensive line vs, the defensive line of West Virginia. West Virginia has 14 quarterback sacks on the season, fourth best in the conference. Oklahoma State has given up the fewest sacks in the league (4). Pressure on the OSU quarterback is a key to limiting the Cowboys' passing attack, especially big plays deep.
- For all the problems with the West Virginia defense this season, the Mountaineers have been very good at creating turnovers. They rank just behind Kansas State with a plus-six turnover margin. Oklahoma State is a minus-nine in that category (18 turnovers vs, nine takeaways), worst in the Big 12. In a high-scoring game, turnovers can be a critical factor in deciding the outcome.
Other Big 12 Games This Weekend (Week 11)
(Projected winner in bold face)
Kansas State @ TCU
Kansas @ Texas Tech
Baylor @ Oklahoma
Iowa State @ Texas
Last week: 3-2
For the season: 46-13 (.780)
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