Oklahoma State Deserves More Recognition

Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma State Cowboys are leading the Big 12 conference. Starting the year unranked, the Cowboys have fought their way into the CFP Top 10 after a convincing 49-29 win over TCU. If they didn’t have national attention before, they sure do now.

Like many of the other Big 12 teams, the Cowboys have had the most success on the offensive side of the ball. Oklahoma State is ranked seventh in the country in scoring at 44.6 points per game. But due to other high powered teams in the conference, the Cowboys rank fifth in the category.  

The Cowboys’ offense revolves around a top tier passing game, lead by sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph. After starting only three games his freshman year, Rudolph has started every game this season and currently ranks 12th nationally in passing yards, at 2,834. While not always the most consistent quarterback with a 2.125 touchdown to interception ratio, Rudolph had his best game in the most important one yet. Against TCU, Rudolph threw a career-best five touchdowns and no interceptions. 

It's apparent that defense isn’t a priority for teams in this conference, and that can't be overlooked when evaluating Oklahoma State. The highest ranked defensive team is Oklahoma at 17th nationally. The Cowboys, second in defense in the Big 12, ranks 46th nationally in opponent points per game. This being said, they also have one of the best defensive players in the country in junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Ranked fifth in the country this season with 9.5 sacks, Ogbah is the anchor of the Cowboys’ defense. Like the rest of Oklahoma State’s team, Ogbah isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

So why hasn’t Oklahoma State been talked about before the win against TCU? Their schedule didn’t have pundits believing that they deserved to be in the CFP conversation. Starting the year, they had the 39th hardest schedule, but that was primarily based on the final four weeks where they’re slated to play TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma. After beating TCU, Oklahoma State currently has the 11th hardest schedule.  

The Cowboy’s early season schedule, especially the non-conference schedule, left a lot to be desired. Before jumping into conference play, Oklahoma State played Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, and Texas-San Antonio. The Cowboys outscored those teams 125 to 35, but their opponents currently combine for a 12-15 record in non-power conferences. Oklahoma State has only faced three teams with a current winning record, even in conference play. A weak Big 12 isn’t the Cowboys’ fault, but it hurts them in the eyes of the public, and more importantly, the eyes of the selection committee.  

Beating TCU finally showed the rest of the country what everyone in Stillwater, Oklahoma already knew: the Cowboys are a CFP contender. Not only did they show off their offensive prowess, but they showed what their defense is capable of. They may have given up 663 total yards, but they forced Heisman contending quarterback Trevone Boykin into throwing four interceptions.  

Interestingly, while the yards given up by the Cowboys are a concern to most, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer thinks that the large numbers misrepresent the skill of his defense. In a recent article on NewsOK.com, Kyle Fredrickson talked with Spencer about the stats that matter to him. Spencer pointed out that Oklahoma State only gave up 1.7 points per possession. 

“Some teams will play 55 snaps today…I think we defended 17 possessions, 110 (snaps), so we just played two ball games compared to what some people do. That's why the yardage thing is so irrelevant. People of influence have got to figure this out how to evaluate defense.” 

Oklahoma State ends the season with a gauntlet of tough games. They’ve already played No. 8 TCU, but the real challenge may only just be starting. They can’t stumble now that expectations are high. They’ll visit Iowa State this week before hosting No. 6 Baylor and rival Oklahoma, ranked 12th, to end the year. Either of the final two games against the Bears or Sooners could determine both the fate of the Big 12 and of the CFP. Even if they end the season with only one loss, that might be enough to keep the Cowboys out of the Playoff -- Oklahoma State may need to win out to finally prove that they are worthy.

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