Oklahoma State, Nebraska on cusp of division titles
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
In a season of milestones, the biggest is within reach for Oklahoma State.
The 12th-ranked Cowboys (9-1, 5-1) can clinch their first Big 12 South title Saturday if they win at Kansas (3-7, 1-5) and No. 16 Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) loses at Baylor (7-4, 4-3). Otherwise, they would lock it up with a win at home over the Sooners the following week.
“There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment at the university and in the community that hasn’t been here for a long time,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said Monday in a teleconference with reporters.
No. 9 Nebraska (9-1, 5-1) can clinch its second straight North title with a win this week at No. 18 Texas A&M (7-3, 4-2) or a win over Colorado (4-6, 1-5) on the day after Thanksgiving. A loss by No. 15 Missouri (8-2, 4-2) against either Iowa State or Kansas would give Nebraska the division, regardless of how the Huskers fare.
The Cowboys are bidding to become the first South team since 1998 other than Texas or Oklahoma to play in the Big 12 title game. They’ve swept all four Texas schools for the first time and are going for their first 10-win regular season.
Before this season, the Cowboys hadn’t won on the road against Texas Tech and Texas since 1944. If they beat the Jayhawks, they’ll have their first perfect record in away games since 1945.
“That’s kind of a neat deal for these kids,” Gundy said. “They’ve been able to do a lot of things this year that hasn’t happened around here in a long time. That’s kind of neat that they’ve established themselves and put their name on some things like that.”
Going into the season, Gundy’s main concern was rebuilding the offensive line and replacing a number of three-year starters on defense. When the Cowboys knocked off Texas Tech 34-17 on Oct. 16 in Lubbock, he sensed he might have a special team.
“I thought this group was playing better at this point than I anticipated,” he said. “I felt there were enough skilled guys to give us a chance.”
OSU takes an offense averaging 45 points and a nation-best 548 yards a game into Kansas. Justin Blackmon is the nation’s top receiver, Brandon Weeden is third in total offense and Kendall Hunter fourth in rushing.
The high-flying offense has offset a defense that is giving up more than 400 yards and 27 points a game.
“It’s by far the best Oklahoma State team we’ve played against since we’ve been here,” said 13-year Texas coach Mack Brown, whose team lost 33-16 at home to the Cowboys last week.
Oklahoma, which won three straight South titles before tying for third behind Texas last year, controls its destiny if it can sweep road games at Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Texas A&M also has slim hopes. The Aggies would need to win out and have Oklahoma State lose to Kansas and Oklahoma. If that happened, and A&M and OU each were 6-2 in Big 12 play, the Aggies’ 33-19 win over the Sooners would be the tiebreaker.
Last year, Oklahoma State was South runner-up to a Texas team that went unbeaten until the national championship game. In 2008, the Cowboys were in contention until they lost two of their last three.
“We’ve had a chance late in the season the last couple years to do some things but we didn’t come through,” Gundy said. “This isn’t completely uncharted waters.”
Third-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini appears to have his program on solid footing as it gets ready to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten next season.
The Huskers are positioned to play for their first Big 12 title since 1999 after losing the core of their 2009 defense and having a new starting quarterback in redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez.
Roy Helu Jr. and Martinez are on the verge of giving Nebraska two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time since Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch and Dahrran Diedrick in 2001.
Nebraska has shown versatility after losing Martinez to a right ankle sprain against Missouri on Oct. 30. The Huskers have used Rex Burkhead in the wildcat formation to take pressure off the quarterbacks the last two games.
Martinez, who missed the Nov. 6 overtime win at Iowa State, started against Kansas and ran for 71 yards in a 20-3 win. The defense held the Jayhawks to 87 yards and five first downs.
“I don’t think we’re the finished product by any means,” Pelini said. “We’ve gotten better, our program, and we’re moving in the right direction. I’ll about leave it at that. We really haven’t accomplished anything yet.”