Stillwater, Okla. From a pack of four top 20 teams that were unbeaten a month ago, No. 3 Oklahoma State is left as the Big 12’s best hope at winning a national championship.
The Cowboys are 8-0 for only the fourth time in school history and can reach 9-0 for the second time in the program’s 110-year history with a win tonight against No. 17 Kansas State (7-1, 4-1 Big 12).
Even more important, at third in the BCS standings, Oklahoma State (8-0, 5-0) controls its own path to the national title game, needing four more wins to get there.
“It’s fun to be a part of it,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “I can’t really say that I expected it, but we always hoped in the back of our minds.”
The Cowboys will need to reverse a recent trend to keep going.
Oklahoma was undefeated before losing at home to Texas Tech two weeks ago, then went on the road to beat K-State 58-17 a week ago. Now, the Wildcats are the just-beaten team seeking to knock off a rival that hasn’t lost yet.
“I would say we’re pretty angry that we got beat that bad in our own house. It never sits that well with anybody to get beat that bad in their own house, especially on homecoming,” Wildcats center B.J. Finney said. “So, we’re having to ... start over from scratch and remind ourselves what got us to be 7-1 and return to it.”
Kansas State had the best defense in the conference before Landry Jones set an Oklahoma record with 505 yards passing as the Sooners scored 44 straight points in the victory. Weeden is just as capable, ranking seventh in the nation with 339 yards per game and with his own All-American receiver to throw to.
“You never want to suffer a loss like that, and any time that you do, you always want to bounce back twice as strong from it, so it definitely fuels it,” said K-State cornerback Nigel Malone, who had two interceptions last week to boost his season total to six.
Unbeaten just a week ago, the Wildcats need a win to stay within striking distance of the Big 12 title. Otherwise, they’d be two games back with three to go and the Cowboys would hold the tiebreaker.
“They don’t want to have back-to-back weeks where they feel like they don’t play their best,” Weeden said. “They’re going to be hungry. They’re going to make adjustments.”
The challenge will come in slowing a Wildcats ground game led by quarterback Collin Klein that averages 210 yards per game and helps them control the ball for nearly 341⁄2 minutes per game.
The Cowboys rank 111th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams in yards allowed, but have made up for it by leading the country in every turnover-related category — turnover margin, total takeaways, interceptions and fumbles forced. So far, Kansas State has been nearly as good at protecting the ball — committing only eight turnovers through eight games.
“They’re not as bad a defense as some people might want to make out. ... They’re far better than the numbers indicate,” Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said.