NCF Nation: Mike Gundy

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Few programs in college football are equipped to overcome losing three of their four most productive receivers from the previous season.

At least without missing a major beat.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Ateman
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtAs a freshman in 2013, Marcell Ateman caught 22 passes for 276 yards for the Cowboys.
But Oklahoma State could be one of those few programs, armed with several young wideouts on the cusp of breaking out in 2014.

Starters Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, who combined for 146 catches and almost 2,000 receiving yards, are gone, leaving rising sophomore Jhajuan Seales as the only returning starter.

But the Cowboys also welcome back a host of budding young receivers, who seem poised to keep the Oklahoma State passing attack humming.

“I think the receiving corps is going to be good,” Seales said. “I think our offense will be the same. People have to step up and fill in for Tracy and Charlie and those guys. But I think we have the guys who can do that.”

The Cowboys have Seales, which is a nice start.

As a redshirt freshman last season playing alongside Stewart and the Moores, Seales hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards. Two of Seales’ three touchdowns came in two of Oklahoma State’s final three games. Though he still has much to prove, Seales has the same combination of physicality and speed reminiscent of another Cowboy receiver who donned the jersey No. 81 -- Justin Blackmon.

“I feel I can be a go-to guy,” Seales said. “But there are other guys out there who can be that go-to guy, as well.”

Such as Marcell Ateman, who like Seales, carved out a role at outside receiver as a freshman, and caught 22 passes.

“Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he’s a big, physical body,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Sophomores Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) received plenty of time in the rotation last season.

The Cowboys also bring back Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both started in 2012 as freshmen before injuries sidelined them for virtually the entire 2013 season.

Hays, who played with Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in high school in San Antonio, started nine games two seasons ago and finished with 394 receiving yards. But he was unable to play most of last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.

“It was so frustrating,” he said. “I kept thinking I was going to come back and never did. Not getting to get on the plane with the team, that very frustrating.”

Hays is close to 100 percent again this spring, and he has shown the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. But he might have more competition for playing time now than he did two years ago.

The Cowboys signed junior-college speed demon Tyreek Hill, who has already broken numerous sprint records on the track team. Ra'Shaad Samples, who redshirted as a freshman last season, can also fly and reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Both players could bring major speed to the inside receiver positions.

“Some of those young receivers are starting to make a few plays,” Gundy said. “So it’s exciting that we have talent on our team that can make plays in the future.”

No doubt, Oklahoma State will miss Stewart, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore at receiver. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will miss a beat there, too.

Said Seales: "Now we get to follow in their footsteps.”
Tyreek Hill will be the fastest football player in the Big 12 this fall, and it’s probably not even close.

Never heard of him? That’s understandable if you’re not a recruitnik. But the track world has known his name for a while, and was reminded once again this weekend.

The Oklahoma State two-sport athlete finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 200-meter dash on Friday. It’s an event Hill ran no more than four times this spring.

He broke his own school record with a time of 20.68 seconds in the prelims, then broke it again by hitting 20.57 in the final. Hill, the Big 12 Indoor Freshman of the Year, also became the first OSU spring in school history to earn indoor All-America honors. And he was a gold and bronze medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

To say Mike Gundy and his staff are salivating to get Hill on a football field could be the understatement of the spring in Stillwater.

Tyreek Hill
Jeremy Crabtree/ESPNTyreek Hill, who came to Oklahoma State from Garden City (Kan.) CC, might be a track star, but he'll admit football is his first love.
“Football is his first love, if you ask him,” OSU sprints coach Diego Flaquer said. “That’s his baby. I asked him that the other day, actually. I said, ‘Which one do you love?’ He said, ‘I love me some football, coach.’ But he’s very passionate about track as well.”

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound transfer was ESPN’s No. 1 rated athlete out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College and has a chance to become this conference’s next Tavon Austin, a receiver/running back/returner capable of burning a defense in a variety of ways. But track came first when Hill joined the program in January.

Landing Hill was a major coup for both the Cowboys football and track programs, and they worked together to make this happen. Hill took visits to the likes of Florida State, Alabama and Texas and was recruited by the best of the best in both sports.

“He felt that Oklahoma State was a place where he was comfortable, and his mom is in Norman so she’s very close to him,” Flaquer said. “All those little things played a huge role. For us to be able to get him to come here and for him to feel at home here was huge.”

Most track athletes dedicate their fall semester to preparing for the winter indoor season. Hill, who put up 1,191 total yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore year at Garden City, didn’t have that luxury as a midyear enrollee.

That’s what made his performances at the Big 12 and NCAA championships all the more remarkable: Hill did it all on about a month of training.

He didn’t run his first college meet until Feb. 14, at a Tyson Invitational in Arkansas that’s annually one of the nation’s best. He finished fourth in the 60-meter finals.

One week later, and immediately after some football workouts, Flaquer drove Hill up to the K-State Open. His time of 6.68 seconds in the 60-meter broke the meet record long held by former KSU great Terence Newman.

Two weeks ago, at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, Hill took home gold in the 200-meter dash and finished second in the 60 meters.

“These other guys have been doing this for 28 or 30 weeks,” Flaquer said. “For him to come in and make the impact he made so quickly in the Big 12 and nationally, that’s something I think we can build on. His future is extremely bright.”

Fifth in the nation wasn’t good enough for Hill, and Flaquer admits Hill didn’t execute his sprint as planned. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do, and still learning what it takes at the college level.

Hill finally gets a chance to recover this week while Oklahoma State is on spring break. Next week, he puts on the pads and gets back to work with the Cowboys football team.

And so, obviously, the question must be asked: Just how fast could Hill be on a football field?

“I think he’s a low 4.2 or 4.3 guy,” Flaquer said of Hill’s 40 time. “If he catches the start right, he’s a 4.2 guy.”

Gundy and his staff have been supportive throughout this process and OK’d his plan to miss spring ball for the national meet. They don’t mind sharing, but the playbook and the practice field will be Hill’s focus from now until mid-April.

“He has been very successful when he has the ball in his hands,” Gundy said after signing day. “I don’t think it’s any secret for all of us, certainly from a coaching standpoint, if you have a player that can make plays then he has to touch the football.”

The logical use of his speed and acceleration will be as a receiver who also takes sweeps and handoffs out of backfield.

Oklahoma State brings back a deep recruiting corps despite losing Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, but no way the Cowboys have anybody else this fast.

Hill wants to do both sports on a professional level someday. That’s the dream. But first, he’ll have to live up to the hype with a helmet on.

“If they find a way to get this kid the ball,” Flaquer said, “and find someone to even halfway block for him, it’s going to be scary.”
There was a time when the notion of not holding a spring game was uncommon.

Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tapper
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma is one of fewer and fewer Big 12 teams that will hold a full-fledged spring game.
More recently, however, the value of the spring game has been challenged with various coaches pondering if a traditional spring game is the most efficient use of time as they aim to prepare their rosters.

This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.

Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.

Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.

“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.

Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.

“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”

Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.

“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”

The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.

Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.

“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."

Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.

“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.

Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.

“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."

Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.

“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Just two springs ago, Oklahoma State had a true freshman quarterback emerge out of a three-way battle to stunningly capture the starting job before the season.

This spring, the Cowboys have another true freshman quarterback who might be capable of the same.

After winning 10 games and ranking in the top-10 for several weeks late last season, Oklahoma State kicked off its spring practice on Monday as a team in transition. Of all 128 FBS programs, only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. And one of the many positions the Pokes must find starting replacement is at quarterback.

Gone is Clint Chelf, who became just the second quarterback in program history to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.

J.W. Walsh, who has eight career starts over two seasons, is the only returner at the position with any experience and is the favorite to reclaim the starting job.

[+] EnlargeMason Rudolph
Miller Safrit/ESPNMason Rudolph was the star of Oklahoma State's 2014 class and will be afforded every opportunity to become the Cowboys' starting quarterback.
But the Cowboys also have an intriguing true freshman in Mason Rudolph, who enrolled early and will be with the squad this spring.

Two years ago, head coach Mike Gundy named true freshman Wes Lunt the starter coming out of spring drills. And one pressing question that popped up Monday during Oklahoma State’s spring press conference was, would Gundy entertain the idea of doing the same again?

“The truth is, if you have a freshman come in and is the better player, you probably play him,” Gundy replied. “It would be hard at that position [quarterback] because we can say what we want, but everybody watches the practices we watch. And everybody has a good feel for what’s happening. And we have a responsibility to our team to give them the best chance to have success. So we have to watch real close. I thought three springs ago that [Lunt] was clearly the best player -- that’s why we named him the starter. What that holds for the future, I’m not sure. But if we didn’t think he was [the best], we certainly wouldn’t have named him the starter. And so we just have to watch and see how it works.”

In other words, Rudolph will have his chance, just like Lunt did.

Rudolph arrived in Stillwater as perhaps the most highly-touted quarterback prospect the school had ever signed.

Lunt was a three-star recruit and was the No. 42-ranked quarterback coming out of high school. By contrast, Rudolph was Oklahoma State’s top recruit of this class and was rated the eighth-best pocket passing quarterback in the nation.

He threw for 4,377 yards and 64 touchdowns as a senior at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, S.C., while leading his team to a state championship.

Weeks later, he was named MVP of the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas All-Star Game after leading his team on a game-winning touchdown drive. Rudolph split time with Georgia quarterback signee Jacob Park, but when the game was on the line, Rudolph was the one the coaches called on. And like he had in high school, Rudolph delivered in crunch time.

“He had that leadership ability that you could see on the sideline with his team,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said. “When he threw the football, the physical side was apparent.

“He also has an ‘it’ factor. You know when you see it. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to put into words.”

Whether that “it” factor translates into Rudolph accomplishing what Lunt did two springs ago remains to be seen.

Lunt had an easier path to the starting job then. The Cowboys were replacing first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Weeden, and at the time, neither Chelf nor Walsh had any experience.

Though Walsh’s play dipped last season, he shined as a redshirt freshman after Lunt got injured in 2012 and wound up leading the entire Big 12 in the Adjusted QBR metric.

“J.W. always has had great leadership, and we want him to have a great feel for what we want to accomplish on offense from a read standpoint, footwork fundamentals, things that he can control,” Gundy said. “J.W. brings experience to the table. J.W. will be the guy that goes out there first this year because he has the most experience.”

Experience alone, however, won’t guarantee Walsh the job.

Limited arm strength plagued Walsh’s ability to complete throws downfield last season. That, coupled with poor decision-making, opened the door for Chelf to reclaim the job in early October.

Superior arm strength is what helped propel Lunt to the top of the depth chart two springs ago, and that could also be a similar asset for the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Rudolph this spring. But Rudolph, who rushed for 16 touchdowns as well last season, also seems to possess more mobility than Lunt, who suffered a knee injury after his third start while unsuccessfully attempting to escape the pocket.

“You can also tell he has some fight in him,” said third-year wide receiver Austin Hays. “It’s so hard when you’re a freshman. But towards the end of spring, Wes really started to find his way. Eventually he earned it, and everybody followed him.

“I don’t see why Mason couldn’t do that, too.”
The NCAA football rules committee is proposing changes for the 2014 season that would loosen the reins on defensive substitutions. The committee's proposal would allow defensive players to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, except for the final two minutes of each half.

Several coaches have come out against the proposal, including Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who took to Twitter on Thursday evening to voice his opposition.


Five underdogs.

Three by double digits.

And only two favorites.

With this bowl season comes a prime opportunity for the Big 12 to earn national respect. Yet also, an opportunity for calamity.

This year, even though Baylor remained undefeated until the final month and Oklahoma State had just one loss until the final game, the Big 12 was never a factor in the national championship race.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and the Sooners are heavy underdogs against SEC power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
One reason why is no Big 12 team opened in the preseason top 10. And that was due in part to a lackluster bowl showing from the conference in 2012.

Big 12 co-champ Kansas State couldn’t hang with Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Manziel wiped out the Big 12’s other co-champ, Oklahoma in, the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

All told, the Big 12 went 4-5, with its only impressive victory coming courtesy of Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

In the spring, despite the poor showings at the top, Sooners coach Bob Stoops championed the depth of the conference. But unable to fill out its quota this year with bowl-eligible teams, the Big 12’s depth argument has dissipated.

And another poor bowl showing from the conference will do nothing but widen the Big 12’s national perception gap with power conferences like the SEC.

Of course, with several premier matchups, the chance is also there to narrow the gap -- starting with a pair of matchups against top teams from the SEC.

Oklahoma gets defending national championship Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Oklahoma State faces SEC East Division champ Missouri in the Cotton.

Sweeping those would be a huge step forward for the Big 12, as college football transitions into next year’s College Football Playoff, where perception will play a major part.

But if the Bedlam schools get waxed the way K-State and Oklahoma did last year it would do major damage to the Big 12’s case for de facto annual inclusion into the four-team tournament.

“There’s always a lot of talk because there has to be because newspapers have to be filled and air time has to be filled,” said Stoops, when asked about carrying the Big 12 banner in New Orleans. “You have to talk about something, but we don’t concern ourselves with it.”

Yet whether Stoops cares to admit it, his Sooners will in fact be carrying the Big 12 banner as two-touchdown underdogs against college football’s preeminent program of the last five years.

“Being a competitor and going up against a team like this is going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, as well,” Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “We’re pretty anxious and we’re just excited to get out there and play.”

The Cowboys will be carrying the banner against the SEC, too. Even though they’ll be playing a team that was in the Big 12 just two years ago.

“We've always had a lot of respect for Missouri,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ““It's interesting that they made the change of going into the SEC and having tremendous success right away.”

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys have drawn former Big 12 rival Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
“It certainly makes us feel good about ourselves being in the Big 12.”

Missouri might be a former Big 12 team proving its chops in the SEC. But style points the Tigers rack up count for their current conference, not their previous one.

And as only one-point underdogs, Oklahoma State might have the best opportunity of any Big 12 school to land the conference a landmark bowl win.

“With as many games as they've won and their current ranking,” Gundy said, “they're talked about as a really good football team.”

The Big 12 has opportunity elsewhere to garner respect by toppling a pair of “name” teams.

Like fellow Big 12 flagship Oklahoma, Texas is a two-touchdown underdog to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl, even though the Longhorns will be playing just 80 miles from their Austin campus.

Texas rallied to defeat Oregon State in the Alamo last year. But the challenge here will be far greater in coach Mack Brown’s final hurrah. The Ducks ranked second in the polls for much of the season, and despite some midseason struggles still boast one of the top offenses in college football.

The Longhorns averaged 31 points per game. Oregon scored that few only twice all season.

“They are someone you definitely have to keep up with or you'll get left behind quickly,” said Texas guard Trey Hopkins. “It will be a big challenge for us against a talented opponent.”

K-State is back in the desert for the postseason, this time the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Even though it’s not a BCS bowl, the Wildcats can also give the Big 12 a big win over a big name.

“As a kid growing up, Michigan is one of those poster programs that you see all over TV, you watch them growing up,” said K-State receiver Curry Sexton. “You kind of almost idolize them – one of those programs that every kid in the country likes to watch play.”

Arizona State might not be idolized the way Michigan is. But this season, the Sun Devils are more talented, and were a fringe top 10 team late in the season. That’s a difficult National University Holiday Bowl challenge for a Texas Tech team that closed out the season on a five-game losing streak and lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to transfer two weeks ago.

Which is why for the Big 12 it’s incumbent Baylor prevails as the conference’s only comfortable favorite in the Fiesta over Central Florida.

Tough matchups abound elsewhere. Which is an opportunity for the league to prove its playoff mettle. But also one to lose precious ground in college football’s perception wars.

“It always helps,” Stoops said of beating the likes of an Alabama. “It’s definitely something that could boost you.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 15

December, 9, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 15 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor was unranked to begin the season and picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Instead, with a convincing 30-10 victory over Texas, the Bears won 11 games for the first time in school history to capture the program’s first outright conference title in 33 years. Baylor will cap its magical season against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State had a chance at a second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. And all the Cowboys had to do was beat Oklahoma in Stillwater as 10-point favorites. Instead, despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until 19 seconds left in the game, the Sooners knocked off their instate rival yet again. The Cowboys have lost 10 of 11 to Oklahoma, but given the circumstance and the ending, this one hurt worst of all.

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesJalen Saunders had another memorable day against Oklahoma State.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Jalen Saunders is to the Cowboys what kryptonite is to Kryptonians. A year after sparking Oklahoma’s Bedlam fourth-quarter comeback with a punt return touchdown, Saunders gashed Oklahoma State again, having a hand in Oklahoma’s first three touchdowns. He returned another punt for a score in the first quarter. He took a double reverse 37 yards to set up the fake field goal touchdown. Then, with 19 seconds remaining, he hauled in the game-winning touchdown from Blake Bell in the corner of the end zone from 7 yards out. Saunders will finish his two-year career in Norman with four Bedlam touchdowns.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Cornerback K.J. Morton returned from an abdominal strain to deliver the exclamation point to Baylor’s season. Morton picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice, returning the second 57 yards in the fourth quarter for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified on his celebration penalty. But by then, the party had already begun in Waco.

Special teams players of the week: The field goal tandem of Grant Bothun and Michael Hunnicutt converted Bob Stoops’ first successful fake field goal attempt in 11 years. After their drive stalled at the Oklahoma State 8-yard line, the Sooners lined up for a field goal. Instead, Bothun, the holder, took off running with the ball left and threw the ball to Hunnicutt, the kicker. Hunnicutt backed into the end zone before getting belted by two Cowboys, tying the score 17-17.

Play of the week: Cornerback Justin Gilbert appeared to have ended Bedlam with an Oklahoma State victory, as he came down with an apparent interception on a jump ball to Lacoltan Bester. But instead of landing on the turf, Gilbert landed on Bester, who tapped the ball out of Gilbert’s hands at the last moment. Officials ruled it an incompletion, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inexplicably didn’t challenge the call. Five plays later, Bell hit Saunders for the game-winning score.

Stat of the week: As Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy’s record against Oklahoma is 1-8. Gundy’s record against the rest of the Big 12: 44-22

Quote of the week: “A defining moment for our program and one I think we'll be able to repeat many times." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the school’s first Big 12 championship

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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What we learned about the Big 12 in Week 15:

1. Baylor is the one and only champ: The last time Baylor won an outright conference championship, Mike Singletary was its middle linebacker. Until Saturday. With a little help from their friends from Norman, the Bears captured their first Big 12 title, and won’t have to share it with anybody. Baylor faces some adversity with the loss at Oklahoma State, but Art Briles’ bunch showed some gumption, bouncing back for a hard-fought win at TCU before closing out Floyd Casey Stadium in style.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Rick BowmerWith another season outside the BCS and turnover in the athletics department, Texas coach Mack Brown will be hearing more about his job security.
2. The Big 12 is alive for two BCS bowls: With Northern Illinois falling in MAC title game Friday night, the Big 12 remains alive for two BCS bowls. As the Big 12 champ, Baylor is going to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and will take on Central Florida. But with its win over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma is in the mix for an at-large berth. It’s now up to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sugar will basically be deciding between the Sooners, coming off a huge rivalry win, and the Oregon, which didn’t play this past weekend and lost two of four to finish up the regular season.

3. The Mack Brown speculation is about to ramp up: It has been a storyline all season. Now it’s about to reach a fevered pitch. It would have been interesting to see what Texas would have done had the Longhorns upset Baylor, captured the outright Big 12 title and gone to the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, Texas finished with less than nine regular-season wins for the fourth straight season, which requires a thorough internal review from the burnt orange brass. Will Brown be forced to resign before the bowl game? Let the speculation commence.

4. Oklahoma owns Bedlam: The Cowboys have made great strides with their program under Mike Gundy. But one fact remains: They cannot beat the Sooners in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma really had no business winning this one. Oklahoma State was the heavy favorite. At home. With the superior quarterback. And a senior-laded defense. The Sooners didn’t even score an offensive touchdown through the first 59 minutes, 41 seconds of the game. But Oklahoma's defense hung tough, and the Sooners reeled off a pair of remarkable special teams plays to keep the score close. Then, like so many times before in this game, Oklahoma broke Oklahoma State’s back in the final two minutes. Even with all their recent success, the Cowboys have now lost 10 of 11 in Bedlam. And the Sooners still own their instate rivals.

5. Bob Stoops can still win big games: People often needle Stoops’ “Big-Game Bob” moniker. But Saturday, Stoops proved again he can still win the big games. Even the ones nobody expects him to win. Despite rotating three different quarterbacks and playing without the starting left side of his offensive line, Stoops manufactured a win in Stillwater with bold special teams calls and a defense that gave up yards but never broke. The Cowboys had the advantage over the Sooners in many different ways -- quarterback, experience, defense and home field -- but Stoops outcoached his Oklahoma State counterpart. And somehow, someway, added another big-game win to his resume.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The ground rumbled and the frozen earth quaked.

And even though the ending was seismic, the result was not.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma Celebration
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State again had to watch the Sooners celebrate a Bedlam win.
Yet again, Oklahoma ripped the heart out of its in-state rival.

Another phenomenal Bedlam victory for the Sooners. Another catastrophic Bedlam loss for the Cowboys.

Despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds, Oklahoma ruined Oklahoma State’s Big 12 title and BCS-bowl hopes with a 33-24 victory Saturday.

“The feeling in the locker room is a bad feeling right now,” Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland said. “We had it right on the line, and we couldn’t finish it.”

This one, however, was most disastrous in a long line of Bedlam disappointments for the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State had everything on the line this time.

A chance for its second Big 12 title in three years.

A chance at a top-five finish and a Fiesta Bowl berth.

And, perhaps most important, as a double-digit Bedlam favorite for the first time since Vegas began keeping track, the most golden of opportunities at home to send a message that Oklahoma State was finally on equal ground with the Sooners.

Instead, Oklahoma downed the Cowboys in the final seconds for the third time in the past four years.

“A tough one to swallow,” Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey said.

Maybe the fact a magnitude-4.5 earthquake struck Boone Pickens Stadium just as the Cowboys were attempting a second-quarter field goal should have been a sign. Ben Grogan made the kick. But fate, yet again in this rivalry, would not be wearing orange.

With starting quarterback Trevor Knight out and backup Kendal Thompson erratic, Blake Bell returned from his sarcophagus to lead the Sooners on a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes, capped by a 7-yard scoring strike to Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining.

It was Oklahoma’s first offensive touchdown of the game.

And it was the only one the Sooners would need, as linebacker Eric Striker delivered the exclamation point by scooping up a fumble and returning it for a touchdown as time expired.

“We like to have the pressure on us, the defense,” Lavey said. “That’s something you wish you could have back. But that’s not gonna happen.”

The Cowboys would like to have several plays back.

On their first from scrimmage, Roland broke free around the edge for an apparent 75-yard touchdown. But wideout Charlie Moore was flagged for holding, and the play was called back.

“We didn’t look like the normal Oklahoma State offense,” Roland said. “We moved the ball the whole game, but we couldn’t capitalize. I feel like we could have put up more points than we did.”

The Cowboys entered Bedlam red-hot offensively, especially quarterback Clint Chelf, who had the highest QBR of any signal-caller in the nation in the month of November. But in sub-10-degree temperatures, Chelf lost his rhythm. And he completed just 2 of 10 passes on third down without a conversion against Oklahoma, causing several promising drives to stall out.

“Our mental focus just wasn’t there,” Roland said.

[+] EnlargeRoland
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsThe Sooners' defense and special teams kept Oklahoma in the game.
Eventually, the Sooners took advantage.

Later in the first quarter, with Oklahoma State up 7-0 and seemingly in control, Saunders, who sparked Oklahoma’s fourth-quarter comeback last season with a punt-return touchdown, weaved through defenders before dashing right for a 64-yard punt-return score.

In the third quarter, Oklahoma State regained control. With Knight out with a separated non-throwing shoulder, the Sooners failed to get a first down their first four drives of the half. And when Chelf hit a wide-open Roland for a 15-yard wheel-route touchdown, it looked as if the Cowboys would finally put the game away.

Instead, the Sooners answered again with a 37-yard reverse from Saunders, who took the ball to the Oklahoma State 7. After the drive stalled, Bob Stoops called his first successful fake field goal in 11 years, and holder Grant Bothun flicked the ball on the run to place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt for a touchdown to again tie the game.

“Did Bob make some great calls? You bet,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his counterpart. “We lost the kicking game. When you do that, it’s always tough to win.”

The Cowboys, as they have five other times in Bedlam since 2000, lost the final two minutes, too. Ultimately dooming them again.

After going up 24-20 on Roland’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:46 remaining, all the Big 12’s best defense had to do was keep Oklahoma’s third-string quarterback out of the end zone.

Instead, Bell came alive. He found Sterling Shepard for two big pass plays, then forced a defensive pass interference.

For a moment, it looked as if Oklahoma State had made the winning play that had eluded the program in Bedlam for so many years. Justin Gilbert appeared to come down with an interception, but the ball popped out at the last moment, and Gundy didn’t challenge the incompletion.

Five plays later, Oklahoma did what it’s usually done to the Cowboys.

“It hurts,” said Oklahoma State cornerback Kevin Peterson, who originally committed to the Sooners coming out of high school.

“Feels like a missed opportunity.”

Oklahoma State’s biggest Bedlam miss yet.

Bedlam the final obstacle for Cowboys

December, 3, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State has won a Big 12 title. And been to a BCS bowl.

The Cowboys have the Big 12’s best record over the last five seasons. And defeated Texas three straight times in Austin.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy, Bob Stoops
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesWhile Mike Gundy (left) has raised Oklahoma State's profile, he is just 1-7 against Bob Stoops and OU.
Since the turn of the century, the Big 12 has always been about the Big 2 -- Oklahoma and Texas.

But spurred by Boone Pickens’ dollars and Mike Gundy’s coaching, Oklahoma State is on the verge of turning that into a Big 3.

Only one obstacle remains for the Cowboys: consistently vanquishing their in-state rival.

This weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will stage the 108th meeting of the Bedlam rivalry. The Sooners have lost only 17 of those meetings, making Bedlam the most lopsided in-state rivalry in college football history.

“It’s a rivalry,” Cowboys guard Brandon Webb said. “But we haven’t won too many times in that rivalry.”

With opulent facilities, a substantial uptick in recruiting, assistant coaching salaries commensurate to the nation’s top programs, exciting schemes and a galvanized, expanding fan base, Oklahoma State’s rise has been rapid in Gundy’s nine years as head coach.

“Oklahoma State has come a long way in football,” Gundy said. “Our goal nine-and-a-half years ago was year-in, year-out, on a daily basis, when we went to play a football game, to have a chance to win. And not go to a stadium and the fans feel like we don’t have a chance to win. I think we’re at that point. … The program is at a different level nationally.”

Oklahoma State, however, won’t go any further nationally until it can overcome its local problem.

Under Gundy, the Cowboys are 1-7 against the Sooners, preserving the lopsidedness of the series, while also preventing Oklahoma State from climbing to the lofty perch where Oklahoma has comfortably resided since Bud Wilkinson agreed to coach the Sooners after the Second World War.

“They’re standing in our way,” said Webb, whose father Terry was an All-American guard for Oklahoma in the early 1970s and one of countless Sooners who finished their careers unblemished in Bedlam. “If they can beat us every time, it’s not good. We’ve got to beat them to get to where we want to be. It’s something we have to overcome.”

Saturday, the Cowboys have a prime opportunity to accomplish just that.

Oklahoma State is a double-digit favorite in Bedlam for the first time since odds makers began keeping track. And with a victory, the Cowboys can clinch their second Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl appearance in three years.

To the players, the stakes are still higher.

“It’s not just another game at all,” said Cowboys defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla. “This is not just for the Big 12 championship, not just to finish the season out winning, not just for a BCS game. It’s about people knowing there’s not just one dominant team in Oklahoma.”

For seven decades, there was just one dominant team. From 1946-2009, Oklahoma won Bedlam by double digits a stunning 43 of 63 times.

“We’ve made it a very competitive game,” said safety Daytawion Lowe, an Oklahoma City native who chose the Cowboys over Oklahoma coming out of high school. “Back when I watched the game growing up, it used to be blowouts. The last five years, it’s been very competitive.”

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesClint Chelf and the Cowboys will earn a second Big 12 title with a Bedlam win.
So competitive that two of the last three games have been decided on the final possession, with the Cowboys actually landing the lone blowout victory.

“That’s what’s changing,” Webb said. “People say we used to be afraid of OU. But we’re not afraid anymore.”

After losing a wild shootout in 2010, Oklahoma State came back to destroy the Sooners 44-10 in 2011 to seize the program’s first outright conference title in 63 years.

Last year in Norman, the underdog Cowboys showed no fear and thoroughly outplayed Oklahoma for three quarters, before the Sooners stormed back to win in overtime. It was the first time in 12 years the Cowboys played Oklahoma to within 27 points in Norman.

“It’s been a give and take where people that watch it, when you went to the stadium, you didn’t know who was going to win,” Gundy said. “There was a time … where I’m not sure that was (true).”

Gundy downplayed the significance of specifically beating Oklahoma, noting the goals at Oklahoma State are now bigger and broader.

“Our goal is to win our conference,” Gundy said. “Then (let) the chips fall based on how the country feels about us. … getting into the (College Football Playoff).”

But winning the conference requires beating Oklahoma more than once a decade. The Sooners, after all, have captured eight Big 12 titles in the last 13 years. Winning the conference also requires being more than just competitive with Oklahoma, which once constituted Bedlam success in Stillwater not long ago.

“Oklahoma has a ton of tradition and has been good for a long time,” Cowboys wide receiver Charlie Moore said. “Hopefully 50 from years now, people will say the same about Oklahoma State.”

To get there, the Cowboys must first beat Oklahoma.

Starting first with Saturday.

“You can only change it one year at a time,” Barnett said. “We’re going to try and help change that this year.”

STILLWATER, Okla. -- With nine minutes still to be played, America’s top offense finally had enough.

So instead of going for another seemingly hopeless fourth-and-long, Baylor called its record-setting offense to the sideline and sent out the punt team. On the other side of the field, sensing the capitulation, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer began hopping up and down, slapping the helmet of any defender passing by his general vicinity.

The 10th-ranked Cowboys always believed they could knock off fourth-ranked Baylor. But nobody, from "College GameDay" guest picker Marcus Smart to the Cowboys themselves, thought they would put the mighty Bears away before the fourth quarter.

Yet, Saturday night before a sold-out Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State did exactly that, pummeling Baylor into submission 49-17 to ensure the Big 12 title will go through Stillwater.

Again.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty, Daytawion Lowe, Tyler Johnson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Oklahoma State defense bottled up Bryce Petty and the high-flying Baylor offense all night.
“We weren’t intimidated,” said Cowboys linebacker Caleb Lavey. “And we were able to shut them down.”

No defense had slowed the Bears down all year, much less shut them down.

Baylor came into the night leading the nation with 61 points per game. After three quarters in Stillwater, the Bears had managed a single field goal.

“The Baylor offense deserved to get the pub it was getting,” Lavey said. “So being able to keep them off the board in touchdowns until the fourth quarter says a lot about this defense. Our defense did a great job.”

Great doesn’t do it justice. The Big 12’s best defense was dominant.

Head coach Mike Gundy said he felt Oklahoma State would need to score 35 points just to have a chance against Baylor. Thanks to his defense, the Cowboys needed only half that.

Even with All-American candidate Justin Gilbert limited to spot duty because of a shoulder injury, fellow cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and Kevin Peterson locked up Baylor’s speed-demon receivers in man-to-man coverage. The Bears, who led the country in completions of 30 yards or more, finished with just two such completions Saturday.

Up front, Oklahoma State tackles James Castleman and Calvin Barnett owned the line of scrimmage. Baylor, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground, was held to just 96 yards rushing with a paltry average of 2.6 yards per carry.

And in between, linebackers Lavey and Shaun Lewis came up with huge plays all night.

All told, the Cowboys forced three fumbles, including two from inside their own 5-yard line. In the first quarter two plays after Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty stumbled to the turf at the 1 after a 27-yard dash, Castleman batted the ball out of Shock Linwood’s hands, and recovered it himself. The Cowboys countered with a 99-yard touchdown drive to grab control and a 7-0 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Baylor finally drove the ball back to the Oklahoma State 2 with a chance to cut the deficit to 35-17. Instead, Petty fumbled a wild snap, and Patmon scooped it up and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up 42-10.

After a three-and-nothing on its the next possession, Baylor punted, starting up the party on the Oklahoma State sideline.

“They’re a great team,” said Spencer, who mixed up eight-man coverages with exotic blitzes all game. “But our kids tonight executed and played great defense.”

Yet as good as it was, the Oklahoma State defense was hardly the whole story.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesOklahoma State QB Clint Chelf had a career day, throwing for 370 yards and accounting for four TDs.
Cowboy quarterback Clint Chelf remained on fire while outgunning Petty, Chelf's Heisman hopeful counterpart.

Chelf completed his first 12 passes, threw for a career-high 370 yards and accounted for four touchdowns as he continued his late-season charge since taking back over the starting job last month.

“He was accurate, and he made good decisions,” Gundy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s been a good leader, and he’s done it quietly. He's been humbled, and for that he's had success.”

Chelf lost the starting job two lackluster series into the season opener against Mississippi State. With J.W. Walsh in at quarterback, the offense languished, including in a 30-21 loss at West Virginia in a conference opener that looks more stunning by the week.

But since reclaiming the job on Oct. 26 at Iowa State, Chelf has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Last week, he delivered the second-highest QBR in the country in a 38-13 win at Texas.

Saturday, he was even better, throwing darts all over the field while picking apart Baylor’s secondary. Then in the third quarter, Chelf delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a throwback pass from Josh Stewart before racing 48 yards to the Baylor 5-yard line to set up a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 28-3.

“Chelf toughed everything out,” Stewart said. “He stayed with it. And tonight he was very impressive.”

So were the Cowboys, who before 2011 had only one conference title -- a three-way split in 1976 – in 58 years. After its stomping of the Bears, Oklahoma State is now one Bedlam win in Stillwater away from winning its second Big 12 title in three years.

“We have made great strides,” Gundy said. “The best way I can explain that is: I don’t know the last time we took the field and our players didn’t think we could win.”

Once again, the Cowboys took the field thinking they could win. They left it in control of the conference title. Again.

Unflappable Gundy has OSU rolling again

November, 21, 2013
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The only reason Hart Lee Dykes even knew who Mike Gundy was in 1986 was because Gundy’s dad would come to watch practice wearing overalls.

Soon, Dykes would get to know the skinny true freshman quarterback from Midwest City, Okla., a whole lot better.

At halftime of Oklahoma State’s third game, then-coach Pat Jones hollered in front of the team, "Gundy, you’re in!"

The Cowboys had lost at Tulsa the week before, and found themselves struggling to move the ball against Houston. But nobody, especially the team's star players, expected this.

"Thurman Thomas and I looked at each other and were like, 'Gundy?'" Dykes recalled. "But after that, we never looked back.

"He got us rolling and the rest was history."

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesMike Gundy has Oklahoma State two wins from a Big 12 title.
Now in his ninth season as the head coach in Stillwater, Gundy has the Cowboys rolling once again.

After drilling Texas last weekend for a third straight win in Austin, Oklahoma State faces fourth-ranked Baylor in a Saturday night showdown with the Big 12 title on the line.

Before 2011, the Cowboys had exactly one conference championship -- a three-way split in 1976 -- dating back to the early 1950s.

With a victory over the Bears, Oklahoma State will be well on its way to a second in three years.

"It wasn’t that long ago you could hang your hat here on just beating Oklahoma," Cowboys offensive lineman Parker Graham said. "That was a good season here back in the day.

"But Coach Gundy has brought the attitude here that we can compete with anybody."

Before Gundy took over in 2005, Oklahoma State had only one 9-1 start in its 102-year football history. Now, the Cowboys are 9-1 again for the third time in the past four years.

Mega-booster T. Boone Pickens has played a major part in Oklahoma State's rise, spearheading a facilities overhaul that has become the envy of the Big 12.

But Gundy's steady hand has played a major part, too.

"That's Mike," Dykes said. "He never seems to get phased. Never seems to get nervous or uptight. He's the same way now as a coach he was then as a quarterback.

"He still has the same poker face."

Gundy needed that poker face in 1986.

That halftime against Houston, Gundy unseated Ronnie Williams, who had led the Cowboys to an 8-4 record and a Gator Bowl appearance the previous year.

Oklahoma State had a future All-American running back in Thomas and a future first-round wide receiver in Dykes. But against the immense pressure of replacing an incumbent starter, Gundy quickly proved the Cowboys had their quarterback of the future, too.

Gundy completed 138 consecutive passes without an interception, which was an NCAA record until Baylor's Robert Griffin III broke it in 2008. After tough losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma, Gundy quarterbacked the Cowboys to wins in four of their final five games to close out the season.

Over the next two years, Oklahoma State went 20-4, and Gundy finished his career as the Big Eight's all-time leading passer.

"If he threw a pick, I’d be jumping him, the coaches would be jumping him, but he never seemed rattled," Dykes said. "He just kept playing."

That poise has served Gundy well as a coach. And served the Cowboys well, too.

Earlier this season, Oklahoma State suffered a baffling 30-21 loss in its conference opener at West Virginia, seemingly axing the Cowboys' Big 12 title hopes off the bat.

"But he never let us lose our confidence," nickelback Lyndell Johnson said.

Instead of panicking after such a distressing performance, Gundy's Pokes kept playing. They struggled to home wins over Kansas State and TCU. Then, after a backfield change with Clint Chelf taking over at quarterback and Desmond Roland at running back, Oklahoma State finally began to click.

"After West Virginia, the season could have gone one of two ways," Graham said. "We could have gone down and lost a couple more games and got down on ourselves."

The same could have happened in Oklahoma State's first Big 12 title season. In 2011, the Cowboys were unbeaten and two games away from playing for a national championship, but were stunned by Iowa State in a double-overtime upset.

The final game against Oklahoma two weeks later also could have gone one of two ways. The Cowboys, however, put the crushing loss behind them, and destroyed the Sooners 44-10 to capture the conference championship and advance to their first BCS bowl game.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsAfter early struggles, Gundy went with Clint Chelf (10) and Desmond Roland and OSU has won six straight games.
"Afterward, you could see how proud a coach he was to coach us," said safety Zack Craig, now a senior. "How proud he was that we bounced back after what happened at Iowa State. That’s a moment I won’t forget."

The Cowboys have bounced back again this season.

The past four games, Oklahoma State has outscored the opposition by an average of four touchdowns, including a convincing 38-13 drubbing of the Longhorns that lifted the Cowboys back into the top 10.

As he did after that Bedlam win two years ago, Gundy ditched the poker face and showed another side in Austin that Dykes also remembers well. A side his former teammates used to relish. A side his players relish now.

"We were so excited about the win," Craig said. "As soon as we heard the door open and him come in the locker room, we started rallying up in a big circle and immediately began clapping."

With the players surrounding him, Gundy unleashed his signature bending-back dance to the floor.

"That showed just how much he cares," Johnson said.

"That’s the Gundy I know," Dykes said. "He was always one of us as a player. One of the guys. That's why he's become such a player's coach now."

Oklahoma State is on the cusp of another Big 12 championship, and if the Cowboys win Saturday, Dykes' poker-faced quarterback will surely be dancing again.

"If you were a betting man," Craig said, "that would be a pretty good bet."

Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.

That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.

The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.

My, how times have changed.

Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).

“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.

"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”

Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.

Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).

"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”

Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.

“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.

But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.

Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).

Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.

“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”

Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.

Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.

“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."

But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.

“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”
Two Thursdays ago, Baylor flattened Oklahoma utterly and convincingly for its 12th consecutive victory dating back to last year. Then over the past weekend, Oklahoma State ran Texas out of its own stadium -- again.

As the Big 12 flagship programs continue to flounder, the Bears and Cowboys have taken over control of the conference.

And this weekend, while Oklahoma and Texas will be scrambling to make respectable bowls, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be duking it out for the conference crown with "College GameDay" in town.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThings are looking up at Baylor, as well as at Oklahoma State, which have taken control of the Big 12 from Texas and Oklahoma.
“Parity continues to grow in college football,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “More teams across the country that fans wouldn’t consider tradition-rich schools are playing for conference championships.”

That’s only one-fifth true.

Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon -- all bellcows of their BCS conferences -- are primed to win their leagues yet again.

Only in the Big 12 has there been a coup.

Oklahoma State won the Big 12 title in 2011 and hammered Oklahoma 44-10 in the regular-season finale to come within a hair of playing for the national title.

Then last year, Kansas State captured a No. 1 national ranking before earning the league’s automatic BCS bowl berth.

And this season, Baylor has emerged as the Big 12’s lone national title contender, thanks to its record-setting offense and what Gundy terms the most-improved defense in the league.

From 2000 to 2009, the Big 12 title ran through Dallas, where the Sooners and Longhorns faced off as top 20 teams all but twice. Neither program, however, has seriously contended for a national title since. And meanwhile, the balance of power in the league has gradually shifted.

In 2011, Oklahoma State knocked off Texas and Oklahoma in the same season for the first time since 1944. Baylor accomplished the same feat for the first time ever that season as well.

This year, the Bears and Cowboys have put the Red River rivals in their rearview mirror.

Saturday, Oklahoma State rolled in Austin, 38-13, to hand coach Mack Brown his most lopsided home loss in 16 years at Texas. The Cowboys also became just the third team since 1950 to win three straight in Austin.

On Nov. 7, Baylor overcame a slow start to dominate the Sooners in Waco, 41-12, handing Bob Stoops his fourth-worst loss at Oklahoma.

“Coaches are overrated,” Gundy said. “College football is all about the players.”

And the fact is, Baylor and Oklahoma State have better players.

They have better quarterbacks. Bryce Petty and Clint Chelf are first and third in the league in QBR and would both start for Oklahoma and Texas.

They have better depth. The Bears scored 63 points Saturday against Texas Tech without their best running back (Lache Seastrunk) or receiver (Tevin Reese) in the lineup. Oklahoma State moved the ball up and down the field on Texas even minus its best offense player, receiver Josh Stewart, who was out with a foot injury.

They even have better defenses. Oklahoma State picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy three times and prevented the Longhorns from scoring in the second half of a home conference game for the first time in seven years. Baylor held the Sooners to their lowest output since 2007.

The Bears and Cowboys are also recruiting better players than ever before. Both, in fact, could wind up with top 25 recruiting classes, which among Big 12 teams used to only be commonplace in Norman and Austin.

But times have changed in the Big 12. And this week, as the Sooners and Longhorns lick their wounds from the losses they suffered the last two weeks, Baylor and Oklahoma State will clash in prime time for the Big 12 title.

It might not be the last time, either.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 12:

1. Oklahoma State can win the big one: Mike Gundy's team went to Austin, Texas, knowing a loss knocks it out of the Big 12 title picture. It didn't have top playmaker Josh Stewart. But the Cowboys had a sound plan for shutting down the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, and they executed it very well. OSU held a Texas team that was 6-0 in the league to a season-low 13 points and handed coach Mack Brown his most lopsided home loss (38-13) in his Texas tenure. As Gundy put it after the win: This is playoff football. Win one game and the next one gets bigger. Oklahoma State won what might've been the Big 12 semifinals on Saturday. Now the Cowboys get a de facto conference title game at home next Saturday against Baylor and are in firm control of their own destiny.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood scored two TDs, as Baylor rallied for a big win against Texas Tech on Saturday.
2. What's it gonna take to beat Baylor? The Bears kindly spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter with Tech touchdown drives of 75, 89 and 75 yards. Baylor punted on two of its first three drives. Normally a start like that spells disaster for even good teams. But Baylor got back to moving the ball and took a 21-20 lead at the end of the first quarter that it never relinquished in a 63-34 victory. And the Bears did all that without Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin or Tevin Reese on offense. Even when this team is beating itself, it's still hard to beat.

3. Kansas finally tastes sweet victory: If you don't understand why Jayhawks fans ripped down the South end zone goal posts after KU's 31-19 home win over West Virginia, you don't recognize how much agony this fan base has had to endure in the past few seasons. Kansas won its first Big 12 game since Nov. 6, 2010, and got coach Charlie Weis his first conference win by pounding the rock against a banged-up WVU defense. Unless Kansas loses every Big 12 game from now until the end of the 2016 season, it appears the Jayhawks will not be the ones to break Baylor's record of 29 consecutive conference losses -- at least not for a long time.

4. Welcome back, OU run game: It's getting a little tiresome to constantly fluctuate between the narratives of "Oklahoma has no identity" and "Oklahoma found its identity!" this season, so why don't we just stick to the facts: The Sooners ran the ball well against Iowa State, winning a 48-10 game that was much closer early on. As a team, OU rushed for 405 yards on 44 carries, and 390 came in the game's final three quarters. The trio of Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and backup QB Trevor Knight combined for 337 yards. Going 2-to-1 on the run-pass ratio did the job this week against the Cyclones. That ISU team is also a bit of a mess at this point, so maybe it's safer -- for now -- to hold off on saying OU made some grand discovery in its run game.

5. TCU's nightmare season is almost over: The two newest members of the Big 12 are both now 4-7 and will not go bowling. But we expected West Virginia to take a step back in 2013 after basically overhauling its entire offense. The Big 12 media believed TCU would be the No. 3 team in the league this fall. Wrong on that one. For the third time this season, the Horned Frogs lost a game by three points or fewer. They've lost by more than two TDs only once. They've had bad luck and bad injuries. It's just not their year. TCU finishes with a visit from Baylor in two weeks, and Gary Patterson will have his players treating that one like their bowl game.

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