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Saturday, October 15, 2011
Updated: October 16, 3:57 AM ET
Cowboys good, but not among elite

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- No. 6 Oklahoma State is straight out of reality TV, "Jersey Shore" somehow moved to the prairie. The Cowboys are not conventional. They are volatile. Their stars can go off at any moment. They dress well. (OK, maybe not "Jersey Shore.")

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith came up big for Oklahoma State on a day when the Cowboys' stars got off to a slow start.

But reality TV, as entertaining as it is, doesn't measure up to the best the medium has to offer. The Cowboys defeated No. 22 Texas 38-26, their second victory over a ranked Big 12 rival on the road in their last three games. But they have yet to play at the same level as the teams ranked ahead of them.

Don't take my word for it. Ask Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

"Alabama and LSU and Oklahoma are playing better than anybody else in the country, in my opinion," Gundy said. "They are playing really good on defense. They are scoring points. We've got another month-and-a-half of this thing to go, but I don't think there's any question that they should be where they are at right now."

The Cowboys' offense sputtered Saturday. Texas tried to play keep away and succeeded (39:18) so well that All-America wide receiver Justin Blackmon said he started stretching on the sideline during the fourth quarter. Quarterback Brandon Weeden never found a rhythm and finished with season lows in completions (23), yards (218) and completion percentage (.561).

The good news is that Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0) won anyway. That's what championship teams do. Someone else steps up. Tailback Jeremy Smith rushed for touchdowns of 74 and 30 yards, and finished with 140 yards on only seven attempts.

The run to the national championship is never flawless. There is always a game that doesn't unfold like the coaches drew it up. It may be because of an injury, or a rivalry, or midterms, or girlfriend troubles, or it may be that the team comes out of the locker room flatter than day-old Coke. Life gets in the way.

That's why predicting a team isn't good enough to win the crystal football is a lot easier than predicting that it is. So forgive the reach for the low-hanging fruit. Texas (4-2, 1-2), which didn't lose a Big 12 game at home from 1999 to 2006, has lost five straight league games. Texas is a team so young that the Longhorns' moms ought to cut up fruit for the postgame snack.

But the Longhorns used their speed and athleticism Saturday to frustrate the Cowboys. All Texas lacks is experience. What happens to Oklahoma State when it plays a team with speed and athleticism that won't beat itself?

"I think we're a legitimate top-10 team, in my opinion," Gundy said. "I think there are three teams in the country, that when I watch them statistically, and the little bit that I've seen of them, are really, really good football teams. And then I think there are six or eight other teams that could win on any given field on any given day if they took care of the football and didn't give up big plays."

Mike Gundy
Mike Gundy believes he has a top-10 team; he'll have a chance to prove it against Oklahoma.

The Cowboys are new to BCS speculation. They are still looking for their first Big 12 conference championship, much less a national one. They last won a league championship in 1976, when they shared the Big Eight title with Oklahoma and Colorado.

"I said this to the team yesterday during our walkthrough," Gundy said. "We may be getting close enough that everybody can relax and just go play. There have been so many years, or teams that I've coached on, or even played on, where you relied on two or three guys to make all the plays, and if they didn't play well, you got beat. I'm hoping that we don't have that issue at Oklahoma State anymore."

The BCS standings that will be released Sunday will set the official pecking order. The Cowboys believe that they control their own destiny. They believe that because they have No. 3 Oklahoma on their schedule. In fact, the Sooners must go to Boone Pickens Stadium.

"We understand that we're in the thick of things," Weeden said. "Right now, it doesn't matter. This is our sixth game. We've got seven more to go. They've got to play each other [LSU and Alabama]. We've got to play Oklahoma. That's what I'm saying."

Weeden shrugged. "You got to win them all. That's what it all comes down to."

Whether that will propel them into the top two ahead of Boise State, Stanford or Wisconsin is the question. Through six games, with seven more to go, the answer is no.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.