Off to the best start in school history, undefeated Oklahoma State knows what’s at stake.
The No. 2 Cowboys have been able to keep their focus on the task at hand throughout the season, but they could now have trouble ignoring what lies ahead.
Oklahoma State looks to handle Iowa State on the road Friday night ahead of a critical showdown with Oklahoma that looms in its season finale.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Cowboys as hefty 27-point road favorites, with the total set at 67.
The Cowboys (10-0, 7-0) can clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title with a victory. They have surged to the top of the conference behind Heisman Trophy candidate Brandon Weeden and an offense that’s second in the nation with 51.7 points per game.
“I’d much rather have this pressure than sitting around and having a tough season and trying to find a way to win enough games to keep your head above water,” coach Mike Gundy said. “There is pressure. Each week I know you can feel it. But it’s our responsibility to manage it.
“But I believe in the leadership of this team, that they feel the importance of getting ready for the next game.”
The Cowboys have opened with 10 consecutive wins and seven in conference play for the first time, routing Texas Tech 66-6 last Saturday. Weeden threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns.
With 10 straight road victories, they’re one away from matching the school record set from 1943-45.
Oklahoma State will likely secure a shot to play for its first national championship with two victories, but the players appear to be well aware of the dangers of taking a well-rested Iowa State team lightly. If the Cowboys can avoid the upset Friday, they’ll have two weeks to gear up for their battle with No. 5 Oklahoma in the Bedlam game Dec. 3.
“You see it across the country, it happens all the time,” said Weeden, second in the nation and tied for second with 3,635 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, respectively. “Teams kind of overlook an opponent, something happens, they slip up and get beat by a few points. It happens every week.”
Iowa State (5-4, 2-4) has had some extra time to prepare for this matchup thanks to a bye week, but it still will surely have its hands full with Weeden. The Cyclones will also have to slow down Joseph Randle, who ran for 78 yards and three touchdowns against the Red Raiders and has reached the end zone 14 times – 12 on the ground – over the last four games. His 21 rushing TDs are the third most in the country.
“There are no weaknesses. They’re exceptionally well-coached. The offensive line is a dominant group. Everyone is aware of their skill,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “Nobody even breathes on their quarterback. They’re deep and talented at wide receiver. They’re running for (171.1) yards a game and Weeden, he does not miss throws.”
Since suffering a season-worst four straight defeats Oct.1-22, the Cyclones have won back-to-back games with a pair of impressive defensive efforts. After a stunning 41-7 road rout of then-No. 19 Texas Tech 41-7 on Oct. 29, Iowa State beat Kansas 13-10 the next week.
The Cyclones have also benefited from a revitalized ground attack, running for 619 yards during the last two contests – more than half of the 1,028 rushing yards they had in the first seven games. The balanced effort on the ground in the last two contests has been led by James White and Jared Barnett.
Iowa State ranks second in the Big 12 with 217.3 passing yards allowed per game, and it should receive a test from Justin Blackmon.
The junior wideout is tied for the FBS lead with 14 touchdown receptions. He’s caught two in each of his last three games, during which he’s totaled 32 receptions for 480 yards.
Oklahoma State leads the series 25-17-3 and has won three of the last four meetings. The Cowboys took the most recent one 34-8 on the road Nov. 7, 2009.