Sat Dec 03 11:51pm EST
Oklahoma State 44, Oklahoma 10.
Throughout the night, ESPN's scrolling ticker insisted on informing views that "LSU is expected to play Alabama" for the BCS championship when final bowl pairings are announced on Sunday night. At no point did it stop to suggest that either of the teams it was broadcasting to America, pollsters included, could conceivably overtake the Crimson Tide for the second golden ticket. So Oklahoma State took the argument into its own hands.
After eight consecutive losses to Oklahoma and 85 consecutive years without an outright conference championship, the Cowboys had plenty on their minds Saturday — things that they can actually control — that had nothing to do with the BCS, which they most certainly cannot control. But their final statement, against a top-10, name-brand rival that spent most of the season harboring serious BCS ambitions of its own, offered three new ways for voters to look at OSU as the best second-best candidate for New Orleans.
As a balanced offense. The great irony of the night: The Cowboys' long-awaited breakthrough came on an otherwise humbling night for their headliners. Senior quarterback Brandon Weeden, owner of the most prolific right arm in a conference full of them, finished with a career low for passing yards (217), failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time as a starter and turned in a pass efficiency rating (117.3) more than 40 points below his season average. His most celebrated target, Justin Blackmon, averaged less than 10 yards per catch and failed to bring in a touchdown reception for just the second time in two years. Generally speaking, the passing game was stuck in its lowest gear against a secondary that had gone down in flames against similar spread passing attacks from Texas Tech and Baylor. And Oklahoma State still rolled.
Most of the slack was picked up by the unsung tailbacks, Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, who racked up more yards on the ground by themselves (243) than Oklahoma has allowed in any Big 12 game since 2005. Altogether, the Cowboys averaged more 7 yards per carry, didn't allow a sack against the most sack-happy defense in the league and set a new scoring high against OU since World War II — in three quarters. You know, just another Saturday night.
As an opportunistic defense. An adjective like "opportunistic" can cut in more than one direction, and certainly has for this group, which has spent all year giving up a ton of meaningless yards that hurt on the stat sheet a lot more than they do on the scoreboard. Tonight was opportunism at its best: The Cowboys forced five turnovers, four of which led directly to points, including a long fumble return to the OU 1-yard line in the second quarter and a short one for a defensive touchdown courtesy of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones in the third.
Jones suffered through two sacks, two interceptions and a fumble without a touchdown pass, the worst stat line of his career. Oklahoma State padded its lead as the most turnover-oriented defense in the country, now with at least three takeaways in nine different games. Against a top-10 attack accustomed to scoring gobs, the Cowboys D was a revelation.
Jones was already out of the game by the time backup Blake Bell finally found the end zone at the end of the fourth quarter, the score well out of reach. Of the 33 touchdowns OSU has allowed to opposing offenses, Bell's was the 16th that came with Cowboys leading by at least 20 points. Only one — by Texas A&M on Sept. 24 — has come with the Cowboys already trailing.
As conference champions. Oklahoma State's last outright conference championship was in 1926. This time, getting back to the summit included five wins over teams ranked in the current BCS standings: Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Missouri. (Alabama has two wins over teams in the current standings.) The only two teams to stumble into the BCS championship without winning their conference — Oklahoma in 2003 and Nebraska in 2001, which (like Alabama this year) didn't even win its own division — were both slaughtered in the title match.
Plenty of SEC partisans relish the opportunity to predict the same fate for Oklahoma State in a hypothetical showdown with LSU, based almost entirely on the Cowboys' inexplicable flop at Iowa State. But they won't find much evidence of it on paper this season, and they certainly won't find it tonight, in a start-to-finish assault in the de facto conference championship game. Whatever lingering questions remain in the next 24 hours, we have all the answers we're going to get.
Now it's just a matter of voters applying the ones they like best.