STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- It is the most important game of the season for No. 12 Oklahoma State, and then some.
Feeling confident after five straight victories, including a 42-6 win over Kansas at home last Saturday, the Cowboys travel to Austin to face No. 23 Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12), representing a sort of homecoming for many of the 71 players on their roster who are from the Lone Star State.
The game is crucial to the hopes of winning the Big 12 title for both teams - at least until the next one. Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1) embarks on the most daunting part of its schedule, facing matchups against No. 4 Baylor (8-0, 5-0) and No. 22 Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2) in subsequent weeks, with the conference champion likely to be determined by the results.
''You're at a point in the season where you need to win one to get to the next one if you want to stay in that race,'' said OSU coach Mike Gundy. ''If we wouldn't have played well and beat Kansas, it wouldn't have been a big game. But you have to continue to move forward and this will be a new challenge for us. (Texas) is a very talented football team, we're playing on the road, so we've got our work cut out for us.''
The players know what's at stake and are happy to still be in contention for such a huge prize.
''We got these last three games and we control our own fate,'' said senior guard Brandon Webb. ''If we win out, we do what we want to do and we'll leave it up to the BCS poll after that, but right now, we're going for the Big 12 championship and so are these next three teams in front of us, so we just got to prepare.''
Since a disappointing loss at West Virginia on Sept. 28, the Cowboys have done a good job focusing on the next week and not looking ahead to this late stretch.
''You can see the big picture, but it all starts this Saturday,'' said senior receiver Charlie Moore, who is from Bullard, Texas, about a four-hour drive from Austin. ''It's an exciting time of the season and we have to make sure we focus on Texas this week, and take it one game at a time. We know the Big 12 championship isn't there if we don't win this weekend, so it makes it a little easier to focus.''
Moore is just one of several high-profile starters with ties to the Longhorns, as both of his parents and his older brother attended Texas and he grew up wanting to play there.
''Austin is a great city, it's a fun place and I have great memories just going to visit my brother when he was going there,'' said Moore, who cited former Longhorns stars Ricky Williams as one of his favorites growing up. ''I grew up going to Texas games, all my family went there, and I know they're not going to be rooting for Texas this week, so it's a special place for them and for me. I want to get a big win so the Cowboys can keep on rolling.''
There was a time not long ago when Oklahoma State trips to Austin weren't considered fun. Even though OSU has won its previous two visits to Texas Memorial Stadium in the last three years, Texas prevailed in 22 of the 24 prior games in the series, including 12 straight between 1998 and 2009.
So for this group of Cowboys, Texas is just another opponent - albeit, another really good opponent also trying to win the conference title - but the mystique of the Longhorns being an unbeatable powerhouse is no longer there.
''They're a good team, a great program, so it's always fun to get to play them,'' said senior linebacker Caleb Lavey, who hails from Celina, Texas, about four hours north of Austin. ''They're definitely a big opponent every year, but at the same time, we realize we're in the Big 12, so we're going to be playing big teams each week. We're approaching it the same as we approach any opponent, really focusing. We've got to watch film and prepare accordingly to win down in Austin.''
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