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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Tigers, Cowboys Might Just Be This Good

Oklahoma State might be very good. We don’t know — the Cowboys haven’t played anybody. Let’s give O.S.U. credit for one thing, however: each of its six games have come against F.B.S. competition. Two were from the Sun Belt, on the other hand. Another came against a Conference USA opponent. Another against Washington State, the worst B.C.S. conference team in the country. Two have come in Big 12 play: Texas A&M and Texas Tech, the latter by an impressive 17-point margin in Lubbock. The Cowboys might just be as good as they’ve looked through six games. We just don’t know yet.

We will come Saturday, when the Cowboys host Nebraska. Who wins when a powerful passing attack meets the nation’s best secondary? They say a good defense beats a good offense and vice versa, but that’s of little help. Here’s what we do know: if O.S.U. can beat Nebraska — beat a team whose strength matches up well against its strength — it’s time to consider the Cowboys a viable Big 12 contender.

For now, Oklahoma State shares a boat with West Virginia, Northwestern and Kansas State: teams with solid records, though it’s unclear how each will fare against premier competition. Missouri, which hosts Oklahoma on Saturday night, is also on this list.

If possible, Missouri’s first half schedule makes Oklahoma State’s look like a run through the SEC: the Tigers have played only one team over .500 — San Diego State — and needed a late touchdown pass to defeat the Aztecs. No, it hasn’t been a good 6-0 for Missouri, though it’s 6-0 nonetheless: the Tigers might not have played anybody, but they’re 2-0 in Big 12 play, atop the North division.

In comparison, Oklahoma State seems like a sure thing; if we compare each team’s common opponent, on the other hand, we see a different story. Each has played Texas A&M: both won, of course, with O.S.U. needing a late field goal in a 38-35 home victory. It wasn’t merely as close on Saturday, when Missouri took a trip to College Station: Tigers 30, Aggies 9, with the game never in doubt.

There’s a difference between those final scores, of course: both teams were successful on offense, but only Missouri could slow down Jerrod Johnson and the Texas A&M offense. The Tigers did so with a little help from Mike Sherman and the A&M offensive coaching staff, but no matter.

The truth is this: Missouri is a realistic Big 12 contender because of its defense, which has been far better than expected — than that I expected, at least. First-year defensive coordinator Dave Steckel — the former linebackers coach — has pushed all the right buttons in Columbia, particularly through the start of conference play. The Tigers have allowed only nine points — combined — in wins over Colorado and the Aggies; altogether, the Tigers have allowed only 10.8 points per game, good for second nationally and best among the B.C.S. conferences.

Yet the problem with that number — and Oklahoma State’s offensive onslaught — is that it’s misleading, at least to a degree: Missouri has yet to face an offense like Oklahoma’s, and O.S.U. has yet to face a defense like the one from Nebraska. For now, the jury remains out on both teams. Come Saturday night, however, we’ll know the answer — both teams might just be this good.

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  1. Mike says:

    You sized up Missouri quite well … the numbers look good, but we don’t know how good this team is. We’ll know a lot more after Saturday. We’ll know all we need to know after next week when the Tigers play Nebraska in Lincoln.

    By the way, this is Steckel’s second season as defensive coordinator.

  2. Noefli says:

    I have more faith in Nebraska’s secondary than I do in Okie State’s passing game. Definitely looking forward to the game.

  3. Mike P says:

    Yeah, oopsies on Steckel there.

    Also, it’s misleading to say Mizzou hasn’t played anybody. Several of our opponents have beat or come close to beating good teams. San Diego State is 39 in the BCS. Illinois beat Penn State and put a scare into Ohio State. Even McNeese State played LSU close for 3 quarters.

    That being said, we don’t at this point know whether this team is good or great. That’s what we’ll find out tomorrow.

  4. Clay says:

    Your lack of research is ignorant. Mizzou’s schedule makes OSU’s look like a run through the SEC……really??? Mizzou has played Illinois 3-3 with all 3 losses to top 12 teams in BCS rankings. Miami OH 4-3, SDSU 4-2, Mcneese St Ranked FSC school. Colorado 3-3 who will beat Texas Tech this weekend. And then the common opponent, with the not so common outcome. I guarantee you SDSU and Illinois would have gone 4-0 through OSU’S non-con schedule.
    Hopefully your not a sports fan and you really just don’t have a clue. OSU has probably the weakest non-con schedule I have ever seen.

    Paul: You lost me when you cited Miami (Ohio) and McNeese State. Man, I forgot to give Missouri credit for that ranked F.C.S. school. Missouri never schedules tough non-conference games under Pinkel. Get used to it. You’ll get national respect when you beat Oklahoma tomorrow night. Until then, you’ve done nothing to justify any publicity.

  5. TT says:

    FWIW, Sagarin has Mizzou’s SOS ranked 47th, and Oklahoma State’s ranked 85th. Neither has played anyone top end(as evidenced by their combined zero games against the Top 30), but Mizzou has clearly had the harder “gauntlet” to this point.

  6. Noefli says:

    “OSU has probably the weakest non-con schedule I have ever seen.”

    In that case, am I correct in assuming you have been watching college football for maybe 7 weeks?

  7. schedule nit says:

    The best thing about the Big 12 is nobody ever knows if anybody is actually any good. Except maybe for a certain team who shall remain unnamed except that their coach rhymes with “Poops” and they run up scores against weaker opponents. They may have played some people.

  8. Scott says:

    I will add something that no else has brought up- look at what Vegas thinks of the game. Oklahoma is only a 3 point favorite and that line hasn’t moved. I have heard all the pundits say Mizzou has no chance, but this game sets up good for them. The Colorado game wasn’t very tough and the T A&M game was suppose to really challenge Mizzou, but Mizzou won easily. Mizzou is confident and hasn’t had any emotional games in the past two weeks to make you think Mizzou will have a let down game.

    Full disclosure: I am a Mizzou grad and fan, but this is the first time in several years that I have honestly thought Mizzou has a real chance to beat a top 10 team. I think most will be surprised to see how much talent Mizzou has- Pinkel deserves a ton of credit.

  9. Mark Richens says:

    You must be talking about Florida State or Arizona, because Oklahoma hasn’t been running up too many scores this season (31-24 over Utah State, 27-24 over Air Force) …

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