After spending the first four Thursday nights in the southeast, checking out teams in the SEC and ACC, it’s time to get a look at some other parts of the country. For those scoring at home, after an 0-2 start I’m on a mini-roll and with Miami’s spanking of Pittsburgh last weekend, have leveled my record at 2-2 this year. Let’s hope we can keep it going as we head west.
This Thursday night we catch up with a pair of Big 12 teams, one from Texas and the other from Oklahoma. But before you get too excited, no, the Red River Rivalry has not been moved to Thursday night. You will have to wait until Saturday for that contest.
Consider this the opening act for the Red River Rivalry as Texas A&M pays a visit to Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, OK, home of the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Why? Well, let me give you six reasons: Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Washington State, Troy, and Tulsa. In short, there just isn’t much we can tell about either program about playing the aforementioned slate of cupcakes.
Oh sure, I can throw out some stats for you. Try these on for size:
Texas A&M is ranked 10th in the nation in total defense
I could continue with these stats but the exercise would be pointless. We simply won’t know a lot about these teams until after this game. That makes picking a winner here especially tricky. Here is what we do know:
If you asked all the preseason pundits, Oklahoma State was supposed to take a big step back this year. Phil Steele, who produces one of the best preseason magazines with his 2010 College Football Preview predicted that the Cowboys would have “their 1st losing season since 2005.”
Granted, there is plenty of time left for that to still happen but even Steele would have to admit that Oklahoma State’s performance so far 2010 has given those predicting gloom and doom for the Cowboys reason to pause. The high octane offense is being powered by a trio of stars.
RB Kendall Hunter is the player – and maybe the only one in Stillwater – that people expected to shine this season and thus far he has not disappointed. The senior tailback ranks tops in the Big 12 in all-purpose yardage with a 198.3-yard average and is dangerous on special teams with his kickoff returns.
The big surprise has been at the all-important quarterback position. Zac Robinson was the heart and soul of this offense for the past three seasons and his departure (now with the Seattle Seahawks) seemed to signal a rebuilding project for the Oklahoma State offense.
Enter Brandon Weeden, or I should actually say, re-enter Brandon Weeden. You see, coming out of Edmond Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma in 2002, Weeden was a 2nd round draft choice of the New York Yankees. After a couple years in the Yankees organization, he was traded to the Dodgers (in the Kevin Brown deal) and then eventually made his way to the Royals by way of the 2005 Rule V Draft.
Of course, spending time in the Royals organization is worse than San Quentin and will quickly test one’s desire to play pro baseball. Predictably, Weeden hung up his baseball cleats in 2006 and headed back to Oklahoma where he enrolled at Oklahoma State.
Thus far in 2010, Weeden has acquitted himself quite nicely on the football field and following the win over the Golden Hurricane on Sept. 18, the former baseball prospect was ranked second nationally in passing yards and sixth in efficiency. It certainly doesn’t hurt that WR Justin Blackmon has stepped up and is doing his best Dez Bryant impression.
Along with the loss of Robinson, Bryant – now with the Dallas Cowboys and picking up $54,896 dinners – was the other loss from the Oklahoma State offense that was supposed to set the program back. However, Blackmon currently leads the nation in receiving yards (143.7 per game) and scoring among receivers (18.0). Much of the credit for Oklahoma State’s quick start on offense has to go to offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who left his post at the University of Houston after the 2009 season. Holgorsen has implemented the spread offense that was so successful at Houston and so far the results have been all that head coach Mike Gundy could ask for. Then again, maybe we’ll check in and see how Gundy is feeling after Thursday night’s game. There is little doubt that Texas A&M will be the best team Oklahoma State has seen this year and especially on defense. Defense used to be the calling card of Texas A&M football. The Aggies commonly went by the name “The Wrecking Crew” in the 80’s and 90’s but with their more recent performance, the nickname has understandably worn off.
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter would love to establish that reputation again and he has the talent this year to start heading in that direction. The linebacking corp has been crucial so far as Lucas Patterson, Garrick Williams, and freshman Demontre Moore have been game changers.
Making their defensive performance even more impressive is that so far they have done it with little help from the 2009 national leader in sacks, Von Miller. The senior, who plays a little LB and some DE is still dealing with a sprained ankle he suffered in the season opener.
However, if Texas A&M is to win this Thursday night, the will need a great game from their defense and their offense. That means QB Jerrod Johnson simply can’t afford to have anything like the game he had against Florida International last time out when he threw four interceptions during a span of eight passes in the third quarter.
Johnson will look to WRs Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller as well as lean heavily on RB Christine Michael who has rushed for 100 yards in each of the three games so far in 2010.
If the Aggies can emerge for Pickens Stadium 4-0 and considering the way Texas and Oklahoma look so far this year, Mike Sherman’s bunch would have to be considered a legit threat to make a run at their first Big 12 South Division title since 1998.
Texas A&M leads the all-time series 17-8 but the Cowboys have won two in a row, including last year’s 36-31 win at College Station.
Texas A&M is 1-1 against the spread in 2010 while Oklahoma State is 2-1 ATS. This will be the first road game of the year for the Aggies.