Saturday October 29th, 2016

Oklahoma State logged its fourth win over a top-10 team under coach Mike Gundy, knocking off No. 10 West Virginia 37–20 on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph continued his outstanding play, finishing 26-for-36 with 273 yards and three touchdowns while wide receiver Chris Lacy recorded two receiving scores. Here are three thoughts on this Big 12 showdown.

1. Rudolph picked apart West Virginia’s vaunted defense

In a conference littered with good quarterbacks, Rudolph entered the season as the most pro-ready, according to several pundits. After his performance on Saturday afternoon against the Big 12’s best defense, Rudolph confirmed that he should be considered one of the best in the nation. The junior picked apart the West Virginia unit that smothered high-flying units like Texas Tech and TCU, running perfect zone read plays, spinning out of sacks and even rushing for a score.

After a shaky start to the season, Rudolph has emerged as one of the conference’s most effective quarterbacks. During Oklahoma State's four-game winning streak, Rudolph’s stats look like those of a Heisman candidate: 1,273 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and a 66% completion percentage. With Rudolph playing this well, and the presence of dynamic playmakers like wide receiver James Washington (six receptions, 117 yards on Saturday), the Cowboys’ offense deserves to be considered one of the conference’s most effective despite its stiff competition.

Outside of a controversial loss to Central Michigan in Week 2 and dysfunctional performance against Baylor, Oklahoma State is compiling another strong season under Gundy. With Rudolph at the helm, the Cowboys have a legitimate shot at finishing with 10 wins and grabbing a spot in a New Years Six Bowl.

2. West Virginia is good, but not a College Football Playoff contender

The Mountaineers’ wins over Texas Tech and TCU were indications that they were a credible threat to win the Big 12. But a playoff contender? That seemed like a longshot. Their performance on Saturday proved that they’ll be, at best, a spoiler. Quarterback Skyler Howard has enjoyed a strong season after an inconsistent campaign in 2015, but looked uncomfortable for most of the day and couldn’t kickstart the offense. The senior completed only 24 of his 39 pass attempts for 212 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on Saturday. The Mountaineers also lost running back Rushel Shell, who had rushed for 100-plus yards in back-to-back weeks, to injury early in the second half.

The defense, which might be the only unit that can limit the Big 12’s spread attacks, played a solid, but unspectacular game. It struggled to adjust to Oklahoma State’s multi-pronged attack early. The Mountaineers locked up the Cowboys for most of the second half thanks to their typically strong defensive line play, but ran out of gas on a nine-play, 67-yard fourth-quarter drive that put Oklahoma State up 14 points with 5:15 remaining.

The Mountaineers have the defense to hound all of their Big 12 foes, and an 11-win season is a possibility. The question is, even if they get to 11, whether they’d earn an invitation from the playoff committee.

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3. Who even knows with the Big 12?

Nothing seems to be going correctly for the Big 12 these days. It still has only ten teams. It still doesn’t have a championship game (it's coming back next year). It couldn’t agree on expanding even though it publicly said it intended to. Now, there’s almost no shot that it gets a team into the playoff unless Baylor, a team the conference wants as little national focus on as possible, finishes the team undefeated. The conference doesn't lack for quality teams—Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor are all top-25 caliber—but all of them likely end the season with at least two losses, which would probably disqualify them from the CFP.

It remains difficult to evaluate Baylor because of how easy its schedule has been up to this point (its only good win is Oklahoma State), and West Virginia faces a similarly vicious second half of the schedule (matchups against Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor). Even if Oklahoma wins out, its loss to Houston looks far less defensible after the Cougars dropped games to Navy and SMU. Baylor may be the last one with a realistic shot, and the conference may not even want that. It’s been a bad year for the Big 12, and it only appears to be getting worse. 

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