The majority of recent Big 12 headlines have dealt with conference realignment, television contracts and lawsuits. Which is too bad, because the football has been outstanding.
Two of the conference's best will meet in one of the nation's coolest environs on Saturday afternoon as No. 7 Oklahoma State visits No. 8 Texas A&M. The victor will continue on the path to a winner-takes-all showdown with Oklahoma later in the season and will be in excellent shape for a BCS berth. Since we know college athletics is about money, money and more money, and since a BCS berth is worth millions, maybe even the trustees, lawyers and accountants will tune in for this one.
1. The Wrecking Crew is good, but how good? Texas A&M's defense has put up some stellar numbers, but the competition has been less than stiff thus far. SMU and Idaho were easy wins, though the Mustangs have put up 34 points per game since the Aggies throttled them 46-14 on opening night. The Aggies lead the nation with 11 sacks, and slowing down Oklahoma State's blistering attack will start with getting pressure on Brandon Weeden. The 27-year old quarterback has thrown for at least 350 yards in nine of his 16 career starts and is currently at the controls of the nation's No. 1 passing offense (408 yards per game). Wide receiver Justin Blackmon is a surefire first-round NFL draft pick, and running back Joseph Randle has smoothly stepped in for Kendall Hunter and is averaging 126 yards per game. "This is a test to see what you are made of," said A&M safety Trent Hunter. "I'm ready for it."
2. Balance is best for the Aggies. Texas A&M has run on 53 percent of its plays thus far, and coach Mike Sherman would likely love for that to continue Saturday. Ryan Tannehill has been terrific since taking over the starting quarterback job halfway through last season, and a solid ground attack makes Tannehill that much more efficient. Senior Cyrus Gray and junior Christine Michael are averaging more than five yards per carry, which should enable the Aggies to grind out some drives and keep OSU's offense on the sideline. Tannehill has completed 72 percent of his passes with just one interception and no sacks, so the Aggies aren't taking a big risk when they elect to throw. But if the running game can establish itself, A&M has a chance for a big day.
3. Oklahoma State's focus will be put to the test. In the distractions department, the Cowboys certainly have had more to deal with than their hosts. Oklahoma State was forced to play in that silly, post-midnight game against Tulsa last weekend that ended at 3:35 a.m., with the players arriving back in Stillwater around 6 a.m. Co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer lost his wife to cancer during the Tulsa game and will be away from the team indefinitely. And then there's the uncertainty of conference realignment, which has seemingly produced a new development each day leading up to this showdown. The Aggies, who have yet to leave the comfy confines of College Station, know they are headed to the SEC next season. When asked this week if he encounters many distractions regarding the SEC or the Big 12's future, A&M coach Mike Sherman said he rarely ventures from the facility during the season, and when he goes to get a candy bar at the Shell station across the street, "they don't speak English."
Texas A&M enters the game as a three-point favorite. Both teams have done well in Vegas recently. Texas A&M is 6-2 against the spread with Tannehill starting and 8-2 in its last 10 Big 12 games. Oklahoma State is 12-4 versus the number over the last two years. The tiebreaking trend? Oklahoma State is 3-0-1 in the last four years against the Aggies.
In 16 career starts, Weeden has 20 completions of 40 yards or more. In eight career starts, Tannehill has one.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
• WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: The dynamic playmaker presently ranks as the top receiver prospect in the nation and projects as a top 10 pick. The junior offers better next-level potential than former OSU star Dez Bryant and is compared by several NFL scouts to former All-Pro Terrell Owens. Grade: First-round prospect.
• QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: The 27-year-old Weeden has built a buzz in scouting circles after the season's opening games. He's a vertical passer who displays a good degree of accuracy on his throws. The contest against the Aggies will present a challenge to Weeden which NFL decision-makers will closely monitor. Grade: Third- to fourth-round prospect.
• WR Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M: The prototypical possession receiver is a large, physical specimen who beats down defenders and consistently comes away with the difficult reception. Displaying steady development in his game the past two years, Fuller projects as a possible No. 2 receiver on an NFL depth chart. Grade: Second-round prospect.
• RB Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M: Gray entered the season ranked as the top senior running back by a number of scouts around the nation. He's a shifty ballcarrier who also excels as a receiver out of the backfield. He'll be a good fit as a third-down back/rotational ballcarrier for the next level. Grade: Third-round prospect.
Kyle Field has not hosted a top 10 matchup since 1975, so the 12th Man will be out in full force. Tannehill predicted a shootout ("I'll have to talk to Tannehill about that after the game," said Hunter), and if that's the case, the edge has to go to Oklahoma State. The OSU offense can put up points from anywhere on the field and will be able to stay in any game until the end. But Sherman thinks it may come down to defense, and there he appears to have the superior unit. Weeden has thrown six interceptions in the Cowboys' first three games, and a few more in College Station could spell OSU's first loss of the season.
TEXAS A&M 34, OKLAHOMA STATE 32