Breaking down another top-10 Big 12 showdown in Lubbock.
1. How will Texas Tech handle its new role? The biggest win in school history gave the Red Raiders their highest ranking ever, a prominent place in the national title picture and the current Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Graham Harrell.
Now all they have to do for an encore is move on from that landmark victory over No. 1 Texas and deliver another win over another top-10 opponent.
"I hope it's not [difficult], but you worry," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said earlier this week. "We've done a pretty good job this year, just trying to keep everybody in perspective. Now the biggest game in history is Oklahoma State, or the history of this year, anyway."
The Red Raiders are in the midst of four straight Top 25 opponents -- having already beaten No. 19 Kansas and the Longhorns -- and they'll meet No. 6 Oklahoma on Nov. 22.
Saturday will be the truest test of how far this program has come under Leach. The last time the Red Raiders faced consecutive games against top-10 opponents was 2002, also their last win against Texas, which they followed up by losing to Oklahoma by 45 points. But this Red Raiders team has already shown a resolve its predecessors were missing, as illustrated by that cold-blooded game-winning drive against the Longhorns.
2. The nation's two best wide receivers will be on display. The seemingly endless barrage of Top 25 Big 12 games have centered on the Heisman-caliber quarterback clashes. But now it's time to get hyped about a face-off between two Biletnikoff frontrunners, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant.
Bryant, a sophomore, is second in the nation with 117.1 receiving yards per game (60 catches for 1,054 yards and 15 touchdowns). He's coming off a 171-yard, four-TD day in Oklahoma State's win over Iowa State. Bryant has 10 less receptions than Crabtree, but has 133 more yards in averaging 17.57 yards per catch.
The only thing missing from Bryant's game is a big performance against a big opponent. In the Cowboys' win over No. 11 Missouri, Bryant was held to 47 yards, and he managed just 74 in the loss to Texas. He was held out of the end zone in both games.
Crabtree's numbers are down from his record-setting redshirt freshman season of '07, but he's still sixth in the nation at 102.3 ypg and has 15 TDs. The defending Biletnikoff winner also has something Bryant doesn't: a signature moment with his game-winning score against the 'Horns that's being called "The Pass-The Catch-and-The Run."
3. The key matchup will be Oklahoma State's ground game vs. the Red Raiders' defensive front. A year ago, Mike Gundy's Cowboys won this matchup 49-45 in Stillwater behind a running game that saw three different players run for at least 113 yards and collectively average 6.0 yards per carry. This season Oklahoma State's running game is even more potent, ranking third in the nation at 273.8 yards per game -- 30 more than last season. The Pokes also boast 29 rushing TDs, one less than last season's total with at least four games to play.
The blueprint to beating the Red Raiders, at least on paper, would include a dominant ground game that can keep Harrell and Co. on the sidelines. The improvement of the Cowboys' rushing attack would be problematic for Leach, except for the fact that his defense has become drastically better, especially against the run.
Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in total defense. Behind defensive end Brandon Williams (10 sacks), Tech is second in the conference in rush defense, giving up 98.7 yards per game, which is 79 yards less than a year ago. The Red Raiders dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Couple this with their quick-strike offense and opposing teams are forced to lean on the passing game to catch up, allowing Texas Tech to pile up 15 interceptions (tied for fourth-most in the country).
If the Oklahoma State ground game can't force the Red Raiders to load up the front, it could also be tough for that vaunted Zac Robinson-Bryant connection to get going.
Bryant and Crabtree already have NFL scouts salivating. So what makes them so dominant? I asked NFL Draft Scout senior analyst Rob Rang for his impressions of the receivers. Here's what he had to say:
"Neither one of them seems to have that Jeremy Maclin-like speed. They're both bigger guys obviously and they both have incredible body control for players of that size and that's what makes them so unique.
"Crabtree, for as successful as he is, he's a little bit rawer in terms of his technique. He's become a great route-runner, but he's still a little rough around the edges. But because he has such great body control, because he's so hard to bring down in the open field, that's what makes him so unique.
"Dez Bryant has very good initial quickness, acceleration, and he is among the better receivers when the ball is in the air. Crabtree is the taller guy [6-foot-3 to Bryant's 6-1], but Bryant is so good at timing his leap and catching the ball at the highest point. That's a little bit of a lost art in all of football, but certainly college football, and he is so good at that."
Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma State 35. It would come as no surprise if the Red Raiders suffered a bit of an emotional letdown in the wake of a win that has completely changed the image of their program. But two factors, that the game is in Lubbock and the balance of Texas Tech's offense, should be enough to make up for it.