AUSTIN, Texas – You don’t know what you don’t know. Without knowing what will happen between now and the end of the regular season, this is what we know as of Nov. 16:
Oklahoma State, the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference championship, has a firm grasp on its destiny. The Cowboys are 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the league after Saturday’s dominating 38-13 victory at Texas.
Baylor is 9-1 overall and 7-0 in Conference play following its 63-54 victory over Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Bears will play the Cowboys Saturday night in Stillwater. That game gained more significance on the national stage with USC’s 20-17 upset of Stanford, which was fourth in the BCS standings, one spot ahead of Baylor.
“Baylor’s the most important game because it’s the next game,” said Oklahoma State defensive back Justin Gilbert, who had two of the Cowboys’ three interceptions.
“We want to be 1-0 after next Saturday so that’s our goal,” Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “We can only play one team at a time.”
(A cliché is a cliché often because it’s true. Oklahoma State has to play Baylor before it can play Bedlam rival Oklahoma to close the season on Dec. 7)
“I certainly think we’ve got as good a chance as anybody,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “We’re in playoff football right now. We play a great team next week.”
Texas’ first Big 12 loss did not eliminate the Longhorns (7-3, 6-1) from title contention but the Longhorns need to win their last two games and have Oklahoma State lose one of its last two.
"They're disappointed but they know their goals are still in place,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, who had stressed the opportunity to win a conference championship as balm for a 1-2 start. “They just don't control their own destiny.”
The Cowboys have won three consecutive trips to Austin, an accomplishment that would have seemed impossible five years ago. The Gundy Era is becoming a golden era for Oklahoma State football. The Cowboys have won seven consecutive games after a head-scratching 30-21 loss at West Virginia in late September.
Plus, Oklahoma State won without wide receiver/punt returner Josh Stewart, who Gundy says is a “special player who can change a game.” The Cowboys are continuing to display admirable characteristics that coaches love.
"We understand how big the game is,” Gundy said. I'm not sure if at times everybody wants to say that that's a heck of a win, but it is what it is. You seldom go on the road and win by three touchdowns against a team that has gotten to the middle of November undefeated in conference play.
“Our guys have made the commitment to improve each week. This team has a good chemistry and has decided to play well as a group. We play humbly and play as a team.”
Gilbert, who returned the opening kickoff last week for a touchdown, gained 41 yards on Saturday’s opening kickoff. The Longhorns made sure to kick it away from Gilbert the rest of the game. They neglected to not throw it in his direction.
The outcome pivoted late in the first half. The Cowboys took a 21-10 lead 75 seconds before halftime when Tracy Moore snagged a tipped pass that UT defensive back Adrian Phillips could have intercepted in the end zone. The Longhorns were slated to get the opening kickoff of the second half but decided to get more points in the first half.
On a first-and-15 from the Texas 37, Case McCoy threw a sideline pass intended for Kendall Sanders. Gilbert jumped the route, made the pick and 43 yards later it was 28-10.
“We're trying to be aggressive and force the throw to the outside, and Gilbert's a really good player and he made a great play,” Brown said.
Gilbert admitted that he channeled Deion Sanders and baited McCoy into thinking Sanders was open.
“I saw McCoy pump fake away from me and then turn and throw my way,” said Gilbert, who has six interceptions this season. “I knew he didn’t have any other target and he had to throw it my way. When you’re on the road, you want to take the crowd out of the game and I think that did it. I saw a lot of people leaving after halftime.”
Oklahoma State jumped to a 14-10 lead thanks to senior quarterback Clint Chelf who gained 75 yards rushing on seven first-half carries. He scored the Cowboys’ first touchdown on an 18-yard quarterback draw and the second on a 4-yard zone read keeper.
“It was unacceptable, unacceptable,” Texas defensive coordinator Greg Davis said of Chelf’s running success. “It shouldn't have happened. …I'm sick.”
McCoy, who had been 6-0 as a starter this season, finished 26-of-39 for 221 yards. But he has thrown nine interceptions over his last five games. UT’s margin for error doesn’t include sloppy quarterback play.
“The quarterback goes out and throws three picks, you're not going to win the ballgame,” said McCoy, whose interception by Oklahoma State’s Caleb Lavey led to the Cowboys’ final TD. “It's very rare that happens. So it's on me, my team knows it's on me, and we're going to get it fixed and go win.”
Gundy clicked off a list of his team’s positives: Defensive effort, outstanding special teams, winning the turnover battle, a productive rushing attack. Brown couldn’t disagree.
“They won in about every way you can win,” he said. “They're a good team, so we need to play better than we did. I don't think people give them enough credit. But they should.”