Game of the Week: TCU vs. Oklahoma State
Through three weeks of the college football season, it is already a foregone conclusion to most people that the Big 12 will be decided between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Nov. 4.
The Big 12 brought back the conference championship game this year, so that matchup actually will be the first of two this season to decide the conference champion. At least that is the current popular opinion of the Big 12; however, another school from the state directly underneath may have something to say about that.
If there is a team in the conference that will crash the party and emerge as a contender outside the state of Oklahoma, it is Gary Patterson and TCU.
The Cowboys crushed the Horned Frogs on the road in Fort Worth a year ago, 31-6, but there is plenty of reason to believe it will be much closer in 2017.
First of all, last year was a transition year for TCU from four-year starter Trevone Boykin to Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill. They were also very inexperienced last season, particularly on defense, and suffered a lot of injuries throughout the year.
Now they have 17 starters back from last year’s team and have one of its better defenses since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
On the other hand, Mike Gundy may have his best team at Oklahoma State in his 12-year tenure in Stillwater, including his 2011 team that would have played for the BCS National Championship game if not for a late season road loss to unranked Iowa State.
The Cowboys have arguably the most lethal offense in all of college football starting with a Heisman candidate in senior quarterback Mason Rudolph. After throwing for over 4,000 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions last season, he has started off 2017 on fire, completing 72.3 percent of his passes for 1135 yards, 11 touchdowns and just one interception. He is also second in the nation in yards per attempt at 12.07.
As prolific of a passer as Rudolph is, sophomore running back Justice Hill is one of the most underrated players at his position in the nation. After a 1,100 yard freshman season, Hill is averaging 6.8 yards per carry through three games in 2017.
The true bread and butter of this offense, however, is its absurdly talented wide receiving corps. Senior James Washington is widely considered the best in the country after two consecutive 1,000 yard, ten touchdown seasons. He, Marcell Ateman, Jalen McCleskey and Dillon Stoner all gained over 100 yards in the air last week against Pitt.
Rudolph and the offense will have their first test against a solid TCU pass rush that has recorded eight sacks and 24 tackles for loss in three games.
The Horned Frogs also already won in a tough road environment at Arkansas in week two, holding an excellent quarterback in Austin Allen to only 9-23 for 138 yards.
Saturday will absolutely be a much tougher task and, although the TCU defense may not be quite good enough to slow down Oklahoma State’s offense for an entire game, they do have the ability to keep this one close.
The question with Oklahoma State is whether its offense can carry its pedestrian defense the entire season. While they have looked relatively decent through three games, TCU’s offense is much more explosive than any of the first three teams the Cowboys have played.
The Horned Frogs have great balance on this side of the ball with Darius Anderson and Kyle Hicks leading the rushing attack. Hicks, though, is potentially out for Saturday’s game after suffering an undisclosed injury in the second half of last week’s game against SMU.
The x-factor in every big game for TCU this year is whether or not Kenny Hill can take care of the ball. He is talented passer, but has a history of turnover issues. The good news is that so far this season he has been better, completing 75% of his passes with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. It will be especially critical for TCU to win the turnover battle on Saturday if they are to pull off the upset on the road.
Oklahoma State is the real deal, but do not be surprised if TCU pulls off a victory. Their offense will be able to score on the Oklahoma State defense.
The Cowboys offense will make big-plays every so often, but TCU’s defense will challenge them and limit their explosive plays enough to have a chance to pull off the upset late.
However, Hicks likely being out is a major obstacle for TCU to overcome. Without him, they may need to lean on Hill more than they would prefer, which could lead to a key turnover or two that changes the game.
It will not be the same dominant showing that they have put on display the first three weeks, but the Cowboys will survive at home and show the nation they can win in high-pressure situations.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, TCU 34
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.