Baylor-Oklahoma St. Preview
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - After emerging from a challenging stretch of four road games over the past month and a half, No. 3 Oklahoma State finally gets to come home for a couple weeks.
That doesn't mean the Cowboys (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) can relax.
Robert Griffin III, the nation's most efficient passer, brings Baylor (4-2, 1-2) and the second-most productive offense in the country to Stillwater on Saturday for homecoming. Beyond that, there's a date with No. 10 Kansas State, two more road games and then a season-ending clash with 11th-ranked Oklahoma.
It could be the path to the BCS championship game for the Cowboys.
"It's every bit as difficult as what we went through," coach Mike Gundy said Monday. "And so, again it validates the strength of our league that people are debating across the country. That still puzzles me.
"Every game will be a challenge for us. You're playing very good teams who have had success not only in this league but against opponents outside of our league and they all have a certain aspect of their team that makes them good."
When the season started, it appeared that the stretch that just ended - including road games at Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri - held the most likely stumbling blocks for the Cowboys before the Bedlam rivalry game. The rest isn't any easier, though.
"It makes for great Saturdays for the fans and not so much fun for the coaches," Gundy said.
By staying unbeaten so far, Oklahoma State has been rewarded with a ranking that matches the highest in the program's history. The Pokes were also ranked No. 3 for one week in 1984, before losing at No. 2 Oklahoma.
They're also ranked third in the BCS standings and seem to control their destiny to the national championship game, since LSU and Alabama - the two teams in front of them - play each other Nov. 5.
All that could make for an increasingly tense atmosphere, since any loss would derail everything. But Gundy doesn't think that's the case.
"We're not going to play under pressure. We're not going to coach under pressure," Gundy said. "We want the players to enjoy the experience they're going through.
"There's way too much pressure in college football now, and so I want them to put that to the side."
By now, Oklahoma State's players are used to being ranked highly. The program has been ranked in the top 10 each of the past three seasons. Before that, it had been 20 years - since Barry Sanders' 1988 Heisman Trophy season, when Gundy was the quarterback.
"I think most of us seniors have been around here long enough to know about the rankings. They can be here today and gone tomorrow," safety Markelle Martin said.
"It's up to the senior class to keep the young guys focused and be like, 'Hey, it doesn't mean anything. It's just a number to us.'"
The Cowboys have played at Boone Pickens Stadium only once since Sept. 8, easily routing Kansas 70-28 on Oct. 8. Some starters, including quarterback Brandon Weeden, were pulled before halftime in that game as Oklahoma State scored 56 points in the first half - a touchdown on all eight possessions.
Strangely enough, home games haven't been as kind as road games to the team lately. The program is riding a nine-game road winning streak - the second longest in school history - and has suffered five of its last six regular-season losses at Boone Pickens, including both of last season's defeats.
Gundy said he won't deliver any Knute Rockne speeches to try and inspire his team. He's planning to stick with his regular routine and trust that the way the Cowboys have been preparing will continue to be enough to get the job done.
"We're pretty comfortable in our ability to prepare for each team, and we play each week in not looking past nobody," said running back Joseph Randle, who scored four touchdowns in last weekend's 45-24 win at Missouri. "I think this team is very focused on the goals that we have and taking things week by week and not looking at the big picture as much."
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon, perhaps the biggest key to a Cowboys offense that ranks third nationally, missed the second half last Saturday as a precaution after taking a blow to the head, but he is expected to return.
Baylor and Houston are the only teams with more yards per game than the Cowboys. The Bears, however, have dropped both of their road contests, allowing a combined 91 points at Texas A&M and Kansas State.
They had last weekend off after yielding 681 yards during a 55-28 loss to the Aggies on Oct. 15. Griffin, who boasts an FBS-high 205.7 passer rating, threw for a school-record 430 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 22 on the season with just two interceptions.
"It's tough on the sidelines to sit there and watch another team move the ball on your defense, but you can't become just an offense and a defense," Griffin said. "It divides the team and you won't be very successful. We'll just continue to make sure we're a team."
Baylor lost by that same 55-28 score to Oklahoma State last year, with the Cowboys putting up 725 total yards and Weeden hitting Blackmon 13 times for 173 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears have lost five straight and 14 of 15 in the series.
Updated October 24, 2011