WILLIAMS: A final assessment of ISU/OSU plus Big 12 picks

Sep 19, 2020; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) hands off to running back Chuba Hubbard (30) against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

All week long, I’ve had a difficult time nailing down my feelings on No. 17 Iowa State’s top 25 showdown in Stillwater vs. No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday (2:30 p.m. on FOX). 

Over the years of working in this profession, I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to say, “I don’t know.”

That’s mostly how I feel about this game.

That’s because, on paper, these teams are pretty even. If anything, Oklahoma State probably has a slight advantage. But games aren’t played on paper. With what we have tangibly seen on the football field this year, I give Iowa State a clear edge. 

I’m throwing the first week out for both teams – a loss for Iowa State to Louisiana and an absolute survival mode win for Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa. I know how messed up Iowa State’s week was prior to that and can only imagine that OSU was the same.

Since then, Iowa State has won at TCU, vs. Oklahoma and vs. Texas Tech. Oklahoma State has beaten perhaps the two worst teams in the Big 12, Kansas and West Virginia (both at home). 

There’s the time off factor. Thanks to a Covid outbreak in Waco, Oklahoma State hasn’t played a game in 21 days. Iowa State’s number is at 14 due to a previously scheduled bye. 

Does that matter? I don’t know. Probably not. But it is a factor when concluding that we really don’t know what to expect from the Cowboys on Saturday. 

The only thing I do expect from OSU: For them to be much better than they were in the first three weeks of the season. Mike Gundy is an elite coach and this time will have been used wisely.

Here’s more on the biggest game of the year – so far – for the Cyclones. 

Scouting the Cowboys 

Who is the QB?: Mike Gundy has been coy about his quarterback situation leading up to this one. Surely, sophomore Spencer Sanders is ready to go, right? Perhaps Gundy is more comfortable with freshman Shane Illingworth, who has been filling in since Sanders went down early in the season opener. Gundy even hinted to the media this week that both could play. 

My take: As an Iowa State fan, I’d rather face Illingworth. I’m guessing Sanders will get the nod. 

Loaded with skill guys: Chuba Hubbard is still a Heisman front-runner for a reason. His overall numbers are down but Hubbard is still averaging 113.9 yards per game this season. The guy nobody talks about but should is Hubbard’s backup, LD Brown. He’s the sixth-leading rusher in the Big 12 and housed a big one vs. West Virginia. Tylan Wallace, a 2018 Biletnikoff finalist, is the man out wide. But OSU has four wide receivers who are upperclassmen. 

Issues up front: To the naked eye, Oklahoma State seems to have taken a step back on its offensive line this season. Smart football people will say this is the reason for the offensive setback. 

Oklahoma State is currently ranked 47th nationally (out of 77 teams) in offensive yards per play. 

How proven is the defense?: Meanwhile, OSU’s defense is on the other end of the spectrum. The Cowboys are ranked second nationally giving up only 3.9 yards per play behind only West Virginia (seriously). 

But let’s be real: Both teams have played Kansas, so that is a skewed statistic. To focus only on the Cowboys, all three teams they have played are in the bottom third of college football in yards per play.

I fully believe that Oklahoma State’s defense is an upper half group in the Big 12. But I’m not sure they have been seriously tested at this point in the season. 

Weekly Big 12 picks…

Iowa State 31, Oklahoma State 27 – As I mused up above, I’m going off of what I have seen. Give me the Clones in a nail-biter.

Texas 38, Baylor 17 – This line stood out to me on Sunday when it came out. Feels like a big-time Texas bounce-back game, and I don’t think Baylor is very good on top of it. 

Oklahoma 31, TCU 28 – Gary Patterson and an elite secondary will give the Rattler kid more problems. Oklahoma will have used a week off to its advantage, but I wouldn’t lay a touchdown here with Blum’s money. 

Texas Tech 27, West Virginia 21 – Texas Tech isn’t as bad as Iowa State made them look. Meanwhile, last week’s West Virginia/Kansas game took football back 25 years. 

Kansas State 41, Kansas 6 – This was the worst Kansas team I have ever seen BEFORE Pooka Williams walked away this week.