Cyclones will try to end Sooners' stranglehold on the conference title
Making its fourth consecutive appearance in the league title game, OU knows the scene well. Oddsmakers favor the Sooners to emerge victorious once again. However, last year's overtime thriller against the Baylor Bears showed that the reigning champs are far from invincible in Jerry's World.
The Cyclones are well aware of OU's vulnerabilities. Iowa State took down the Sooners once already this season, winning 37-30 in Ames on Oct. 3, so expect the Cyclones to play up the disrespect of being underdogs to a team they beat before. Can that motivation fuel yet another upset?
Big 12 Championship Game: No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Oklahoma -5.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
One key difference from when these teams met back on Oct. 3: Sooners running back Rhamondre Stevenson. In the four games in which Stevenson has played this year, he has averaged about six yards per carry. Head coach Lincoln Riley is feeding his workhorse about 16 attempts per game, with T.J. Pledger now alternating as a change-of-pace runner.
Juicing up the running game has taken some of the load off the shoulders of quarterback Spencer Rattler. The freshman has responded in the last four games by forcing fewer throws and looking for opportunities to test defenses down the field with his arm. However, the loss of tight end Austin Stogner took away one of his more reliable targets, which has hurt Rattler on the occasions when he's improvising outside the pocket.
The OU offensive line hasn't put everything together when it comes to adjusting to funky looks from defenses. For example, Baylor gave the Sooners fits with a series of unexpected fronts and pressures. The Cyclones will almost surely throw the house at OU.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
The Cyclones have built their identity around methodical offense. They play at one of the slowest paces in the country and leverage a physical ground game behind running back Breece Hall to open up opportunities for quarterback Brock Purdy through the air.
ISU's stable of tight ends gave the Oklahoma defense fits the last time the two teams met. Offensive coordinator Tom Manning used motion and shifts to create easily exploitable opportunities against an OU secondary lacking in size. In particular, the Sooners had no answer for tight end Charlie Kolar, who caught four passes for 66 yards and drew multiple pass interference penalties.
One way to limit the damage from Kolar is to pressure Purdy. This time around, the Cyclones will have to contend with a reinvigorated OU pass rush. Putting defensive end Ronnie Perkins in the lineup has posed problems for offensive lines in the back half of the season.
These two programs have staged some great games in the last four years, and Iowa State is one of just two teams in the Big 12 to beat the Sooners multiple times during that period. (Kansas State is the other.) In fact, if the Cyclones win on Saturday, it would give head coach Matt Campbell a winning record over Lincoln Riley.
The key for ISU to pull that off may hinge on its ability to fluster Spencer Rattler. Oklahoma's quarterback hasn't overcome a youthful tendency to hold the ball for too long when he drops back. He also struggles occasionally with drifting into pressure. Campbell and ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock can exploit those kinds of bad habits to induce back-breaking mistakes from a young QB.
Meanwhile, OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has to devise a strategy to prevent tight end Charlie Kolar from bodying up diminutive defenders like nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles and safety Pat Fields. That may involve a personnel adjustment such as subbing in a bigger player like Jeremiah Criddell at nickel. Grinch would probably prefer scheming up ways to force Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy into quick throws that don't give Kolar time to position himself to box out defenders.
Both of these teams will show on Saturday that they have improved since the first time they played in October. Between Rattler's maturation and incorporating running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive end Ronnie Perkins into the action, the Sooners have probably improved a little more since the first meeting. That will put them on track to get revenge and bring home another trophy.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Iowa State 23
Podcast: Path to the Playoff + Championship Game Previews and Picks
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.