Considered dark horses in the Big 12 race before the season, the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Iowa State Cyclones will face off on Saturday with what appears to be the inside track for first place on the line.
Since dropping its season opener against Louisiana, Iowa State has won all of its conference games. That included an upset of preseason favorite Oklahoma. Oklahoma State meanwhile, has beat up on some of the Big 12's weakest teams.
Expect the winner of this game to be playing for the conference championship in December. In fact, both teams may be.
No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -3.5
When Iowa State Has the Ball
The Oklahoma State defense presents arguably the toughest test yet for ISU quarterback Brock Purdy and his supporting cast. In their first three games of the season, the Cowboys are giving up a scant nine points per game. On the other hand, no one would mistake OSU's slate of Tulsa, Kansas and West Virginia for the most dynamic group of offenses.
For all the attention Purdy gets, the Cowboys would be well-advised to make ISU running back Breece Hall the focal point of their game plan. Hall is a relentless runner whose ability to break tackles helps the Cyclones keep the chains moving on offense. He routinely turns two-yard gains into six.
How OSU matches up with ISU tight end Charlie Kolar presents another intriguing dilemma for Cowboys defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Kolar has soft hands, and his size enables him to shield defenders from the ball and make plays in short- and medium-yardage scenarios.
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
The question certain to be on the minds of everyone in Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday: Who's playing quarterback for the Cowboys?
Returning starter Spencer Sanders may be back in action. He went down in the first quarter of the Pokes' first game of the season against Tulsa. Since then, OSU head coach Mike Gundy has refused to take the training wheels off of his offense. The Cowboys are averaging 50 rushing attempts per game versus 24 passes.
Of course, OSU's weak schedule hasn't necessitated opening up its attack. It also makes sense to ride your RBs when they're as productive as Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown.
One of the biggest challenges for the Cowboys in this matchup may be shaking off the rust. An open date and a coronavirus-related postponement mean Oklahoma State last played on Oct. 3.
On the plus side, the extended break gave Spencer Sanders' leg injury more time to heal. His wheels add an extra dimension to OSU's offensive scheme. The Pokes need that kind of boost because aside from wide receiver Tylan Wallace, they're not getting much production out of their passing game.
A slow start out of OSU could position the Cyclones to build an early lead. That would mean a healthy dose of Breece Hall on the ground in the second half. If so, the Cowboys will have to hope for a second shot at Iowa State in the conference title game to make up for their bad luck.
Prediction: Iowa State 24, Oklahoma State 21
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions
— 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.