After a rough start to the season, Oklahoma has cruised to a 5-0 record in Big 12 play. At No. 14 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, the Sooners might represent the conference’s best hope - however slim - to play in the final four.
You only have to go back to 2011 to find a case of Iowa State ruining a conference mate’s hopes of playing for a national championship. As heavy underdogs, the Cyclones knocking off the Sooners now would be just as big of an upset as that win over Oklahoma State five years ago.
With running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine out of action, OU enters the game playing shorthanded on offense. Does that give ISU enough of an edge to pull out a win?
Oklahoma at Iowa State
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -21
1. OU’s Missing Ball Carriers
Iowa State has an atrocious run defense - the Cyclones are allowing more than five yards per rushing attempt this season. In light of the news about Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, that means one of two things.
On the one hand, it might not matter who’s toting the rock for the Sooners.
On the other, ISU might be catching a major break.
In fact, the biggest concern for OU might be the ability of newly minted starter Abdul Adams to pick up blitzers when Baker Mayfield drops back to pass.
2. Improvement in OU’s Secondary
The Sooners gave up a scant 3.3 yards per pass attempt on defense last week. They also were playing Kansas.
The Cyclones have a few more weapons than the Jayhawks to test OU’s beleaguered defensive backs. If the Sooners give up big plays in the passing game to Allen Lazard and his position mates, Bob Stoops should stock up for a long November.
3. Shadowing Dede Westbrook
OU’s star wide receiver put together a month for the ages in October. If he continues at his current pace, he’ll likely win the Biletnikoff Award in a landslide.
Iowa State struggled to contain the only other wideout of Westbrook’s skill level that it has seen this season. James Washington of Oklahoma State blew through the Cyclone secondary for 152 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches in the Cowboys’ win over ISU last month.
Putting the clamps on Westbrook would force Mayfield to find other receiving targets, which hasn’t worked well for the Sooners this season. Mixon’s absence also hurts the aerial attack in that respect.
Oklahoma can’t count on its usual offensive output against Iowa State. A well-rounded attack that can burn defenses with either the run or the pass has sparked the Sooners this season. Losing their two backfield studs will severely weaken one side of that equation. It certainly won’t help the other, either.
Despite what the win-loss columns say, Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell is wringing just about every drop of productivity out of his team in his first year in Ames. A win like this would make his debut season a success, and a Thursday night game at Jack Trice Stadium is the perfect setting to pull it off.
ISU can stay within striking range of OU into the second half. Unfortunately for the ‘Clones, putting a scare into the Sooners will have to do.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Iowa State 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.