Fresh off a bye week, the Cowboys are 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma State picked up some much-needed momentum with back-to-back victories over Texas and Iowa State, but must improve defensively in order to contend for the conference crown. Five straight opponents have scored 30 or more points against the Cowboys.
The Jayhawks have lost five consecutive games, 12 straight in conference play, and 20 of their last 21 overall, but Oklahoma State would be unwise to overlook a Kansas squad that pushed TCU to the limit two weeks ago.
Oklahoma State at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Oklahoma State -24
Three Things to Watch
1. The Quarterbacks
Overlooked in the Big 12 by big names like Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph is in the midst of a terrific season for the Cowboys. Rudolph has completed 61.9 percent of his passes this for 2,039 yards with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He set a school record with 540 passing yards against Pitt earlier this season, and posted a combined 743 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception in back-to-back Big 12 victories over Texas and Iowa State.
Highlighted by big-play receiver James Washington, Rudolph also has plenty of weapons to work with on offense. Washington ranks among the top 10 in the nation with 731 receiving yards and 121.8 receiving yards per game. He averages an explosive 20.3 yards per catch and has scored six touchdowns.
Kansas has been far less consistent at the quarterback position. Junior captain Montell Cozart threw for 581 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions over the first four games of the season, but was replaced two weeks ago as the starter and hasn’t played since. Ryan Willis, who was impressive in relief duty through the first four games, led the Jayhawks against TCU and tallied 348 passing yards and a touchdown run, but also threw three interceptions. Willis tossed three more interceptions against Baylor, including a pick six. The sophomore has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 811 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is expected to make his third consecutive start on Saturday
2. The Line of Scrimmage
The Oklahoma State offense has been explosive in 2015, but if there’s one area the unit can improve, it’s in pass protection. The Cowboys have surrendered 18 sacks in six games this season, which is the second most in the Big 12 and ranks No. 101 in the nation. And Oklahoma State will be tested at the line of scrimmage Saturday.
Led by defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 15 sacks. Armstrong has six of those and has gotten to the quarterback at least once in four straight games. Cameron Rosser has four sacks, including three in the near upset against TCU. The aggressive Jayhawks also rank second in the Big 12 and rank among the top 10 nationally with an average of 8.5 tackles for a loss per game. Prior to the last week’s blowout loss at Baylor, Kansas had recorded nine or more TFLs in four consecutive games.
Similarly, the Oklahoma State pass rush matches up well with the Kansas offensive line. The Cowboys have recorded 18 sacks thus far, including seven a week ago against Iowa State. The Jayhawks have surrendered 17 sacks this year, 14 of which have come in their last three games.
No team in the nation has turned the ball over more than Kansas. The Jayhawks had five turnovers alone in last week’s loss to Baylor and four against TCU, which pushed the team’s total to 22 on the season. Overall, Kansas has thrown 12 interceptions (only Bowling Green has more among FBS teams), and has lost 10 fumbles (only Virginia Tech has more). It’s not surprising that the Jayhawks also rank next to last in the country in turnover margin (minus-11).
On the other hand, Oklahoma State ranks second in the Big 12 and No. 28 nationally with 13 takeaways. The Cowboys have forced six interceptions, recovered seven fumbles and have scored two touchdowns. The Oklahoma State offense has had its issues holding on to the football – six lost fumbles rank No. 96 nationally – but the Cowboys have only thrown two interceptions in 191 pass attempts, giving the squad a plus-5 turnover margin that ranks third in the conference and among the top 25 teams in the country.
On paper, this game shouldn’t be close, which is a big reason why Oklahoma State is more than a three-touchdown favorite on the road. Kansas has struggled to hold on to the football, and to score. The Jayhawks have averaged just 15.4 points per game against FBS competition, and have surrendered 41.4 points on average during their five-game losing streak.
However, Kansas has played its best two games of the season at home and opponents have scored just 22.3 points per game in Lawrence this year. Also, an 11 a.m. kickoff local time could help the Jayhawks – especially if Oklahoma State comes in a little rusty following last week’s bye. Expect a lazy first half, but for the Cowboys’ offensive firepower to help them to pull away late.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Kansas 14
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.