The month that fans in Big 12 country have been waiting for has finally arrived: November, when the conference’s top teams play a brutal round-robin tournament that will definitely crown a league champ and potentially catapult that squad into the College Football Playoff.
No. 8 TCUand No. 14 Oklahoma State officially kick off the month-long festivities Saturday in Stillwater. Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin will lead the Horned Frogs’ prolific offense and injury-plagued defense into Boone Pickens Stadium to square off against an OSU team that got the side-eye from playoff selection committee earlier this week.
This represents easily the stiffest test of the season so far for the Pokes, who currently look to be a couple pieces short of a title contender. After Saturday, we’ll know for sure if they’re ready to compete for the league title.
TCU at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: TCU -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Doctson, Doctson, Gives DBs the Blues
Boykin gets the accolades for both his play and his leadership, but Doctson might be the single best player on TCU’s sizzling offense. At the very least, he makes for Boykin’s best weapon, averaging more than 150 receiving yards per game with 14 touchdowns. Doctson can beat coverage any number of ways, but the 6-3 wideout might be at his best when he’s working down the field on jump balls and fades over his back shoulder. OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer needs to devise a way to slow TCU’s star receiver, and odds are good that his eventual solution involves double coverage of some sort.
2. OSU’s running game
Through eight games this season, it has become clear that teams with even above-average rushing attacks can move the ball versus TCU. The Horned Frogs are surrendering 4.2 yards per rush this season, up roughly 50 percent from 2014. That downturn comes courtesy of a D that has been hammered by injuries this year. Fortunately for TCU, the Cowboys only average about 4 yards per attempt, ranking 89th overall. Whether it be by deploying designated running QB J.W. Walsh or more conventional means, OSU has to exploit Gary Patterson’s defense on the ground.
3. Mason Rudolph’s composure
Rudolph seems to be mired in a classic sophomore slump behind center. His stats are more or less in line with last season on a per-game basis. The problem is that he has more or less compiled those numbers against tomato cans. Poor decisions have dogged him lately — that includes tossing three picks in an overtime win over West Virginia and two versus Texas. Walsh, a remedial passer, is now siphoning away some snaps from Rudolph in what many would interpret as a sign of Mike Gundy’s dwindling confidence in his QB. Early mistakes out of Rudolph could put TCU in a position to bury the Pokes in the first half and never look back.
OSU deserves the skepticism that it received from the selection committee on Tuesday. The Pokes played a lousy non-conference schedule, and the eye test isn’t doing them any favors, either. They’ve won enough close calls so far this year to predict that they can’t keep this up.
TCU should watch its back, though. The Horned Frogs have played pedestrian football away from Fort Worth, grinding out too-close-for-comfort victories on the road over Minnesota, Texas Tech and Kansas State. OSU has a well-schooled defense that features one of the top defensive linemen in the country, Emmanuel Ogbah. It’s not unreasonable to think the Cowboys can get enough stops to keep TCU within striking distance.
Still, OSU just doesn’t have the same type of offensive firepower that we’ve come to expect from Mike Gundy’s teams. Boykin, Doctson, running back Aaron Green and the rest of TCU’s outstanding offensive skill position players will generate one or two more big plays than OSU.
Prediction: TCU 35, Oklahoma State 31
— 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.