Cowboys unable to defend ranking
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2011
11/20/11 at 6:43 AM
It's one thing to be ranked as the No. 2 team in college football.
It's another thing to actually be the No. 2 team, and Oklahoma State proved on Friday that it is not at that level.
A No. 2 ranking suggested that Oklahoma State might be close to No. 1 LSU, and that simply is not the case.
Not yet. Certainly not on defense.
In their last three games, the Cowboys faced two running quarterbacks - Kansas State's Collin Klein and Iowa State's Jared Barnett. Klein averages 251 yards of total offense per game, but during a 52-45 loss at OSU, he had 375 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
In the first two starts of his career, Barnett mustered 236 total yards against Texas Tech and 300 against Kansas.
Against OSU on Friday, however, Barnett rolled up 460 total yards and tossed three touchdown passes. The Cyclones - who had been 0-56-2 all-time against opponents ranked in the national top six - stunned the previously unbeaten Cowboys 37-31 in overtime.
Before stumbling offensively, defensively and on special teams at Ames, the Cowboys had a clear path to the Bowl Championship Series national-title game. Now, unless there is a flurry of upset losses by other contending teams, OSU has lost its chance at the grand prize.
It's almost a certainty that Mike Gundy won't get that $500,000 university bonus for an appearance in the national championship game.
But if he can restore the Cowboys' self-esteem in time for the Dec. 3 Bedlam battle with Oklahoma - and if he can finally beat the Sooners for the first time in seven attempts, capture the Big 12 crown and secure a Fiesta Bowl trip - then perhaps Gundy deserves a $500,000 bonus anyway.
If he can achieve that, it would rank as his top accomplishment.
Friday's outcome was the biggest victory in Iowa State football history, and it absolutely was among the more painful for OSU.
Nothing about Friday was typical for the Cowboys. As players gathered for their morning breakfast, they watched ESPN's coverage of the Thursday plane crash that killed OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna.
Football requires focus, and you have to presume that the OSU players were affected by a tragedy having occurred within their athletic department.
In seven previous Big 12 games, OSU committed a combined total of 10 turnovers while averaging fewer than five penalties. At Iowa State - against a 27-point underdog - the Cowboys' focus was fractured. They had five turnovers, 10 penalties and lost after leading 24-7 in the third period.
The Oklahoma State program is firmly established as a national force. In four consecutive seasons, the Cowboys have been ranked in the top 10. Since opening day, the 2011 Cowboys have been a top-10 team.
For six years, OSU's offense has sustained a high level of performance. For 10 years, OSU's kicking game has been among the nation's best. But one pronounced flaw - defensive inconsistency - continues to linger. The Cowboys entered the weekend with a national total-defense ranking of 101.
Iowa State is an average football team, but when it mattered most, the Cowboy defense couldn't get a stop.
Against other Big 12 opponents, the Cyclones average 399 yards per game. Against OSU, the Cyclones had 568 yards on 101 plays.
During the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys clinging to a 24-17 lead, Iowa State executed a 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive.
What would LSU have done when dealt the same challenge? The Tigers would have forced a punt. That's what they do.
When Gundy's defense can consistently do that at crunch time, then OSU would go to battle with a more complete team and a No. 2 ranking would seem more legitimate.
OSU UP NEXT
7 p.m Dec. 3
Radio: KFAQ am1170
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
OSU's Justin Blackmon makes a reception under pressure from Iowa State's Leonard Johnson on Friday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World