Can anyone stop Oklahoma's march to New Orleans for the BCS championship game on Jan. 9? One of the biggest questions in college football may have been answered last Saturday, not in Norman, where the No. 1 Sooners flattened Missouri 38--28, but in College Station, Texas, where No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Texas A&M—the Sooners' two closest challengers in the Big 12—faced off in a tilt that was billed as the unveiling of a national championship contender. In the Cowboys' 30--29 win, the nation learned that Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, a former Yankees prospect who leads the nation in passing after shredding A&M for 438 yards, is a bona fide Heisman candidate; that receiver Justin Blackmon (11 receptions, 121 yards, one TD) might be even better than former State icon Dez Bryant; and that the breathless Cowboys offense, which scored three touchdowns within a nine-minute stretch in the third quarter, is as explosive as any in the country.
But the country also learned this: If Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are indeed the Sooners' greatest threats in the Big 12, then Oklahoma (which fell to No. 2 this week, behind LSU) should waltz its way through the conference. The matchup at Kyle Field was a lively shootout between two juggernaut offenses—the units combined for 955 yards—but it also exposed both teams as pretenders in the national discussion and did little to shake the Big 12's reputation as an offense-first conference stuck with soft defenses. In the first half the Aggies exposed Oklahoma State's youth and inexperience at tackle and middle linebacker as they rolled up 301 yards and a 20--3 halftime lead. The only things that slowed A&M in the second half were itself (four turnovers) and coach Mike Sherman's inexplicable decision to give running back Christine Michael, who rumbled for 58 yards in the first half through holes as wide as the Oklahoma panhandle, only two carries after halftime. (One was nullified by a penalty.)
"We're not a championship-caliber defense, not yet at least," concedes Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young. "You can't give up big plays like we did [against A&M], and we did against Tulsa [three scoring plays of more than 40 yards each on Sept. 17], and hope to win big games. But this is a conference of great offenses, and sometimes you're just happy to survive. We know we've still got room to grow."
Young's unit will have to grow a lot if the Cowboys are to stay undefeated and dethrone the Sooners, whom they face Dec. 3 in Stillwater. But right now this much is clear in the Big 12: There are the Sooners, and there's everyone else.
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GREG NELSON (WEEDEN)
COWBOY UP Weeden's prolific right arm has overcome the deficiencies of the defense, which ranks 105th nationally.