With just five games remaining, the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State Cowboys are trending in entirely opposite directions. The Horns have now won six straight and headline the conference as the nation’s No. 6 team, while the Pokes have dropped three of four with a win over Kansas being the exception.
Will Oklahoma State’s finally find some more success within the conference, or does Texas continue to roll for its seven win in as many tries? The Burnt Orange Nation staff sat down to discuss that and much more.
Texas is 6-1, but all but the USC game could have gone either way. Now that they’ve had the week away, will we see a better Texas team these final five weeks?
Cody Daniel — Co-Editor: My guess is the notable difference would be in discipline and not committing quite as many costly penalties. More importantly, I’d be tremendously surprised if Texas hasn’t emphasized managing leads better so situations such as 45-24 and 19-0 don’t transform into 48-45 and 19-14.
Corey Elliot — Contributor: This is the last week before the first playoff rankings. The first playoff rankings mean nothing. However, it’s time for Texas to come out and win a game convincingly. Sure, USC and TCU were pretty convincing. The OU win was convincing for three quarters. So I’d expect to see a Texas team that understands it’s time to go out and handle teams it’s supposed to handle.
Kameron MaAfee — Contributor: At this point in the season, what we’ve seen so far is most likely what we’re going to get the rest of the way. If they can just execute and come ready to play, I’m confident that they can win out over the course of these final five weeks.
Curry Shoff — Contributor: No. We will see the same team we’ve seen all season. There will be better performances because the competition is worse -- but Texas isn’t going to blow anybody out. They aren’t there yet. It doesn’t matter, though. “Just win, baby.”
Anthony Rizzo — Contributor: Outside of a road game in Manhattan against a down Kansas State team, Texas hasn’t proven to win a road game in orderly fashion. That all can start this weekend in Stillwater. If there’s one area Texas can be ‘better’ at, it’s playing more complete football from start to finish.
With more than half of the season to consider, what has come as a pleasant surprise, and on the other hand, what were you expecting to see this year that you haven’t yet?
Cody: Sam Ehlinger’s efficiency and poise managing the game has been impressive to watch, especially since quarterback has been the most notable issue for Texas in recent years. On the other hand, I thought the running game could be the team’s strength, which hasn’t been the case, and the secondary has certainly suffered its fair share of lapses as well.
Corey: The pleasant surprise has been Texas utilizing its two big body wide receivers, a young capable running back to establish a rushing threat, and a defense that didn’t regress after losing key pieces to the NFL. A well-balanced pleasant surprise. I’m still waiting for Texas to absolutely rock a lesser opponent, or team that is supposed to beat.
Kameron: I have been surprised by the overall development of Ehlinger’s passing game. More so, how quickly he has been able to improve. Yes, he still has a few bad balls every now and then but I’m very pleased with the steps he’s taken over the course of the season.
I’m a little disappointed in Breckyn Hager. I expected him to have a bigger season this year than what we’ve seen so far. He’s only managed one sack to this point. I was expecting to see him be more of a difference maker. Don’t get me wrong, I love having him out there and I know he has positive impacts on games, I just thought he would take a bigger step forward for his senior season.
Curry: I think the most pleasant of all the surprises is how well Caden Sterns has been playing. Adding him to the secondary has been a lot of fun -- and it’s awesome that we get him for at least two more seasons. Obviously, there are a lot of pleasant surprises on both sides of the ball (OL play being a close No. 2). I am a little disappointed our downfield passing game isn’t where I was hoping it would be, but as long as this offense keeps finding ways to score, that’s more of a nitpicking thing than anything. Defensively, I was hoping to see more from guys like Locke and Davante Davis, but as long as this team finds a way to win I don’t mind.
Anthony: Starting with the strong quarterback play from Ehlinger and elite pass protection from the offensive line to improved play-calling, the offense as a whole has been a pleasant surprise. While Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey are one of the most elite wide receiver duos in the country, I’d like to see more out of the freshman receivers. Getting the ball to Joshua Moore and D’Shawn Jamison in space in the slot could be a problem for opposing defenses.
Aside from the USC and TCU games, Texas’ other four wins have each come by seven points or fewer, which isn’t typical of a top 10 team to win close almost every week. Is a win a win, or does Texas need to blow a couple opponents out down the stretch to continue its ascension towards the CFP conversation?
Cody: I think so. For example, No. 9 Florida and No. 7 Georgia play on Saturday, and if Texas sneaks by with a close, single-score win over OSU, they likely get leapfrogged in the polls on Saturday. Ultimately, if Texas can somehow win out and take home the Big 12 title, it should be enough, but if the Horns are hanging around as the No. 5 team when it comes time to pick the playoff, unconvincing wins could be their downfall.
Corey: The committee is made up of human beings. No more computer drama. If Texas wins out and takes the Big 12 crown they have done enough. But at the same time, I need to see Texas beat opponents with an exclamation point at the end of the final score. And if I feel that way, you can bet some committee members will, too. Get some blowout wins, Texas.
Kameron: I’ll take the wins regardless of how they get them. Sure, it would be nice to see them blow a team out, but that would just be a bonus. Right now their main focus needs to be winning out. Doesn’t have to be pretty.
Curry: A win is a win. Texas doesn’t need style points with this schedule.
Anthony: Taking care of business the rest of the way rids any worry of having to win with style. Hypothetically thinking, this team needs Notre Dame or Clemson to hiccup along the way for their CFP hopes.
Oklahoma State leads the nation in sacks (4.29 per game) and Jordan Brailford leads the way with nine of his own. How much of an issue would it be if Sam Ehlinger isn’t fully healthy?
Cody: Ehlinger will get the start, but we won’t really know much until he takes a hit or two. If for some reason he isn’t as impactful with his legs, or gets sent to the sidelines again, OSU’s pass rush could feast on Buechele, who is capable of making a few plays, but is nowhere near as impactful as Ehlinger on the ground.
Corey: Sam has to play like Peyton Manning did for so many years. The kid has got to concede the sack if he can see it coming. If he can’t throw the ball away without penalty, or scramble and get out of a rough spot, he has to avoid the big hits. I want to see a smarter, less physical Sam. That doesn’t mean a less productive Sam. He just needs to be extremely careful if that shoulder injury is lingering in the slightest bit.
Kameron:The idea of Sam not being ready is pretty worrisome, but my money is on him finding his way out there Saturday night. With that, I believe the offensive line will play well enough to allow the offense to move the ball down field. It won’t be easy but my confidence with that group is at an all time high at the moment.
Curry: I think it’s a pretty big issue, but I am optimistic in this revamped offensive line to hold its own. Additionally, I think Buechele is athletic *enough* to make some plays most fans assume he can’t. It will be interesting to see Buechele play from the kick rather than coming in rusty off the bench. Hopefully Tre Watson and Keontay Ingram are prepared to take on a heavier load if that’s the case.
Anthony: It’s a bit of a concern, but as long as the offensive line stays healthy they should be okay protecting whoever is at quarterback. Ehlinger adds the element of being able to extend plays, but don’t sleep on Buechele’s ability to do the same. While he missed some easy throws and looked a bit out-of-sync against Baylor, two weeks of preparation should have the junior quarterback fully ready come Saturday.
Once again, Texas will see a prolific receiver in Tylan Wallace, who is 11th nationally with 718 yards. With Kris Boyd and Davante Davis suspended for the first series, is Wallace set for yet another big game?
Cody: OSU will likely look to capitalize while Boyd and Davis are out, but even after they return, I think Wallace will get enough targets to have a nice night. They key for Texas will be getting pressure of Taylor Cornelius and not allowing him to have all day to distribute the ball.
Corey: OSU will absolutely try to take advantage of the Texas shortcomings early on. But the defense has been good at picking up the slack wherever needed, for the most part. Counter the expected attack with pressure on the QB.
Kameron: I expect Gundy to come out firing early and often in attempt to challenge some of the young DB’s. A big game from Wallace is a given in my opinion. But, as long as the defense can contain the other parts of their offense, they should be okay.
Curry: He is set for another big game regardless of whether or not Boyd and Davis are suspended. That being said, it’s not enough to drastically change the game.
Anthony: Most likely. I’m intrigued to see the more athletic Anthony Cook and Josh Thompson fill in at corner, though. Many, including myself, thought Cook could see some time as a starting cornerback this season. Now is that time. Thompson has the speed to keep with Wallace in coverage, although his true cornerback coverage skills may not be there just yet.
Justice Hill may be the best running back Texas has seen thus far, but the Longhorns boast the second-best rush defense in the Big 12. Is Hill due for his fifth 100-yard game of the season, or can Texas replicate Iowa State and Kansas State’s success and limit the senior as they did to the tune of a mere 3.0 YPC?
Cody: OSU’s offensive line isn’t much to write home about so I think Texas will swarm Hill early in hopes of making the Pokes offense one-dimensional. If that became the case, I think the Longhorns secondary will make enough plays to limit OSU, as have recent Big 12 foes.
Corey: This isn’t the first time Texas has faced someone it was predicted to potentially struggle with. So far, the Longhorns have given me every reason to believe they’ll rise to the occasion. Texas’ defense is where it is for a reason. I have no worries.
Kameron: As good as he is, our rush defense is better. He probably will find a way to eat up a chunk of yards over the course of the game but I believe Todd Orlando and company will find a way to limit any big plays by Hill.
Curry: Texas will lock Hill down. I don’t expect a letdown from this group. If Oklahoma State is going to beat Texas, it’s going to be through the air.
Anthony: Hill is too talented of a running back to be held in check three straight games. Coming off a bye week, I expect Oklahoma State to find other ways to get him going whether it’s through screens, utilizing him in the slot, or on outside run plays.
Prediction time: Does Texas extended its winning streak to seven, which would be the program’s best stretch since 2009?
Cody: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Texas lost, but I think that would only happen if the team isn’t prepared and thinks the name on the jersey gives them a win. The good news is Herman and his player’s sentiments throughout the week indicate that won’t be the case, and the Longhorns are just the better team. Texas 37, Oklahoma State 31.
Corey: I think Texas is deep enough into the season that the way they have played up to this point is a part of the culture. What I mean by that is winning is truly the expectation now. Thomas Herman has this team bought in. With that said, I’m nervous. Texas 49 - Okie State 35.
Kameron: This might be the most nervous I have been for a game this season. This one has “nail-biter” written all over it. Three words - Dicker the Kicker. I’ll take Texas 31-28.
Curry: If Texas wins the turnover battle, Texas wins the game. I say it happens. 7-1 with West Virginia coming to town is a fun place to be.
Anthony: The primetime ABC game in Stillwater scares me to death. This will be a true testimony to how good this Texas team really is. I think they’ll respond to adversity and pull out with a win by making the necessary winning plays in the fourth quarter. Texas 27, Oklahoma State 23.