Jenni Carlson's Game Day in Oklahoma: Why Kansas is once again a litmus test for Oklahoma State.
Kansas isn’t usually seen as a litmus test.
Not in football anyway.
But that’s what the Jayhawks are becoming for the Cowboys. A year ago, OSU went to Kansas a week after a horrible (humiliating? embarrassing? disgraceful?) 48-0 loss to Kansas State, and the Kansas game became a referendum: was that loss to the Wildcats an anomaly or a true sign of where the Cowboys were?
Turned out to be the latter.
Kansas drubbed OSU 37-16, and the Cowboys stumbled to a 7-6 final record.
Now comes another referendum against the Jayhawks. A week ago, the Cowboys beat the Wildcats in an unexpected turn from the trajectory of the season. This OSU team seemed to be on the verge of coming off rails before the Kansas State game, but after the Cowboys beat the Wildcats, we’re left to wonder: was that victory against the Wildcats an anomaly or a true sign of where the Cowboys are?
This game against Kansas may again provide us the answer.
A couple of years ago, games against the Jayhawks didn’t provide much of anything. Kansas was so bad for so long that the only question going into the game was what the final margin of victory would be.
But under Lance Leipold, Kansas has been overhauled. Stout offense, which would be even better if quarterback Jalon Daniels would stay healthy. Solid defense, which ranks comparably with OSU’s defense. If the Cowboys score a win Saturday afternoon, it will be legit. It will show that last week’s win against Kansas State was the first step in a turnaround.
Well, it won’t mean OSU’s season is toast. Kansas is good, so losing to the Jayhawks would be no shame. But getting drubbed like the Cowboys did a year ago? That would be much more concerning.
It would start to look like the Cowboys simply caught lightning in a bottle when they beat the Wildcats.
Lots on the line, then, for the Cowboys.
(The Jayhawks, by the way, will be bowl eligible with a win against the Cowboys. Again. With that win against OSU last season, Kansas got bowl eligible for the first time since 2008 when Mark Mangino was the head coach.)
Here are some other tasty nuggets for you to chew on before OSU-Kansas gets under way:
Cowboy to watch: The Kansas running game is no joke, averaging 232.3 yards a game and ranking as the sixth-best rushing attack in college football. That puts the pressure on OSU’s defensive front, particularly linebackers to go make tackles. Nick Martin did that a lot against Kansas State, notching a career-high 17 tackles. He doesn’t necessarily need to have that kind of performance again — though I assume Bryan Nardo wouldn’t be against it — but if Martin can be a solid tackler and a good complement to Collin Oliver, that would be huge vs. the Jayhawks.
Cowboy newcomer to watch: This might seem like a default to the easiest answer, but Alan Bowman is the lynchpin to whether this Cowboy turnaround is permanent or temporary. Was last week a fluke or the real thing? If the OSU quarterback builds on his 19-of-35, 235-yard performance against Kansas State, that will go a long way toward not only beating Kansas but also propelling the Cowboys into the back half of the regular season.
Jayhawk to watch: Devin Neal is the Jayhawks’ big-play guy with quarterback Jalon Daniels out. (He was listed as doubtful earlier in the week.) But the reason the Kansas rushing attack is so good is Daniel Hishaw. The Moore High School product who was then known as Deuce gives the Jayhawks a one-two punch that is really tough to handle. He’s coming off a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns against UCF.
A familiar face in Stillwater: In addition to Hishaw, Kansas has five other Oklahoma high school players on its roster. Most notable is Quentin Skinner, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound starting receiver from Claremore. He is a former walk-on who has 12 catches for 173 yards this season. His father is former OU running back Reggie Skinner.
Cool stat going into OSU-Kansas: The first game between OSU and Kansas happened 100 years ago. The 1923 game was won by Kansas, 9-0.
Something to watch in Stillwater: Statistically speaking, Kansas has the best punt-return team in the country. The Jayhawks don’t return punts often — they only have three so far this season — but their average of 31.0 yards a return is the best in college football. (By the way, don’t hold that low number of returns against the Jayhawks. Of the teams ranked in the top five nationally, only one has returned more than five punts this year.)
Did you know?: Kansas is the first ranked team that OSU has played this season. The Jayhawks are 23rd in the Associated Press poll. Not counting the pandemic-altered season of 2020, this is the latest the Cowboys have played a ranked team since 2015. That year, OSU didn’t play a ranked team until Nov. 7, when it beat No. 5 TCU 49-29.
If you go to Stillwater …: Enjoy yourself. The weather is going to be spectacular, clear skies with a high of 65. Winds will be a little gusty, but it’s hard to beat sunny and 60s. And a bit of advice if you plan to stick around Stillwater into the evening: take a jacket. The National Weather Service warns, “Frost is possible Saturday night across northwest Oklahoma.”
If you don’t go …: Find a patio with multiple TVs. OSU-Kansas on one of them, of course, and the top-10 battle between Washington and Oregon on the other.
If I could be in two places: Seattle would be calling. That match-up between the Huskies and Ducks is juicy with a pair of Heisman-contending quarterbacks duking it out. Southern Cal at Notre Dame would be a close second.