So last week in this space, we started off with the prediction that OSU might face a tougher game against South Alabama than it faced a week earlier at Arizona State.
Who knew it would be that much tougher?
Attention has turned this week to the Cowboys — are they in some sort of prolonged freefall? — but let’s not take our eyes off an extremely important fact: this week is the start of Big 12 play. Yes, TCU and Houston played a week ago, but we’re going to consider that the soft opening.
This week is the real deal.
A dozen of the league’s 14 teams will play each other — TCU and Houston get to revert back and finish up non-conference play — and there are a bunch of interesting matchups. BYU and UCF will be on the road for their first Big 12 games, the Cougars going to Kansas and the Golden Knights going to Kansas State. Texas goes to Baylor and Texas Tech goes to West Virginia in games the ‘Horns and Raiders should win, but you know the Bears would like nothing more than to beat Texas one last time in Big 12 play and Morgantown is always a tough place for any visitor.
Then, of course, OU plays at Cincinnati and OSU goes to Iowa State.
The Sooners are going to face a raucous crowd in Cincy. Bearcat fans have been waiting a long time to be in one of the Power Five conferences, and not only do they get their first league game at home but they also get to host one of college football’s bluebloods.
Nippert Stadium will be rocking.
Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State might not be quite as crazy, but Cyclone fans are diehard, even in a season when a betting scandal has rocked the program and the roster. And of course, this has become a huge game for the Cowboys. Are they really as bad as they were last week? Are they able to rally?
So, how will the Cowboys and Sooners fare?
Whatever happens, I want you to be properly fueled for the games, so I offer my weekly pregame snacks. These tasty treats are digestible and packed with goodness.
Let’s dive in.
Sooner to watch: Dasan McCullough is expected to return from injury, and the linebacker could be huge against Cincinnati. The Bearcats are averaging 239.3 rushing yards per game, and if the Sooners are to slow that down, the linebackers will be key. We know Danny Stutsman is a tackling machine, but Justin Harrington’s availability is unknown because of injury. How will McCullough fare against a good run team in what could be his first extended action of the season?
Cowboy to watch: I’ve got six words for Mike Gundy, Kasey Dunn and anyone else who has a hand in the OSU offense: give the ball to Ollie Gordon. Iowa State’s defense is stout and OSU’s offensive line has not been, so Dunn and Co. may have to get creative in how they use Gordon. But the running back is clearly a huge weapon. Big. Fast. Shifty. Dynamic. He just has to get the ball more.
Newbie Sooner to watch: First true road game (last week at Tulsa didn’t count because there were so many Sooner fans), so how will Nic Anderson do? The second-year wide receiver had a monster day last week with three touchdowns, but after sitting out last season because of injury, Cincinnati will be his first true road test. Have another big day, and it will be telling.
Newbie Cowboy to watch: Keep an eye on Bryan Nardo. Won’t be easy, of course, since the first-year defensive coordinator sits in the press box. But how his defense plays and adjusts will be easier to see. And it’ll be hugely important. The OSU offense is in a stupor, so if the Cowboys are going to win, they’re going to have to hold down the Cyclone offense.
Familiar face in Cincinnati: A week after playing Tulsa, a team choked full of connections, it took a deep cut from my buddy Berry Tramel to find a tie to the Bearcats. Robert Nunn is a quality-control coach for Cincy, and from 1984-87, he was a linebacker for Pat Jones at OSU. Nunn went to Apache High School.
Familiar face in Ames: Keep an eye out for Jace Gilbert. He led Marlow to a state title in 2021, playing quarterback and in the defensive secondary. Now, he’s a kicker for the Cyclones and is used occasionally on kickoffs.
Cool stat going into OU-Cincinnati: The Sooners have not trailed this season. What’s more, the only times they were tied were at 0-0. In all three non-conference games, they scored quick, too, so of the 180 minutes of game action it has played, OU has led 171:51.
Cool stat going into OSU-Iowa State: Mike Gundy needs five conference wins to become only the third coach with 100 Big 12 wins. The others: Bob Stoops (121) and Bill Snyder (104). A week ago, five conference wins seemed likely. After South Alabama? We’ll see.
Something to watch in Cincinnati: Sooner defensive back Kani Walker transferred to OU from Louisville. His coach there? Scott Satterfield, now the head coach at Cincinnati. Walker’s defensive coordinator at Louisville, Bryan Brown, is at Cincy now, too. There’s a chance Walker could also go head-to-head with former teammate Braden Smith, who is the Bearcats’ second-leading receiver.
Something to watch in Ames: Plenty of good defense. Lots of bad offense. Iowa State ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring defense, last in scoring offense. OSU are seventh in defense, next-to-last in offense. First to 10 wins?
If you go to Cincinnati … : Try Skyline Chili’s 3-Way. I’ve never had a chance to give the Cincinnati cuisine a go, but people there swear by it. The restaurant describes it as “steaming spaghetti covered with our original secret-recipe chili and topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese.”
If you go to Ames … : Take your rain gear. There’s a 60% chance of rain in Ames on Saturday, with the National Weather Service saying showers are likely after 8 a.m. At least it won’t be snowing.
If you don’t go … : Well, lots of folks won’t be going on the road with the Sooners or the Cowboys, so good news for OU fans: Gus Johnson is on the TV call. Not-so-good news for OSU fans: the Cowboys are on FS1, and the last time they were (Arizona State), the broadcasters were remote, not at the stadium.
If I could be in two places: A ton of juicy matchups this week. Finally. The non-conference was a dessert for marquee games. But this week, there are six games pitting top-25 teams. Woot! If I could, I’d be in Eugene for Oregon’s game against Colorado. A huge test for Deion and Co. We’ll know better if the Buffs might actually contend for a Pac-12 title.
Playing favorites: Even though both OU and OSU are on the road this week, I’m not. Had some mom stuff come up that’s keeping me home, even though I’ll be watching the games and sharing my thoughts after both. But I do miss going on the road. It’s not vacation, like some would think. We’ve got work to do. But I would’ve been on the drive to Ames with Ben and Sam Hutchens. Lots of miles. Lots of conversation. Would’ve been great fun. Road trips always are.