It doesn't get any easier for the Colorado Buffaloes (3-7, 2-4) as they travel on a short week to face the 12th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-2, 5-1) in Stillwater this Thursday night (ESPN, 5:30 PM MT). Currently, odds makers have this one pegged at 14.5 points in favor of the home team. It marks the 8th consecutive game the Colorado Buffaloes will go into the game as an underdog. Oklahoma State is the third ranked team the Buffs will have played this season with Nebraska potentially being a fourth next week if they take care of business against Kansas State in Lincoln.
Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech this past Saturday 24 - 17 in Stillwater. Oklahoma State turned the Red Raiders over three times and was able to hold on after Texas Tech had a 10 - 7 halftime lead. Former Colorado prep and current OSU starting quarterback Zac Robinson was part of a scary collision last night with 98 seconds left in the game. He was helped off the field after suffering what looked like a concussion. Before getting hurt, Robinson only passed for 90 yards but was the Pokes leading rusher with 99 yards on 19 carries. The senior signal caller ranks eighth in the Big 12 in passing yards this season but is second in the conference in passing efficiency, throwing for 15 scores and only 7 interceptions. For his career, Robinson has passed for 8,155 yards and 66 touchdowns.
Initially, one had to wonder if Oklahoma State would hold out Robinson on a short week with the rivalry game against Oklahoma in two weeks. But according to the Tulsa World, Robinson plans to play against Colorado. It is also senior night for Robinson and the rest of the graduating Pokes which should provide them some extra motivation to come out strong against the Buffs.
read more of the game preview after the jump...
Robinson and the Oklahoma State offense were dealt a big blow when All American wide receiver Dez Bryant was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after the third game of the year. Bryant still ranks as the second leading receiver on the team. But Oklahoma State has recovered nicely.
The key for Oklahoma State this year has been the emergence of running back Keith Toston after All Big 12 back Kendall Hunter was injured the third game of the year suffering a sprained ankle. Hunter essentially missed six games before returning two weeks ago in a limited role. Last year, Hunter ran for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns. Not very often a team losses their two best players in the same year and still has a chance to go 10 - 2 but that is what Oklahoma State has done. Toston has filled in beautifully for the injured Hunter aas he begins to work his way back (Hunter ran 17 for 68 yards against Texas Tech last week). Toston, after only carrying the ball an average of ten times the first two games of the season, has taken over the lead role for the Pokes and is now just 42 yards away from 1,000 on the season. Toston ranks 30th in the nation in rushing yards/game at 95.8, good for 4th in the Big 12. A big reason for the seamless transition between running backs is the dominant offensive line OSU brings out led by All American candidate T Russell Okung. This season, the offensive line has only given up 0.7 sacks a game which is third in the nation and first in the Big 12. Compare that number to the Colorado Buffaloes, who are giving up 3.8 sacks per game which ranks 117th in college football. That tells you a lot about why the Buffs have only three wins and why Oklahoma State, who lost their two biggest play makers from a year ago, has a chance at 10 wins, something Dan Hawkin's "muttered" this offseason.
With the losses of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter for a big chunk of the year, Oklahoma State's offense has fallen off from last year where they finished the season as the 6th ranked unit in the nation averaging 487 yards a contest. This year, they find themselves 48th averaging just over 400 yards per game. But the big improvement and the main reason why the Cowboys are still a player in the Big 12 is a vastly improved defense. In 2008, Oklahoma State struggled stopping the opposition, ranking 93rd in the nation allowing 405 yards per. This year, the defense is only allowing 333 yards a game and is 7th in the nation allowing just 89 yards on the ground.
As for the Colorado Buffaloes, there are only a few things that need to be highlighted. CU is now eliminated from bowl eligibility after a loss last weekend to Iowa State in Ames. Under first year coach Paul Rhoads, Iowa State is now bowl eligible and, in one year, has won the same number of road games as Dan Hawkins has in four seasons at the helm in Boulder. Just two weeks ago, Iowa State was manhandled by Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 34 - 8. Cyclones RB Alexander Robinson, who ran wild on the Buffs' defense for 138 yards, was held to just 51 yards and 3.2 a carry, his lowest average this year. ISU was held scoreless until the fourth quarter and QB Austin Arnaud was intercepted three times. Pokes RB Keith Toston ran for 206 yards on the Cyclones and three scores.
One has to wonder if the Buffs will come out and play with an pride after being eliminated from postseason play for the third time in four years. With the season already an embarrassment, this national appearance could be very dangerous if Colorado comes out like they usually do on the road - uninspired, timid and lacking confidence - but now with even less to play for. Last week's loss also marks the fourth consecutive season with a losing record, all under Dan Hawkins. As you know, Hawkins at Colorado is 2 - 18 on the road and 3 - 20 when the game is not played in Boulder. Last season, Oklahoma State beat the Buffs 30 - 17 in Folsom, racking up 443 total yards, 226 of which came on the ground. With the injury to Robinson against Tech and the desire to protect him for the Sooners in two weeks, you can expect a heavy dose of Toston and Hunter on Thursday night.
13 days and counting...