Thirteenth-ranked Oklahoma State controls its own destiny heading into their final two games of Big 12 Conference play. But the road to a Big 12 championship still has two potentially very big potholes to navigate starting with Saturday afternoon's contest at well-rested TCU (Noon ET, Fox Sports 1).
Get past Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs, who have had two weeks to prepare after delivering a 62-22 spanking of Baylor in Waco, and the Cowboys (8-2, 6-1 Big 12) could play for all the marbles against Bedlam rival Oklahoma (8-2, 7-0) on Dec. 3 in Norman provided the Sooners defeat West Virginia on Saturday.
Not bad for a team that was pretty much written off following a 2-2 start that included a very controversial 30-27 home loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 10 and a 35-24 defeat at Baylor to open Big 12 play.
Oklahoma State has rattled off six consecutive victories since, including a 43-37 upset of No. 10 West Virginia on Oct. 29. The Cowboys come into this one off a wild 45-44 home victory over Texas Tech last week.
"Each week I talk to them about the importance of focus, and fortunately, we've had big wins, and whether you have a big win or you have a loss you're not happy with, you have to re-focus on Sunday," OklahomaState coach Mike Gundy said. "We're not good enough to even look past tomorrow's practice, and TCU, in my opinion, is a considerably different team than they were even three weeks ago."
The Horned Frogs (5-4, 3-3), who were a combined 23-3 over the past two seasons, are attempting to become bowl-eligible and must win one of their final three games to do so. After hosting the Cowboys, Gary Patterson's squad plays at Texas (5-5) and ends the season with a home game against Kansas State (5-4).
"We're excited about the challenges," junior weak safety Nick Orr told reporters. "We know we've got some tough teams in the next three games and we're trying to become bowl-eligible. We know it's going to be a tough task, but I feel like we can get it done."
Although one victory makes TCU bowl-eligible, the Horned Frogs need two wins to assure a winning campaign. TCU has experienced only one losing season over the past 11 years -- that coming in 2013 in its second season in the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs are coming off a bye and that qualifies as good timing for junior running back Kyle Hicks.
Hicks injured his left ankle against Texas Tech on Oct. 29 and played the following Saturday against Baylor despite not practicing all week due to soreness. He sure wasn't affected on game day as he rushed for a career-high 192 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-22 trouncing of the Bears.
The week off gave Hicks a chance to heal up and coach Gary Patterson said Monday that Hicks is running at "full speed."
Having Hicks healthy down the stretch is crucial for the Horned Frogs as he leads the squad with 789 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns (12 rushing, two receiving). He also is tied for the team lead with 33 receptions.
Hicks presents an entirely defensive challenge for the Cowboys than they faced last week in edging pass-happy Texas Tech.
While the 45-44 victory did not reflect a great defensive performance, the Red Raiders were limited to a pedestrian (for them) 389 total yards as the Cowboys removed a down lineman and lined up in a 3-3-5 scheme. The change confused Tech into three three-and-outs to begin the game.
"It got us a few series," said defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, "then after that it's just great players making great plays."
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes was still magnificent at times throwing for 344 yards but had just one connection for 30-plus yards.
Among those who surfaced as playmakers for the Cowboys were sophomore linebacker Justin Phillips, who started in place of injured Chad Whitener and led Oklahoma State in tackles, and cornerback A.J. Green, a freshman pressed into fourth-quarter duty.
All but two of the wins the Cowboys have recorded during current six-game streak were by single digits.
"No fear, no frustration and no fatigue is what we talk about," Gundy said. "Truthfully I talk to the players about the core values and the accountability we have in our program. I wish I could give you the Xs and Os, or say that I could give a Vince Lombardi pregame and halftime speech. I think it's the overall concept of our program."