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Can Oklahoma State's defense plus college football's new math add up to a championship?

OSU vs. ARIZONA — Can Oklahoma State play championship defense? The Cowboys believe there's numbers beyond the final score that say ‘yes'.
By JOHN HELSLEY, Staff Writer, jhelsley@opubco.com Published: September 7, 2011

During a preseason carrying elevated expectations, Oklahoma State fans kept cautioning themselves with one nagging question.

Can the Cowboys claim a championship without a championship defense?

Any definition of a championship defense first depends on the math.

And No. 7 OSU prefers a new math.

For decades, if not a century, two statistics — total defense and scoring defense — told the tale on a defense's worth. Now, accurate computations aren't so simple. Variables, some connected to the offense, complicate the formula.

“If you're sitting down watching TV in the state of Washington or somewhere and our score comes across the bottom and says 61-34,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said, “if you follow college football you're saying, ‘Well, those guys are lighting it up again, but they can't stop anybody.'”

That score, 61-34, was the final Saturday in OSU's season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette. It was a game that was never close and dominated by offense and, perhaps more so, defense.

“Those folks don't know that our defense really gave up six points,” Gundy said. “Our offense gave them 14 and then we let everybody play and they scored a couple times.”

OSU's defense is far from flawless. Youth fills the crosshairs at critical positions like tackle and middle linebacker.

Time will ultimately tell if this Cowboys defense is title tough. This Thursday night clash with Arizona's explosive passing game poses a challenge. And there are many more to come, at Texas A&M and dealing with Baylor's Robert Griffin III, among others, before any hopeful high-stakes Bedlam showdown in December.

But time past tells us some things, too. And it isn't as simple, say, as the No. 88 ranking in total defense affixed to the Cowboys in 2010.

Consider:

* OSU's offense, which finished No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 3 nationally in both total offense and scoring offense, ran a school-record 982 plays a year ago. And yet, the Cowboys finished last in the league in time of possession. So the Pokes scored a lot and scored fast, promptly giving the ball back to enemy offenses. Even the basic math suggests more plays equals more yards and more points for the opposition, too.

* Contrasting OSU's No. 88 total defense ranking was a yards-per-play allowed of 5.0, the same as Missouri (No. 47 total defense) and better than conference champion Oklahoma (No. 53). The Cowboys also forced 34 turnovers, which led the Big 12 and ranked fifth nationally in a payoff of defensive coordinator Bill Young's emphasis on takeaways.

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