Oklahoma State's football team undoubtedly possesses an offense good enough win a national championship, but is its defense good enough to give the team a chance?
The unbeaten Cowboys (8-0) enter Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Kansas State (7-1) at Boone Pickens Stadium ranked No. 2 in scoring offense (49.88), No. 4 in total offense (555.13) and No. 4 in passing offense (373.25).
Alas, OSU also ranks No. 111 out of 120 FBS teams in total defense (455.63), No. 101 in pass defense (270.13), No. 84 in rushing defense (185.50) and No. 62 in scoring defense (26.50).
Ranked No. 3 in this week's BCS standings, the Cowboys will advance to this year's national championship game if they finish 12-0, but can it happen with such a wicked potion of good and bad?
"We've got to get better on defense," OSU coach Mike Gundy said during Monday's weekly Big 12 coaches' teleconference. "We've got to improve in certain areas of the kicking game (No. 111 in punt returns). Our players understand that. We've never said that we have all the answers on defense. One thing that I like with our team is we're very active, we play a number of players and I think they're fresh and they play hard."
The Cowboys are No. 117 in first downs allowed (25.25), tied for No. 79 in third-down defensive efficiency (41.67 percent) and No. 78 in fourth-down defensive efficiency (55.00 percent).
"We would like to get more three-and-outs. I don't think there's any question about that," Gundy said. "You have to have patience. There's a philosophy with each defense in my opinion. Some people choose to roll the dice more and maybe force more negative-yardage plays, but also open themselves up to what would be big-chunk plays. Some defenses try to play base, be in the right spots, not giving up as many big plays, rally to the ball. There's just different ways to look at it. I think it changes based on the personnel of your defense."
OSU's defense is an extreme case of bend-but-don't-break, and its elasticity is accompanied with a remarkable ability to create turnovers and make key stops near the goal line.
The Cowboys rank No. 1 nationally in both turnover margin (2.38) and turnovers gained (29) and No. 10 in red-zone defense with 21 scores allowed in 30 drives (.70 percent).
"They're flying around. They're around the ball a lot and I think that contributes to our turnovers," Gundy said. "We do give up some yards. We've given up some points, but for the most part, if you look at the defenses in our league, there are teams that are giving up quite a few yards and teams that are giving up quite a few points.
"We'll continue to get better. We'll try to correct mistakes. We need to be more sound. We need to tighten down some gaps in the running game on early downs, but I do like our effort. I like the chemistry of our defense and I like their attitude."
Can such an extreme combination of good and bad win the national crown?
"I think they're certainly a living testament to that (with) stops in the red zone and turnovers," said Baylor coach Art Briles, who lost 59-24 to the Cowboys last Saturday in Stillwater. "If people are moving the ball between the 10s, it doesn't really matter, as long as they're not scoring points.
"And Oklahoma State's really good offensively."
Here were Gundy's responses to other teleconference questions:
Staying focused with the No. 3 national ranking:
"We're trying to keep things consistent throughout the week. We try to stay on a normal routine. ... They (the players) know what's going on. There's so much out there. I'm sure they get it on campus, they get it in the community, their parents, with social networking, Facebook, text messaging. We don't really have to remind them of that. Our concern is making sure we get quality practices in and that they can compete at a high level and play with energy Saturday."
Is there possibly less pressure this week with all the attention on No. 1 LSU playing at No. 2 Alabama at the same time Saturday:
"Could be, not sure. The one thing people have to remember is that in this community, we're in a state that thrives on college football. We don't have a professional team here. There's a lot put on college football so when our team is having success in this area, in their little environment, people know who they are and I'm sure it's getting brought up more than it would be on a national scene with what's going on in Alabama."
On the play of junior kicker Quinn Sharp, who is third nationally in punt average (47.59 yards), No. 8 in scoring (10.88) and leads the nation in touchbacks on kickoffs for the third straight year (38):
"He's been tremendous for us. Somebody put together some kind of statistic that had his kicking, field goals, his kickoffs and his punting and what he's given us. He's been really good. He's been three guys, and we've talked about it. We're pleased that he's able to stay healthy and fresh in handling all those duties. (Special teams coordinator) Joe DeForest has done a great job of limiting his reps on certain days. On Sundays, he doesn't kick at all. He doesn't kick at all on Monday. He does a little bit of one on Tuesday, a little bit of the other on Wednesday and both on Thursday. We're very pleased with his production up to this point."
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. Follow him on Twitter @RohdeOK.