BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER — Before the season began, it was easy to point to Oklahoma State's mid-November trip to Austin to face Texas as a game with plenty of Big 12 title implications.
By early October, that prediction sure seemed silly. The Cowboys' had just been upset at West Virginia and were sputtering on offense, while the Longhorns appeared to be in a free fall after losing to BYU and Mississippi, firing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and needing a late (and controversial) touchdown to beat lowly Iowa State.
Six weeks later, this contest again has huge stakes, with Texas undefeated in conference play and OSU in control of its own championship destiny.
We'll examine this game from several angles throughout the upcoming week. But here are some early storylines for Saturday's showdown in Austin.
Quarterback castoffs? Not anymore
Two quarterbacks who have been passed over for the starting job on multiple occasions will get to lead their teams in a big-time game.
Clint Chelf got two series in the Cowboys' opener against Mississippi State, then was replaced by J.W. Walsh for four games, then took over for an ineffective Walsh in the second quarter against TCU and re-earned the starting job. Case McCoy has stepped in for David Ash, who has not played since Sept. 21 because of a head injury.
Neither signal-caller has been particularly spectacular, as McCoy has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,417 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions and Chelf has completed 50.7 percent of his throws for 1,025 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
But OSU is 4-0 since Chelf took over, while Texas is 5-1 with McCoy as the starter.
The injury bug
Texas suffered two big blows Saturday at West Virginia, when defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee) and running back Johnathan Gray (Achilles) were both lost for the season. That adds to a growing list of key injuries for the Longhorns, who are missing Ash and top linebacker Jordan Hicks (Achilles).
OSU, of course, had its own health scare Saturday when Josh Stewart, the Cowboys' leading receiver and best all-around playmaker, left in the opening minutes with a foot injury and did not return. He was shown on crutches in a postgame locker room video released by the OSU athletic department.
So Texas will for sure need to adjust. OSU might need to adjust. That will all test depth and game planning.
Austin: No big deal?
OSU never used to beat Texas (12 consecutive losses from 1998-2009) and especially never used to win in Austin (one victory, in 1944, all-time before 2010). But after back-to-back victories there in 2010 and 2011, no current Cowboy — besides Kansas transfer Tyler Patmon — has ever lost a road game at Texas.
The mystique of DKR is gone for this crop of Cowboys.
Run, run, run
The run game still makes the Texas offense go (197.3 yards per game), making Gray's injury particularly noteworthy. Without him, the bulk of the load will shift to Malcolm Brown, who tallied 89 yards on 28 carries against West Virginia. OSU's run defense has been strong so far, ranking second in the Big 12 (131.7 yards per game).
Texas' run defense, meanwhile, has been spotty, ranking eighth in the league (185.1 yards per game). The worst performances, however, came when Diaz was still in charge of the defense. And OSU's run game on Saturday took a step back after finding real traction the previous two weeks, managing 85 yards on 31 carries in a conservative plan against Kansas.
Texas clearly has the edge at kicker, where Anthony Fera leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage (93.8, 15-of-16) and is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.
But if Stewart is available, he and Justin Gilbert — who provided a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Kansas — give the Cowboys one of the best return tandems in the nation.