Underrated Bryant emerging as Big 12's best receiver

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Coming into the season, most thought that Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech and Jeremy Maclin were the Big 12's most productive receivers considering all the accolades and acclimation the two received.

But a funny thing happened along the way to the Biletnikoff Award presentations. Both have been outplayed by another Big 12 wideout, Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State.

Bryant's game-breaking abilities as a receiver and a returner have helped spark the Cowboys 7-0 start -- their best since 1945. And in the process he's developed into the prime breakaway threat in coach Mike Gundy's offense that ranks fourth nationally in scoring and seventh in total offense.

He's only a part of the Cowboys' vaunted "Four Aces" offense that also includes contributions from quarterback Zac Robinson, Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Robinson ranks third nationally in passing efficiency and Pettigrew is just rounding into shape after missing three games with an ankle injury.

"It's fun to be a part of an offense like this," Bryant said. "They can't really concentrate on just one part of us. It helps all of us out there because of everything we can do when we get the ball."

The explosive Oklahoma State offense is girding for a massive challenge Saturday when they travel to Texas in a showdown with the No. 1 Longhorns.

"It will be fun for us playing against the No. 1 team," Bryant said. "I feel like we've got a chance, but in order to do it, we're going to have play really hard like we've done all season."

Oklahoma State has risen to No. 6 in the latest BCS standings -- highest ranking in that poll in school history.

The Cowboys stunned Missouri two weeks ago in Columbia in a game that many observers are considering the biggest victory in OSU school history. But the enormity of that accomplishment pales with the challenge of beating the Longhorns in Austin.

"Everybody doubted that we could think about beating Missouri. And it's the same way here," Bryant said. "Nobody is going to give us respect. We like that we have to go out and earn it. And we'd rather do it that way."

Gundy credited all of the weapons around Bryant as helping spark his big season so far.

"A defense set up to stop the run like that is going to give him an opportunity to make a lot of big plays," Gundy said. "Which he has done."

Bryant leads the Big 12 with an average of 115.6 receiving yards per game. That figure ranks only behind Jarett Dillard of Rice. He also ranks second nationally with 11 touchdown receptions.

The 6-2, 215-pound sophomore leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth nationally with a 20.6 yard per punt return. Included are two punt returns for touchdowns which is tied for national lead in that statistical category.

"Everybody is making plays on the offense, not just me," Bryant said. "Anything I've been able to accomplish this year is because everybody else has been helping me and everybody else out."

His biggest game came against Houston when he produced nine catches for 236 yards and three TDs and also added a 71-yard punt return for another score.

Another similar effort materialized in the Cowboys' 34-6 victory over Baylor last week. Bryant produced a career-high 11 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns. And he had a 60-yard punt return for another touchdown wiped out by a clipping penalty.

The stage for this season was set last year when leading OSU receiver Adarius Bowman was lost with an injury for the last two games of the regular season. Bryant emerged as the Cowboys' primary receiving threat, gaining confidence with every game.

Bryant's development has only grown from there.

"I was nervous going in there thinking I would have step because I was only a freshman," he said "But once I got caught up into the speed of the game, it was easy and I've just cruised from there."