Alabama-OSU meet in Big 12-SEC battle of No. 3 teams

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State (Big 12 No. 3) vs. Alabama (SEC No. 3)

Oklahoma State's record against the SEC: 2-3 Alabama's record against the Big 12: 3-3
Previous series: Oklahoma State leads the series, 1-0
Most recent game: Oklahoma State won, 34-31, in the 2006 Independence Bowl

Distance between them (as the crow flies according to How Far Is It): 578 miles.
Where they should play: Little Rock, Ark. (283 miles from Stillwater, 295 miles from Tuscaloosa)

Who wins: Alabama.

Why: Nick Saban got his team to the brink of the SEC championship last season. And he clearly wants more this year.

Mike Gundy is hoping to take Oklahoma State into the uncharted area where the Cowboys are challenging for conference titles and BCS bowls. Alabama is just a little further along, and that experience would be the major difference if these two teams would play.

It would be an intriguing matchup of strength against strength as the Crimson Tide's nine defensive starters would be supremely challenged by OSU's vaunted offensive attack. But nose tackle Terrence Cody and linebackers Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower should be able to neutralize Kendall Hunter and the Cowboys' rushing game. Gundy also would be tested to get Dez Bryant and OSU's deep passing game involved against a talented athletic secondary keyed by starters Justin Woodall, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson.

While Alabama isn't nearly as talented offensively, neither is OSU on defense. Saban needs to find a replacement for Andre Smith up front, but James Carpenter and D.J. Fluker are poised to take over and would be strong against OSU's rebuilding defensive front. I'd look for new Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to manage an efficient game, using Julio Jones just enough to boost the Tide to a tight victory.

The game also would be interesting to see the special-teams battle between Arenas and Bryant on punt returns. If either team could earn a substantial special-teams advantage, it might be enough to catapult them to the mythical victory. But I'm thinking that both teams would make big plays and likely even out, enabling Alabama to win.

Thursday: Oklahoma (Big 12 No. 2) vs. Mississippi (SEC No. 2).

The count: SEC, 6-4.

Note: Matchups are determined by the most recent rankings of Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin and SEC blogger Chris Low. All cumulative records go back to the 1996 season -- the first of competition in the Big 12.