Tenth-ranked West Virginia is suddenly a threat to Ohio State and the other one-loss College Football Playoff contenders. The Mountaineers, at 6-0, visit Oklahoma State on Saturday. And if WVU wins to match its best start since 2006, it looks set to stick around in the national conversation well into November.
So here's our Take Two topic this week: Do the Cowboys present the most difficult single-game challenge that remains for West Virginia?
Mitch Sherman: Yes.
I’m not suggesting if the Mountaineers win in Stillwater on Saturday that they’re likely to finish the regular season undefeated. The chances WVU will beat Oklahoma and Baylor at home (in addition to Kansas, Texas and Iowa State) are much slimmer than a victory this week.
But if I’m picking one game in which West Virginia appears most set to stumble, it’s this one.
Yes, West Virginia aced its first trip to a visiting stadium with a 48-17 smackdown of Texas Tech in Week 7. Yes, Oklahoma State is flawed, with its lack of a strong pass rush and suspect running game. Yes, Oklahoma is the only team West Virginia has yet to beat as a four-year member of the Big 12. And the Sooners, with their offensive balance, could expose a West Virginia defense that’s designed to shut down the spread.
I know the pressure would mount on the Mountaineers as their record and ranking grew more notable.
Still, I’m striking all of it from the equation to look only at the matchups and the home-field advantage in play for the Cowboys this week. Freshman running back Justice Hill can keep West Virginia honest enough on defense for Mason Rudolph to beat the Mountaineers deep.
If it turns into a slugfest, the style favors Oklahoma State. I’m picking the Cowboys to win. And if West Virginia were playing any other game on its schedule this week, I’d take the Mountaineers.
ESPN's Football Power Index agrees, giving the Mountaineers a 44.3 percent chance to win at OSU and a better than 50 percent chance in each of their remaining games. Their chance to win out, by the way, is 7.5 percent.
Jake Trotter: No
I realize that Oklahoma’s defense is currently in shambles, that Baylor remains largely untested and that this game is on the road. But I’m going to say that this trip to Stillwater won’t be West Virginia’s toughest remaining game -- even though it will be the Mountaineers’ toughest tilt so far.
The Cowboys have been up and down this season. They continue to have problems along the offensive line, and their corners have been far too susceptible to surrendering the big play. I still really like this Oklahoma State team. The receiving corps is terrific, the defense has terrific players and Rudolph is one of the top pocket-passing quarterbacks in the country. But I also think the Mountaineers match up well with the 'Pokes. That three-man stack, from which West Virginia is so good at being versatile and deceptive, should give Oklahoma State’s offensive line trouble. On the other side of the ball, Shelton Gibson could have a field day matched up against the Cowboys’ inconsistent pass coverage.
This will be a tough game for the Mountaineers, no doubt. Oklahoma State is a top 25-caliber team, and Boone Pickens should be loud for homecoming weekend.
But at this point, even at home, either Oklahoma or Baylor, with their explosive offenses, will prove to be the more difficult hurdle.