Here are some things I'll be watching when Colorado travels to Oklahoma State for tonight's game (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
What I'm looking for from Oklahoma State:
Will Zac Robinson be ready to play? Only five days after a vicious head-to-head shot from Texas Tech defensive back Jamar Wall, Robinson’s condition is questionable coming into tonight’s game. Robinson has displayed a lot of toughness and moxie over his career and undoubtedly would like to play on his Senior Night. But the Cowboys likely won’t need him to beat the struggling Buffaloes. Backup Alex Cate would be ready to play if needed and the Cowboys have a consistent running game keyed by Keith Toston, Kendall Hunter and Beau Johnson to carry the team. It might not be really fancy, but that ground game could take a lot of pressure of a first-time starting quarterback -- if it was needed.
Oklahoma State’s shot at the national spotlight: Tonight’s game provides the Cowboys and the Big 12 with a rare shot at Thursday night exposure. And a big performance is important as OSU attempts to prove its worthiness for the first BCS at-large berth in school history. If the 8-2 Cowboys can beat Colorado tonight and then defeat Oklahoma in Norman next week, their argument for an at-large berth would be strong. But in order to cement those hopes and likely make a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Mike Gundy’s team needs a strong performance.
Bill Young’s emerging OSU defense: Oklahoma State’s defense under veteran coordinator Bill Young has really made strides in recent weeks. The Cowboys will attempt to handcuff a Colorado offense that has sputtered with the exception of wide receiver Markques Simas, who has produced 14 catches in his last two games. All-Big 12 candidate Perrish Cox, the Big 12’s current defensive player of the week, will get the first shot at stopping Simas. It should be an intriguing battle between an emerging receiver and one of the nation’s most underrated lockdown cornerbacks.
What I’m looking for from Colorado:
The play from streaky quarterback Tyler Hansen: Colorado's starting sophomore quarterback appeared to be headed for a redshirt season earlier this year as he rode the bench behind Cody Hawkins. But Hansen got the call midway through the season and has been alternately strong and struggling. He provides the Buffaloes more of a run-pass option than Hawkins and his teammates appear to gravitate to his inspirational leadership. But he’s thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three) and will likely face a huge amount of pressure from the underrated OSU defensive front.
Can Colorado get anything from its offense? The Buffaloes have sputtered all season long, ranking 105th in total offense, 112th in rushing and 94th in scoring. They will need to produce something from their running game, particularly fumble-prone starter Rodney "Speedy" Stewart to keep OSU honest. And nothing from the past few weeks is indicative they will be able to do that. If they don’t start fast, this one could turn ugly for the Buffaloes.
How Dan Hawkins approaches the game: With speculation swirling about potential replacements, the Colorado coach is coaching to keep his job. His teams have been one of the most penalized groups in the country, ranking 119th among the 120 FBS teams. He even had members of his operations staff dress in striped shirts at practice throwing penalty flags. The Buffaloes are at a huge competitive disadvantage as they try to stem a 10-game road losing streak against a team that is fighting for a spot in the BCS. The Buffaloes are the only team in the conference to already be eliminated from bowl contention. It will be a massive coaching effort to keep this group involved if they have some early problems. Can Hawkins keep his team close in the game? We’ll have to see.