Loss of Bryant dooms OSU's South Division title hopes

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State’s breakthrough season has suddenly become a nightmare.

The school’s announcement that All-Big 12 receiver Dez Bryant has been ruled ineligible because of failure to disclose his interaction with a former NFL player has rocked the No. 15 Cowboys.

It continues a string of misfortune that has dogged Mike Gundy’s program since it started the season with a 24-10 victory over Georgia and briefly soared to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll the week after.

The Cowboys fell in their next game and lost Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter in the process. Bryant struggled with cramps in that game and wasn’t a presence after briefly boosting OSU back into the contest on a scintillating 82-yard punt return.

That play is precisely why Bryant was the most explosive player in the Big 12. His presence was something that opponents had to account for on every play. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was capable of scoring every time he touched the ball.

Truthfully, Bryant’s junior season has been a little bit of a disappointment. He’s produced 17 receptions for 323 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. He was arguably -- along with Michael Crabtree -- the Big 12’s best receiver last season as a sophomore when he caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns and also averaged 17.9 yards per punt return with two TDs.

His departure, along with injuries to players like Hunter and cornerback/punt returner Perrish Cox, robs the Cowboys of much of their explosiveness. And without Bryant, it’s hard to believe they can legitimately challenge for their first Big 12 South Division title.

It continues a season-long spiral of bad luck for the Big 12, which was expected to reenact the exciting South Division title race with most of the key players back this season.

But since the start of the season, an incredible string of misfortune has befallen the conference that has robbed it of much of that early promise and starpower.

Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham sustained a season-ending knee injury before the year started. Returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford injured his shoulder against BYU in the first half of the Sooners’ season opener and has missed all of the season since then. Those losses have helped account for Oklahoma losing a pair of one-point decisions against BYU and Miami that likely dropped them out of national title contention.

Additionally, Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury that places Baylor’s hopes of snapping a 14-season bowl streak in extreme jeopardy. Kansas’ football team was involved in a nasty rumble with the school’s basketball team that played out over a couple of days. Colorado has become a national punchline after three embarrassing nationally televised losses. And the Big 12 was 4-7 against opponents from BCS conferences, including an 0-3 finish against BCS opponents last week that concluded nonconference play with a thud.

If Bryant is out for an extended period of time, or the season, the biggest benefactors would appear to be the Texas Longhorns.

Mack Brown’s team has risen to No. 2 with four impressive triumphs to start the season. With Bradford’s uncertain condition, the Longhorns’ most difficult game left in the season appeared to be their Oct. 31 visit to Stillwater against the Cowboys.

Brown has tormented the Cowboys since arriving at Texas in 1998, winning all 11 games in the series.

And with Bryant’s status uncertain for the upcoming game, Texas’ chances of running the table in the Big 12 South looks that much brighter.