No. 12 Cowboys not feeling pressure of first place

No. 12 Oklahoma State finds itself with a new challenge this

season: playing with a lead down the stretch in the Big 12

South.

After beating Baylor 55-28 on Saturday, the Cowboys (8-1, 4-1

Big 12) have sole possession of first place at the latest point in

a season since Big 12 play began in 1996. To stay there, they’ll

need to go on the road to beat Texas (4-5, 2-4) for the first time

since 1944 and the second time ever.

”Obviously, they get bigger every week, without a doubt. I

don’t know if we’re naive or what, but I think guys are really not

letting stress or not letting the pressure get to anybody,”

quarterback Brandon Weeden said Monday.

”I think everybody’s just too in tune to what we’re trying to

do and playing with a lot of confidence. We’re going to use that to

our advantage, because guys aren’t getting a big head.”

The task of winning in Austin doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as

it did when the Longhorns were 3-0 and ranked No. 7. Texas has lost

five of six since then, including three in a row on its home field

to UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor.

”It just feels good to feel like a lot of our hard work is

paying off,” safety Markelle Martin said. ”We’re just going to

continue to work, and we understand that it’s still going to be a

hostile environment. We’re still going to have to go out there and

play a big game.”

The teams are in reversed positions from where they were picked

to finish at the start of the season. Texas was coming off of an

appearance in the national championship game and started out ranked

in the top five expected to contend with Oklahoma for the Big 12

title as they have for the past decade.

Oklahoma State lost two NFL first-round picks, nine starters on

defense, plus its starting quarterback and four offensive linemen

and figured to be in a rebuilding mode. Instead, coach Mike Gundy

has been able to plug younger players into the lineup, and he

believes that’s helping create a proper attitude for the

Cowboys.

”I still think there’s a group of young players that don’t

really fathom where we’re at in this point in the season, so

they’re just going out and practicing and lifting weights and going

to class and going to study hall, just trying to make it through

the season,” Gundy said.

”At times, that happens with young players, and the chemistry’s

pretty good right now.”

With three games left, Oklahoma State is a half-game ahead of

the Bears (7-2, 4-2) and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. The

Cowboys also hold the tiebreaker over No. 23 Texas A&M (6-3,

3-2), which is tied with No. 19 Oklahoma (7-2, 3-2) for third

place. Oklahoma State hosts the Sooners on Nov. 27 to conclude the

regular season.

”Every game gets bigger as you go, and this is a big one

obviously,” Weeden said. ”It hasn’t really settled in because

everything happens so fast. Every week, you’ve got so much going on

and it’s hard to soak it all in. I think after the year, we’ll look

back and say, `Yeah, we accomplished a lot of things,’ but if we

can accomplish our main goal, we’ll be a lot happier.”

The Cowboys jumped up to 10th in the Bowl Championship Series

standings this week and are currently in line to meet No. 9

Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, a rematch of their only

loss of the season. OSU has never played for the conference title

or in the BCS.

”This is not the most talented team that we’ve had here,”

Gundy said. ”That doesn’t mean you can’t win more games and that

doesn’t mean you can’t perform at a higher level, because chemistry

is involved and toughness is involved.”

After Oklahoma lost to Texas A&M on Saturday night to put

Oklahoma State alone in first place, defensive tackle Shane Jarka

said the Cowboys ”have a new confidence about ourselves, but we’re

not going to be overconfident.”

”As we’ve seen throughout this whole football season, it’s been

a crazy year with wins and losses that shouldn’t be,” he said.