No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 16 TCU set for Big 12 battle

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State faced no resistance in romping to a 3-0 start and rising up the rankings.

TCU also stands 3-0, yet has arrived at the mark much differently, more strenuously, with a tough win at Arkansas and a rally past SMU last week.

So, which Big 12 team’s start is more impressive?

No need to wonder long, with the teams set for a Saturday meeting at Boone Pickens Stadium for one of just two weekend matchups pairing Top 25 teams: the No. 6 Cowboys against the No. 16 Horned Frogs in the conference opener for both squads.

“I think it’s the best group we will have played up to this point,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. “And they’re always going to challenge you.

“TCU is going to hold its defensive call until the last second and they’re going to run with you. They recruit well. Their guys can tackle and move well, so it’ll be a challenge for all of us. It’ll be a good game.”

The Cowboys haven’t been in a good game yet, outscoring their opponents 162-52 while emptying the bench each weekend. Quarterback Mason Rudolph hasn’t played in a fourth quarter, yet he ranks fourth nationally in passing yards per game (387.3) and second in touchdown passes (11).

Overall, Oklahoma State ranks third nationally in total offense, averaging 607 yards per game, and fourth in scoring with a 54.0 average.

“They’ve been at a high level,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “For me, it’s how do I stop it and how do I slow it down? But (Rudolph’s) doing a great job and that’s what you get with a senior quarterback.”

Patterson recognizes Rudolph’s weaponry, too. In last week’s 59-21 rout at Pitt — a game the Cowboys had in hand at the half — four receivers topped the 100-yard mark.

“They’ve got great guys on the outside, they’ve got good guys on the inside who can work the middle,” Patterson said. “They can run by you vertically. They throw the jump ball. And they’ve got good running backs.”

TCU comes off a 56-36 win over SMU at just the right time, heading confidently into a matchup with the explosive Cowboys that may require a shootout for the Frogs to win.

“You’re going to have to score some points against Oklahoma State to be able to win the ball game,” Patterson said. “We know that.”

So, can the Horned Frogs keep up?

Quarterback Kenny Hill has played well in TCU’s fast start, yet may need to do even more to outduel Rudolph. Hill’s career has seen a range of ups and downs. He tossed a Big 12-worst 13 interceptions a year ago, with 17 touchdowns, as the Frogs finished a disappointing 6-7.

In a 31-6 loss to Oklahoma State in Fort Worth, he was picked off twice as the offense’s only score came after the Cowboys gave the ball away with a fumble at their own 6.

Through three games this season, however, Hill is completing 75 percent of his passes and has eight touchdowns against two interceptions.

“I see a way different Kenny Hill,” said Cowboys safety Tre Flowers. “He’s making throws and it seems like he’s leading them right now. They’ve rallied together and they’re making plays.”

Hill is benefitting from a better supporting cast, too.

Wide receiver KaVontae Turpin, hampered by injuries a year ago, looks more like the explosive playmaker he was in 2015. Other receivers are producing as well, while steady running back Kyle Hicks continues to churn out yards and touchdowns behind an improved offensive line.

And still, the Horned Frogs are a decided underdog.

“That’s the Big 12,” Patterson said. “They’re a very good offense right now. They play well in Stillwater and we have to get ourselves ready to go.”

TCU doesn’t have history on its side, either, having never won a Big 12 game in the state of Oklahoma.

“TCU’s a good team,” Gundy said. They’re a legit, top-20 team. So you’ll have two good football teams playing Saturday.

“They’re better on offense, they’ve got more skill. They’re better on defense; they’re better tacklers. And they have skill on special teams. In all phases, this will be the best team we’ve played up to this point.”