No. 7 Texas looking for final Big 12 hurrah vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State for title, possible CFP berth

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Texas won the championship game in the Big 12’s inaugural 1996 season and now will try to bid farewell to the conference with a bookend title.

On the way out, the seventh-ranked Longhorns (11-1, No. 7 CFP) are the league’s last hope for the four-team College Football Playoff. Even with a win over No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, SEC-bound Texas would still need a lot of help to make the playoff.

“We’ll talk more about that after the game. We’re in a great position. But I also know we have to take care of business,” third-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “There is no College Football Playoff talk if we don’t play really good Saturday and try to find a way to win that game.”

The last time the Longhorns won the Big 12 was 2009 to make the BCS national championship game, and their only other title was as the league’s last national champion during the 2005 season.

Oklahoma State won seven of its last eight games during sophomore running back Ollie Gordon’s breakout as the nation’s leading rusher and is in the Big 12 title game for the second time in three seasons.

  • Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy (1) celebrates his touchdown catch with receiver Adonai Mitchell (5) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 57-7. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
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  • A Texas cheerleader waves a Texas Longhorn flag after an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 57-7. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
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“He’s a guy that’s a leader,” Cowboys senior guard Preston Wilson said. “He’s very selfless even though he might be in the spotlight all the time. … Behind closed scenes he always comes up and lets us know how much he cares about his teammates and how much that it’s an about-us thing and not about just him.”

Gordon has averaged 163 yards rushing per game since conference play began, after 109 yards combined the three games before that. Texas is the Big 12’s top rushing defense, giving up only 85 yards a game on the ground.

“Tough on guys rushing the football against them,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “More of a traditional defense, they can play gaps and play coverage. …. Most people have struggled in a big way blocking their down guys and their backers, so they don’t have to overload the box for the rush.”

RUNNING TEXAS

After Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson were NFL draft picks last spring, running back was a big question for Texas going into the season, and became one again when 1,000-yard rusher Jonathon Brooks went down with a knee injury three weeks ago. But true freshman C.J. Baxter then ran for 117 against Iowa State, and Jaydon Blue had 121 against Texas Tech last week, when Savion Red averaged 8.0 yards on nine carries.

“You don’t know until you know and there’s live bullets,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a physical brand of football those guys play with.”

THE QBS

Alan Bowman, the quarterback who previously played for Texas Tech and Michigan, has started Oklahoma State’s last 11 games after Gundy began the season with a three-QB rotation. Bowman is third in the Big 12 averaging 234 yards passing per game, though he has more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). Quinn Ewers, the Texas native in his second season with the Longhorns after a year at Ohio State, is averaging 271 yards passing per game with 17 TDs and and five interceptions in his 10 games.

TOUGH DEFENSE

Sarkisian calls defensive tackles T’Vondre Sweat, an Outland Trophy finalist, and Byron Murphy II the best interior linemen tandem in the country and the anchor for a defense that leads the nation in third-down efficiency and red zone defense. Texas has held its last five opponents under 100 yards rushing.

“I’m fired up for our defense and a lot of that starts with what we do up front, and it starts with Sweat and Murphy,” Sarkisian said.

NO REMATCH

Oklahoma State advanced to Arlington because of its Bedlam win over Oklahoma, preventing Texas from an opportunity to avenge its only loss. The Longhorns have a six-game winning streak since the 34-30 Red River rivalry loss to the Sooners, who are also going with to the SEC next season. The Longhorns and Cowboys didn’t play during the regular season this year, when the league expanded to 14 teams and ended the round-robin schedule.

“With us leaving the Big 12 and some of the great matchups over the years, for us to get to play (Oklahoma State) in the championship game is kind of fitting, knowing we’re going to be playing OU every year going forward,” said Sarkisian, who is 0-2 against the Cowboys

The Cowboys have won nine of the last 13 matchups, the last six decided by an average margin of less than seven points. Before that, Texas won 12 in a row in the series.

SO CLOSE

Oklahoma State went into its only other Big 12 title game two years ago fifth in the CFP rankings. The Cowboys lost 21-16 to Baylor when running back Dezmon Jackson was knocked out of bounds inches short of the end zone on a desperate, fourth-down dive with 24 seconds left. The Cowboys’ lone Big 12 title came in 2011 when there wasn’t a league championship game.

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