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USATSI

Let's talk about Oklahoma State. Actually, let's talk about Oklahoma State's defense. It's a storyline gaining national attention, as it should. If the Cowboys are going to make a run towards the Big 12 Championship Game, and perhaps the College Football Playoff, it's the defense that could lead the way. 

Through four games, the Pokes are allowing just 12 points per contest and 4.49 yards per play. Their third-down defense is best in the nation among teams with at least two games. Their red zone defense is also a top-five unit for, again, teams that have played at least two games. The defense also gets to the quarterback better than any team in the country in non-blitzing situations. 

In short, there's not a lot that Oklahoma State doesn't do well. They get to the quarterback, they play tight coverage on the back end and they get off the field. And while there may have been an argument that the likes of Kansas and West Virginia don't pose much of a threat offensively, Oklahoma State did a good job keeping Iowa State mostly bottled up in a 24-21 win. 

Now comes the harder part. Texas, a team that leads the Big 12 in scoring despite tons of issues, comes to Stillwater in Week 9. The Cowboys are but a 3.5-point favorite. Then there's the matter of going to Oklahoma on Nov. 21. It's always possible the Bedlam game could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game if things work out. There's a lot of football to be played, but the early returns on Oklahoma State favor the defense. If the offense lives up to its potential, the Cowboys have every right to be considered on the short list of playoff contenders. 

Picks

No. 16 Kansas State at West Virginia (-3): We have an eyebrow-raising line here. The Wildcats have done well with true freshman quarterback Will Howard, but this is a long road trip and the Mountaineers have bona fide studs along the defensive front. This game also falls at a delicate spot on the schedule for K-State, right before games against Oklahoma State and Iowa State. I don't expect this one to be pretty -- ugly is usually the only way West Virginia knows how to win -- and after four straight victories, I'm selling high on the Wildcats. Pick: West Virginia -3

No. 23 Iowa State at Kansas (+28.5): The Jayhawks haven't been good against the spread (or good, period), but the 28.5-point line is pretty large for a conference game. The point total might be the more reliable play. Kansas has been losing Big 12 games by an average of about 34 points and hasn't scored more than 14 offensive points in any of them. Is Iowa State capable of putting up enough points to bang the over? I think so. Pick: Over 52

TCU at Baylor (+2.5): The Bears' points per game average is a little inflated thanks to Kansas, overtime against West Virginia and a short field against Texas. Make no mistake: Baylor has a lot of offensive problems. It ranks ninth in the Big 12 with 4.55 yards per play and they've recorded eight explosive plays of at least 20 yards. That's tied with Vanderbilt for second-worst in the nation among teams that have played three games. TCU's had its own struggles offensively as of late, too. Neither team is great at finishing drives and Baylor is particularly bad in the red zone. Pick: Under 48

Texas at No. 6 Oklahoma State (-3.5): This is a big game for both teams. With its loss to Oklahoma, Texas needs a quality win to stay alive in the Big 12 Championship Game race. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are in their hardest stretch of the season. Oklahoma State's defense is going to be key, again, particularly in its downfield coverage against Texas' wide receivers. If the Pokes win that battle, that gives them a big leg up. I'll never count out Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger from making plays when he needs to, but Oklahoma State has been the more well-rounded team. Pick: Oklahoma State -3.5

No. 24 Oklahoma (-14.5) at Texas Tech: Both teams are starting to get things figured out, so the entertainment potential is high. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler has taken better care of the ball since being benched in the first half against Texas and receiver Marvin Mims is the downfield threat the offense needs. Texas Tech has also found more reliability out of quarterback Henry Colombi. A key stat is explosive plays. Oklahoma has twice as many as Tech (34 to 17). The Sooners should get some big plays, but the third true road game in the past month is a lot to ask to lay the points. Pick: Texas Tech +14.5

What picks can you make with confidence this week, and which Big 12 underdog will pull off a shocking upset? Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will win and cover the spread, all from a proven computer model that has returned nearly $4,000 in profit over the past four-plus seasons.

Power rankings

1. Oklahoma State (4-0, 3-0 in Big 12): I'll be the first to admit I was skeptical of the Cowboys' first few wins, but the defense is legit. And while the Pokes only won by three against Iowa State, they were more in control than the score indicated. The upcoming three-game stretch, beginning with Texas, is critical. 

2. Kansas State (4-1, 4-0): I'm picking against K-State this weekend, but that doesn't erase what coach Chris Klieman has done so far. This team has won every which way despite COVID-19 complications and the season-ending injury to Skylar Thompson. Color me impressed. Is it sustainable? We're about to find out. 

3. Oklahoma (3-2, 2-2): If you're going to buy on Oklahoma, buy now. The Sooners are starting to find themselves and receiver Marvin Mims is becoming that dude for the offense. A win at Texas Tech would put this team in great position to make a Big 12 title game run in November. The hardest part of the schedule is behind them. 

4. Iowa State (3-2, 3-1): Outside of a couple big Breece Hall breakaway runs, Iowa State's offense was pretty much held in check. Two missed field goals ended up carrying weight, too. The Cyclones might win that game if they're a little sharper, so I don't want to drop them too much. 

5. Texas (3-2, 2-2): The Longhorns took care of business against Baylor, but the upcoming road trip to Oklahoma State looks season-defining. Lose and they're really mixed in with the rest of the Big 12 pack. Win and there's still hope for a trip to Arlington.  

6. Texas Tech (2-3, 1-3): The Red Raiders put together some nice, sustained scoring drives against a solid West Virginia defense and cashed in on a Mountaineers fumble. It was easily this team's most complete and impressive game this season. 

7. West Virginia (3-2, 2-2): The Mountaineers shoot themselves in the foot a lot and aren't nearly good enough offensively to afford getting behind the chains. The defense is what carries them, but that only carries them so far.  

8. TCU (1-3, 1-3): TCU's offense has taken a nose dive in the past two games. There's just an overall lack of explosion on that side of the ball. The Frogs don't need to fix everything against Baylor, but they need a get-right game. Otherwise, this season could really start to get out of hand. 

9. Baylor (1-2, 1-2): As colleague Tom Fornelli pointed out in the Monday After, Baylor coach Dave Aranda made an egregious coaching choice to punt from Texas' 30-yard line in a 27-16 loss. Bears fans should be livid. I'm livid for them! I'd put the Bears last just on principle, except ... 

10. Kansas (0-5, 0-4): The Jayhawks allowed two punt returns for touchdowns and a pick-six in their 55-14 loss to Kansas State. That means the Wildcats scored more non-offensive touchdowns than Kansas did.