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November 7, 2008

Texas Tech, Oklahoma State in new positions

Quarterback Graham Harrell led Texas Tech's offense downfield on a furious final drive to salvage victory in the final seconds. With time running out, he rifled a pass to receiver Michael Crabtree, who reached up and ... let the ball slip through his hands.

"I can remember being in the locker room after that game," Harrell said. "'Crab' was on one side of me with his head down and in tears. 'Emo' [wide receiver Eric Morris] was on the other side. I was crying. We left it all on the field and were crushed.

"We were very disappointed we lost. That's college football. It was a shootout going back and forth. We really grew off that game."

A lot has changed since Oklahoma State held on for a 49-45 victory over the Red Raiders last season. Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy went from obscure college football coach to controversial figure after a post-game tirade. Ruffin McNeill was promoted to Texas Tech defensive coordinator. Oklahoma State sophomore Kendall Hunter has gone from a backup to the Big 12's best running back. And Crabtree is making game-winning touchdown catches in the final seconds, which he did in last week's 39-33 upset of Texas.

But the greatest change is that Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are playing in November for the lead in the Big 12 South, a designation usually reserved for Oklahoma or Texas this late in the season.

Tech is second in the BCS standings. Oklahoma State is ninth in the BCS and hoping to get into the national championship picture. Neither have played in the Big 12 championship game or appeared in a BCS bowl. That could be changing, too.

Who gets the edge?

Texas Tech run offense vs. Oklahoma State run defense
As evidenced in last week's victory over Texas, the Red Raiders run better than usual. Tech's Shannon Woods rushed for 71 yards and Baron Batch had 51 yards and a touchdown in the victory. The Red Raiders' average of 134.8 rushing yards per game isn't overwhelming, but the running game complements the passing attack enough to be dangerous. Oklahoma State has been solid against the run, giving up 116.9 yards per game. Texas A&M's Mike Goodson is the only opposing running back to reach 100 yards against the Cowboys.

Texas Tech pass offense vs. Oklahoma State pass defense
QB Graham Harrell is the leading candidate to win the Heisman, Michael Crabtree is the premier receiver in the country and the Red Raiders lead the nation in passing offense (424.6 ypg). Harrell has thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight of nine games. Oklahoma State's pass defense has been vulnerable, but the Cowboys have grabbed 11 interceptions. Their pass rush isn't too overpowering and figures to be mismatched against Tech's offensive line, which has allowed just five sacks.

Oklahoma State run offense vs. Texas Tech run defense
Sophomore RB Kendall Hunter is the country's fourth-leading rusher with 1,220 yards. He has rushed for at least 90 yards in every game this season. Behind Hunter and backup Keith Toston, who has rushed for 565 yards, the Cowboys rank fifth in the country in rushing offense. Texas Tech held Texas to 80 rushing yards a week ago and now ranks 10th in the country against the run. Six of the Red Raiders' past seven opponents have rushed for 114 yards or less. But none of them have a rushing attack like Oklahoma State's.

Oklahoma State pass offense vs. Texas Tech pass defense
The Cowboys' passing attack isn't as spectacular as some in the Big 12, but it's productive nevertheless. Dez Bryant is only a notch below Crabtree on the list of the nation's premier receivers. TE Brandon Pettigrew is one of the best in the country, QB Zac Robinson is having another excellent season and the line has allowed just 10 sacks. That line will have to play well to slow down the Tech pass rush continually that harassed Texas' Colt McCoy. Given adequate time, Robinson should be able to find holes in Tech's secondary because the Red Raiders rank 101st in the nation in pass defense. But Tech also is among the nation's leaders with 15 interceptions. FS Darcel McBath and SS Daniel Charbonnet have five picks apiece.

Texas Tech special teams vs. Oklahoma State special teams
Kicking could be an issue for Texas Tech. Although Donnie Carona hit a key field goal against Texas, he has converted just four of nine attempts this season. Matt Williams, who joined the team after he won a halftime kicking contest, has been reliable on extra points and short field goals. Eric Morris averages 11.1 yards on punt returns and Jamar Wall averages 27.9 yards on kickoff returns. Punter Jonathan Lacour carries a 37-yard average. Few teams can match Oklahoma State on returns. Bryant averages 19.2 yards on punt returns and has brought two back for touchdowns, while Perrish Cox averages 31.1 yards on kickoff returns and has a touchdown. Kicker Dan Bailey has converted nine of 12 field-goal attempts, but none longer than 39 yards. Punter Matt Fodge averages 43.6 yards and has dropped 14 kicks inside the opponent's 20. Oklahoma State's punt-coverage unit is excellent, but its kickoff-coverage unit has issues. Texas Tech is shaky on coverage.
EDGE: Oklahoma State

Texas Tech coaches vs. Oklahoma State coaches
Mike Leach has 74 victories in nine years at Texas Tech. His offenses frequently lead the nation in passing, and the defense has improved under coordinator Ruffin McNeill. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is having his best season in Stillwater. He is 2-1 against Leach.
EDGE: Texas Tech

X-factor: Emotion always is a big factor. Texas Tech must avoid an emotional letdown after its landmark victory over Texas a week ago. The Red Raiders never before have led the Big 12 South this late in the season. Whether they can handle the pressure that goes with it remains to be seen. Tech is out to avenge a close loss to Oklahoma State last year.

Texas Tech will win if: The Red Raiders' massive offensive line has done a superb job protecting Harrell, and that remains the key. If Harrell has time to distribute the football to Crabtree and his other receivers, Tech's offense is almost impossible to stop. In addition, the defense must slow Oklahoma State's Hunter and the Red Raiders have to avoid a hangover from last week's victory.

Oklahoma State will win if: A big game from Hunter will not only boost Oklahoma State's offense, but conceivably could limit Texas Tech's opportunities with the football. The Cowboys' defense pressured Chase Daniel and forced three interceptions in an earlier victory over Missouri. It will need a similar performance to get by Tech. The Cowboys also must avoid turnovers.

Expert Picks

Olin Buchanan: Texas Tech 35, Oklahoma State 31
Tom Dienhart: Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma State 38
David Fox: Oklahoma State 35, Texas Tech 28
Mike Huguenin: Oklahoma State 37, Texas Tech 35
Steve Megargee: Texas Tech 38, Oklahoma State 35

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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