Oklahoma State has defied the Big 12 establishment, predictions and even its own history.
For years, an undeniable caste system has existed in the Big 12 South. Oklahoma and Texas represented the upper class, which was obvious by their appearance in a combined 12 of the 14 conference championship games.
Oklahoma State rarely challenged that system. Even in 2008, when the Cowboys climbed as high as seventh in the national rankings, they finished fourth in the South. This season wasn't expected to be different because they had a new quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line, unproven receivers and a questionable defense.
But now Oklahoma State is 8-1, leading the South race and legitimately appears to be the best team in the division. Proving that will require the Cowboys to not only defy the establishment but also defeat it.
Three games remain on Oklahoma State's schedule, including matchups against Texas, this week's opponent, and Oklahoma, whom the Cowboys face in the regular-season finale. The other is against lowly Kansas.
Texas is struggling this season, so that would appear to be an easy victory. Texas is 4-5 and has lost three in a row. That skid has included losses to Baylor and a blowout setback at Kansas State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State rolled over Baylor and beat Kansas State in Manhattan by 10 points despite playing without star wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who was sitting out a one-game suspension.
But even if everyone else thinks an easy win awaits in Austin, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy won't take anything for granted.
Earlier this season, the Longhorns upset Nebraska - the only team to beat Oklahoma State. Besides, Oklahoma State hasn't won in Austin since 1944. The Cowboys never have beaten Texas coach Mack Brown, and they've often been unable to protect large leads against the Longhorns.
"They're still very athletic," Gundy said of the Longhorns. "I'm sure they feel like they could have won more games, but they still have guys who can run around and make plays. There's been times they played well and times they've made mistakes.
"I don't know what they would consider reasons for their breakdowns, but they still have talent. They can still run and tackle."
But the Longhorns don't do those things as well as the Cowboys. Indeed, Texas has struggled in all the areas that were expected to be problems for Oklahoma State.
The Longhorns have a new quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, who has struggled and is prone to mistakes. Their receivers drop too many passes and haven't made big plays. The offensive line can't get a consistent push. The defense has been as soft as a beer belly.
In contrast, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden is the nation's sixth-ranked passer. Blackmon leads the country in receiving yardage and touchdowns. The defense has forced 25 turnovers, and the offensive line has paved the way for running back Kendall Hunter to rank third in the nation with 1,240 rushing yards.
"They're not overpowering and they're not great, but they've managed to cover defenders up and put our skill players in position to make plays," Gundy said of the linemen. "We still need to become a more physical team on offense. We need to be more physical run blockers, more physical pass blockers.
"But when you look at it, we have four new guys that essentially didn't play at all [last season] and the other guy only played one year. They've done a nice job and competed, stayed together and play well as a group."
They've played well enough to help end some dubious streaks. The Cowboys have beaten Texas Tech in Lubbock for the first time since 1944. They also won at Kansas State for the first time since 1988. Beating Texas would be the most coveted jewel of that triple crown.
A win also would ensure that the Cowboys would post at least nine victories for the third consecutive season. And if they continue to win or if OU was to stumble in upcoming games against Texas Tech and Baylor, the Cowboys could make history and reach their first Big 12 conference championship.
They may even become a part of the establishment
"I think that our football program is established and moving in the right direction," Gundy said. "Hopefully, we're building some tradition here and starting something that we haven't been able to do at Oklahoma State."
Best matchup: Baylor QB Robert Griffin vs. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. They won't be on the field at the same time, but they will be trying to outdo each other. Whoever has the better performance is likely to lead his team to a victory. Griffin, the Big 12's premier dual-threat quarterback, has been superb all season. Meanwhile, the Aggies have been rejuvenated since Tannehill was promoted to starter three games ago. A&M has won all three games as Tannehill has thrown nine touchdown passes and just three interceptions in that span.
Player on the spot: Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. He needs redemption after muddling through the worst game of his career in last week's 24-17 loss to Texas Tech. Gabbert completed just 40 percent of his attempts for only 95 yards and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. Gabbert has completed fewer than half his passes in two consecutive games, both losses. He has to play better against a so-so Kansas State pass defense or the Tigers will be in serious jeopardy of losing their third in a row.
Numbers game: The streak will end at 105. Kansas and Nebraska have played the nation's longest uninterrupted series for more than a century. The series began in 1906, with the Jayhawks posting an 8-6 victory in Lincoln. The 'Hawks and Huskers continued to play through two world wars, the Great Depression and into the next millennium. They meet again in Lincoln on Saturday. But with Nebraska moving to the Big Ten after the season, the streak will end. Big Ten rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have played 104 consecutive seasons, will have the longest uninterrupted series.
What they're saying
"We thought about taking Garrett out, and if you do, you've crushed him and you're sending a message that we're giving up, which is a bad message to a potentially great young quarterback." - Texas coach Mack Brown, on why he didn't bench QB Garrett Gilbert, who threw five interceptions against Kansas State
"There is no sense in stressing over a game like this. It is just another game. It is a big game, but at this point in the season, every game is a big game now." - Oklahoma State DE Shane Jarka, on trying to maintain the lead in the Big 12 South this week against Texas
Etc.: Colorado fired coach Dan Hawkins, who was 19-39 in his five seasons in Boulder. Assistant coach Brian Cabral will finish the season as head coach. ... Kansas overcame the largest deficit in school history last week by rallying from 28 points down to post a 52-45 victory over Colorado. Kansas scored 35 points in the fourth quarter, which is the second-highest total scored in the fourth quarter to win an NCAA game. ... Baylor's Griffin needs 141 passing yards to become the first Bears quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. ... Iowa State RB Alexander Robinson has rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games. ... Kansas State wants to put an end to a trend. The last two times the Wildcats beat Texas (in 2007 and '06), they lost their next game. Kansas State beat Texas 39-14 last week. But Missouri has won four in a row over Kansas State and has scored at least 38 points in each of the wins. ... ... Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden needs just 18 yards passing against Texas to reach 3,000 for the season and join Josh Fields in 2002 and Zac Robinson in 2008 as the only Cowboys to pass for 3,000 yards in a single season. Weeden has thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight of the Cowboys' nine games. ... K-State RB Daniel Thomas has had three consecutive 100-yard games. ... Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez (sprained ankle) is expected to play this week. He sat out last week's 31-30 overtime win over Iowa State. CB Alfonzo Dennard (concussion) also is expected to play this week after missing the Iowa State game. ... Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles has tied the school record for career receptions with 221. He has 2,884 career receiving yards, which is second in school history. ... Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts, who came off the bench to lead three touchdown drives in last week's win over Missouri, has regained his role as the starter. ... Baylor is out of the national rankings after a two-week stay. The Bears had gone unranked for 18 years before entering the top 25 after beating Texas. ... WR Paul Richardson set Colorado freshman records with 11 receptions for 141 yards in last week's loss to Kansas. ... Iowa State K Grant Mahoney converted a career-long 57-yard field goal last week. It was one yard short of the school record. ... Kansas coach Hunter Gill has named junior Quinn Mecham the starting quarterback. ... Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. increased his career rushing total to 3,065 yards, which is the fifth highest in Nebraska history. ... Oklahoma has been outscored 91-32 in the fourth quarter. The Sooners were outscored 30-8 in the final quarter in losses to Missouri and Texas A&M. ... OU RB DeMarco Murray has set a school record with 6,100 career all-purpose yards. If Oklahoma State beats Texas it will mark the first time the Cowboys will have beaten the Big 12's four Texas schools in the same season. ... The last time Oklahoma State faced an unranked Texas team was in 1997, which was the last time the Cowboys beat the Longhorns, prevailing 42-16 in Stillwater. ... Texas WR Mike Davis set a freshman single-game record with 11 catches last week. He has 38 receptions and needs three more to set a single-season freshman record. ... Longhorns CB Chykie Brown (broken arm) is out for the rest of the season, while RB Tre' Newton and T Kyle Hix are uncertain for Saturday's game with head injuries. CB Aaron Williams (concussion) is expected to be back in action after missing last week's game. ... Texas A&M is ranked (No. 23) for the first time in three seasons under coach Mike Sherman. ... A&M G Evan Eike (high ankle sprain) has missed three games, but may play this week against Baylor. ... Texas Tech RB Baron Batch has reached 2,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.