Friday Night Bites: Poking toward perfection
• No. 2 Oklahoma State @ Iowa State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN): No ranked-on-ranked matchups in this flight of weeknight games, but what a treat to see the ‘Pokes in primetime. The Cyclones are OSU’s next-to-last hurdle to an undefeated regular season; the Cowboys will take a much-needed bye over Thanksgiving to prepare for Bedlam on December 3. But first they need a win in Ames, and in case of a one-loss scrum at the top of the BCS standings, it should probably be some sort of statement victory. The Cowboys are good at those.
The Cyclones are entering the first week of one nasty gauntlet. They draw the second-ranked ‘Pokes, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 16 Kansas State in consecutive weeks to close out the season. These will mark their fifth, sixth and seventh ranked opponents faced since October 1. The only one they’ve managed to topple thus far was a Texas Tech team I think we can safely say was overrated at No. 19, and was promptly thumped 41-7 by the Cyclones. Iowa State has had two weeks to prepare for this OSU team. But is that enough to improve a defense allowing an average of 420 yards per game? The Cyclones are much better on paper against the pass than the run, but if they shut down Justin Blackmon — which nobody’s managed to do for an entire game in a very long time — they’ve still got Joseph Randle to deal with, and an unsteady ground defense that’s accounting for nearly half those yards allowed.
Where ISU can find points: With James White and Jared Barnett running. White has been good for about 70 yards a game, with two big performances this year against Baylor and Texas Tech, and Barnett is 2-0 in a starting capacity since replacing Steele Jantz. OSU outranks the Bears and Red Raiders against the run, but not by much, and the luxury of time to run against them and of being able to score fast enough to keep the game within reach, may be an unrealistic aspiration.
Check SI.com proper tonight for postgame analysis from Andy Staples, who will be on the scene in Ames.
• Toledo @ Central Michigan, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU): When the undercard contains Toledo, there’s always main event potential in store. Look for the Rockets to blast up the scoreboard after two hilariously close, hysterically high-scoring weeknight tilts against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. The Chips are allowing an average of 32 points per game. Think Toledo can double that?