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SPORTS: Oklahoma State University

Preview: Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State

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HOUSTON, Texas -

It's that time of the year again – football season. It's been a long wait for Cowboy fans but, now that the season is under way, it starts with a bang in Reliant Stadium against Mississippi State. Here is our breakdown of what to expect in Houston:

 

Five Things To Watch

1) OSU wide receivers vs. MSU defensive backs

This is a huge advantage for the Pokes. Mississippi State lost both of its starting corners from a year ago and they were quite the tandem, as both were taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Now a new pair of corners and a new strong safety are forced to learn how to play together on the fly against a deep and explosive group of Cowboy receivers. Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore, Charlie Moore, Blake Jackson and Co. could make things very difficult on the Bulldogs.

RELATED: MSU Corners Face Tough Task Against OSU

2) LaDarius Perkins vs. OSU front seven

Perkins is the Bulldog's most established threat on offense after rushing for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. He's not the biggest back in the SEC at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds but he packs a punch. He'll be running behind a familiar group with four returning o-linemen. Expect OSU to key in on shutting Perkins down and forcing the Bulldogs into a one-dimensional attack, but this is easier said than done. OSU's front seven has gotten a lot hype as a much-improved unit and they will have a chance to prove it on Saturday.

3) Tyler Russell vs. OSU defense

Russell is already one of the best quarterbacks in MSU history and he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last year. But, again, a new crop of receivers comes into play here and an improved and experienced Cowboy front seven could pounce on this advantage and get in on Russell early and often. If the Pokes can rattle Russell things should go just fine and make the secondary's job much easier, but allowing him to establish confidence and get into a rhythm could have disastrous results. That said, Russell struggled against quality opposition last season and OSU certainly fits that bill.

4) Big 12 vs. SEC

The SEC is in all the college-football headlines these days and a nonconference victory against an SEC team would go a long way toward legitimizing OSU's Big 12 title shot in a lot of people's minds. On the flip side, a loss against a middle-of-the-pack SEC team when you're the Big 12-title favorite would be bad for the Pokes and the league overall.

5) OSU's New Coordinators In Action

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's first game directing the Cowboy offense isn't nearly as stress-free as Savannah State would have been. The offense needs to be sharp from the get-go against a capable and athletic MSU defense, which will be made more difficult with just one returning offensive lineman, a new starter at running back, and an unsettled QB situation. On the other side of the ball, Glenn Spencer will roll out his new-look defense and a proclaimed "more aggressive" approach. Both coordinators will have a chance to make a statement against a quality foe.

 

Notables

• The all-time series between the schools is tied at 2-2 but they have never met on a neutral field. The last meeting came back in 1999, with MSU winning 29-11.

• An OSU victory would be its 13th in its past 14 nonconference games.

• A win would also move OSU to 25-3 against unranked opponents since the start of the 2010 season.

• The recent criticism for Mike Gundy's teams playing powder-puff nonconference teams is unfounded. Saturday marks the fifth time in the past seven years OSU has opened the season against a power-conference school. (MSU '12, Washington State '10, Georgia '09, Wash. St. '08 and Georgia '07).

• OSU is 7-1 in season openers under Mike Gundy.

• The Cowboys are 6-2 in neutral-field games under Gundy and have won their past three – all three of those wins have come in the past three year's bowl games.

• 14 different Cowboys were named to various preseason award watchlists.

• Oklahoma State is the only team in the country to rank in the top 10 nationally in total offense, scoring and passing the past three seasons.

• Senior running back Jeremy Smith enters his fifth and final season in Stillwater with a 6.2 yards-per-carry average for his career, trailing only Barry Sanders in school history.

• The OSU defense has forced 130 turnovers since 2009, ranking second in the country in that time frame.

 

Prediction:

Kicking things off against an SEC foe is no easy task but the Cowboys have an upper hand in the fire-power department and should be able to exploit an unproven group of Bulldog cornerbacks, regardless of who is lining up under center.

Mississippi State is a solid team but a lackluster 1-5 finish last season combined with the loss of both starting corners and all of its leading receivers sets up for a rough start against the preseason Big 12 favorites.

The Cowboys will certainly need to play well to win this game, but if the OSU offense can avoid turnovers and the Pokes' front seven can force MSU to throw the ball, OSU could -- and perhaps should -- win comfortably.

Yes, the Bulldogs are an SEC team but that doesn't automatically make them world beaters. The Cowboys are the better team and are favored by double figures for a reason.

Final: OSU 38-20

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