AMES — The Big 12 reduced the number of football games played to 10 at the beginning of the season so teams could have more bye weeks.
The bye weeks were added, in theory, in case a team had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to postpone the game. That postponed game could then be rescheduled to one of the open weeks.
The Cyclones face an Oklahoma State team this week coming off a double bye. Here are five things to know about the Cowboys.
1. How Oklahoma State treated the extra bye week
Sixth-ranked Oklahoma State (3-0, 2-0) had a scheduled bye week two weeks ago, and then last week Baylor had to shut down its football activities for a second time due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
In essence, Oklahoma State had back-to-back bye weeks.
“Nothing surprises us this year — you have to roll with the punches,” Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy said. “When we started this season, you felt like we’d run into a game or two where there could be COVID issues on our team or another team.”
Oklahoma State treated its extra bye week just like a normal bye week.
“We’re going to stick to our routine,” Gundy said last week. “Because we had two open weeks, we’ve been fairly comfortable with what we’re doing. We need to keep them focused. They like to play games, that’s what they do, but we can’t play one this week.
“If we don’t have three good practices this week, our team is mature enough to know that we might not play as well against Iowa State.”
2. Cowboys are Big 12’s last unbeaten
Oklahoma State is the highest-ranked team in the Big 12 and the only undefeated team in the conference.
Iowa State (3-1, 3-0) and Kansas State (3-1, 3-0) also are undefeated in conference play but both lost to Sun Belt teams to begin the season. When Oklahoma State plays No. 17 Iowa State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Stillwater, Okla., the Big 12 race will become clearer.
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“The players are smart enough to figure (where we sit),” Gundy said. “We’re going to be really challenged over the next month. For some of us, we control our own destiny. Win and you keep going, get knocked off and then you have to hope somebody beats someone down the road.”
3. Iowa State is test for OSU defense
Oklahoma State’s defense ranks No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed per play at just 4.05.
But there’s a caveat to that number. The Cowboys have played Kansas and West Virginia in conference — two teams that aren’t known for their offenses.
Beginning with Iowa State, Oklahoma State is entering the toughest part of its schedule.
“We’re going to face some really good quarterbacks that are experienced and have had a lot of success,” Gundy said. “We’ll find out exactly where we’re at defensively based on the talent and skill positions we’re going to face.”
4. Oklahoma State’s quarterback duo
Oklahoma State starting quarterback Spencer Sanders suffered an injury in the Cowboys’ first game. Gundy said he’s back to full health and should be ready for the Iowa State game.
But in Sanders’ absence, true freshman Shane Illingworth has looked impressive, completing 73 percent of his passes for 483 yards and three touchdowns in the two-plus games he’s played.
“We’re alternating reps and we might play both, I’m not sure right now,” Gundy said. “We continue to get them both work. Spencer is healthy and obviously Shane has played pretty good. Then we have (Ethan) Bullock as our third option so we’re in pretty good shape at the quarterback position.”
5. Football players turned wrestlers
Malcolm Rodriguez is arguably Oklahoma State’s best player on defense. The linebacker has 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, three hurries and a sack.
After last football season, when the Oklahoma State wrestling team was thin at heavyweight, Rodriguez, a two-time Oklahoma state champion wrestler, walked on to the Cowboys’ wrestling team. Starting defensive end Brock Martin, who was also a three-time Oklahoma state wrestling champion, joined Rodriguez.
Neither saw the mat in competition.