(KMOV) -- Fresh off a whooping of Nebraska (and the brief SpitGate that ensued), the Missouri Tigers will face their first true home test of the season this Saturday night when the 17th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys make their way into Faurot Field. Earlier this week, we chatted with beat writer Scott Wright of the Oklahoman to gain some perspective on the enemy du jour from Stillwater
KMOV: Give us a feel for the Cowboys this year. What have been the top three themes or moments of the young season thus far?
Scott Wright: The Cowboys are still looking for their big moment this season. The big themes have been running the ball and the search for defensive improvement. Kendall Hunter and Keith Toston have produced the kind of rushing attack that hasn't been seen in Stillwater since Barry Sanders was here. And the defense is still looking for its first big test to see if it is really better than last year, or if the opponents just haven't been that good. Missouri will certainly prove one or the other.
KMOV: Tell me one thing the rest of the country doesn't know about this Oklahoma State team that it should.
Wright: Dez Bryant is a star. People see the numbers and can tell he's good, but until you see him in action -- the Cowboys have only been on a major network (FSN/ESPN/ABC) once this season -- you don't know how talented he is. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree puts up big numbers, but as far as pure talent, Bryant and Jeremy Maclin are the Big XII's best.
KMOV: What are the expectations in Stillwater for this team this season? Is there a wins total or a postseason result that you or the fan base feel like this team needs to achieve in order for this to be a successful season?
Wright: This team has been 7-6 the last two years, so it certainly needs to get to eight wins to feel like there's been improvement. But the Cowboys have a tough schedule, with most of their difficult games coming on the road. So upsets will be hard to come by.
KMOV: Looking down the road a bit, who will 2008 Big XII champions? Will they be national champs as well?
Wright: I think it's a rematch of Oklahoma and Missouri in the Big XII title game, probably both unbeaten. And there's no doubt the winner will play for the national title, but I'm not ready to say they'll win it. I need to see how good both of them are on defense first.
KMOV: Back to this present: What facet of the game is most crucial toward giving the Cowboys a chance to win in Columbia this Saturday?
Wright: It's all about defensive stops for the Cowboys. They can score as well as anyone, but if the defense doesn't come up with a couple stops or turnovers at crucial times, they can't pull the upset.
KMOV: One to get the fan bases riled up: Dez Bryant or Jeremy Maclin? Which of the two will be better this weekend? Which would you rather have on your team?
Wright: Funny you ask, because we debated this exact topic for our Saturday paper. So I can prove I'm not just picking Maclin to satisfy Missouri readers here. I love versatile players, and Maclin's ability to move all over the formation makes him extremely dangerous. Even the best defensive teams in college generally have only one really good coverage guy in their secondary, so moving him around makes it easy to create mismatches. I'd give Maclin an edge Saturday but a slight one. Bryant is a major focal point of the OSU passing game, especially in the red zone.
KMOV: Who is the X-factor for Oklahoma State this week? Most important match-up for this game?
Wright: It'll be OSU's defensive line trying to pressure Chase Daniel. The Cowboys have struggled to get a consistent pass rush from their front four, but blitzing Daniel rarely seems to work, because he gets rid of the ball so fast. And pulling a linebacker or safety out of coverage gives him another opening to find someone. So OSU can't afford to blitz too often, meaning it needs pressure from the D-line.
KMOV: Score prediction?
Wright: I'll take the Tigers in a shootout, 52-42.
Much thanks to Scott for being an willing and insightful participant in this week's segment. Here's hoping his prognostication skills are on the money, too.
Steve Weinman is a Mizzou J-student