Jim Knowles’ defense thriving against ‘insanity’ of Big 12 has Oklahoma State firmly in playoff race

Almost everything about Stillwater, Oklahoma, is simple. Small college town. The lonely stretch of State Highway 55 that runs east into the hamlet of 50,000 from I-35 might as well be a sign of what’s ahead.

“I have a cigar bar and a sushi place. That’s about it,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles says describing his ideal night out.

The lack of distractions is probably a good thing this week of the Big 12 Championship Game. If the Cowboys haven’t carved out a piece of the national consciousness by now, well, that fits the simplicity of it all.

The town and the team are easy to overlook.

Oklahoma is the storied national program 77 miles to the south. But this week, OU is in upheaval without a coach following Oklahoma State’s 37-33 win last Saturday. It was the Cowboys who advanced to the Big 12 title game against No. 9 Baylor.

Win and No. 5 Oklahoma State is not automatically in the College Football Playoff, but it’s safe to say the program will be near the peak of coach Mike Gundy’s 18 seasons with a legitimate chance to play for the national championship.

Before the campaign began, few expected bright lights to shine down on a program led by a generational defense. That’s the biggest surprise that’s come from Oklahoma State challenging for a CFP berth.

You shouldn’t have to be told they don’t normally play defense in the Big 12.

The statement is beyond a stereotype. The league has made its reputation on running up scores. The problem was opponents frequently did the same against Big 12 defenses. Ten times since 2011, the Big 12 has produced a top six scoring offense. Only four times over a full season since that year has a Big 12 defense finished in the top 20.

Knowles, an Ivy-educated former Cornell coach, came…


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