COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Brandon Weeden ran off the field after singing his school's alma mater, a trap game brushed aside in what he hopes will be a championship year.
The senior Oklahoma State quarterback approached Cowboys fans screaming for his attention in a corner of Memorial Stadium. Some analysts pointed to the Cowboys' trip to Missouri on Saturday as a potential loss that would derail their undefeated season. But Weeden made sure his team's perfect mark remained unchanged.
He disappeared into a tunnel and held his helmet at his side. Weeden's numbers in Oklahoma State's 45-24 victory showcased his command he finished 33-of-49 passing for 338 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Tigers closed their deficit to seven points by halftime after trailing 21-3 early in the second quarter. Yet Weeden's pocket composure kept the Cowboys in control.
"I think, as a quarterback, there is nothing that can satisfy you like a win, whether it's throwing a lot, running the ball a lot, it doesn't matter," Weeden said. "I'm not worried about the numbers or anything that goes along with it. Anything I can do to help this team win football games, I am completely satisfied."
On a day when Missouri's likely move to the Southeastern Conference lingered over what happened on the field, Weeden showed the Tigers how hard a transition to the country's marquee league could be. Missouri sophomore quarterback James Franklin took a snap with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma State fans chanted, "Go Big 12!" behind him. On Friday, Missouri's board of curators gave chancellor Brady Deaton power to make a decision about conference affiliation. A move to the SEC would make the Tigers the conference's 14th team.
But for the Cowboys, a Big 12 Conference title remains a possibility because of Weeden's arm. Oklahoma State entered ranked fourth in the first BCS poll released last Sunday, trailing LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma. His showing Saturday marked the fifth time he has thrown for at least 300 yards this season (he threw for a program-best 438 yards against Texas A&M on Sept. 24).
That record is one example of the legacy Weeden has left within his program. He owns eight of the Cowboys' top 12 single-game passing performances. Before Saturday, he was third on Oklahoma State's all-time passing list with 6,631 yards, trailing former quarterbacks Zac Robinson (8,317) and Mike Gundy (7,997).
Gundy, in his seventh year as the Cowboys' head coach, stood outside a locker room Saturday and spoke about his confidence in Weeden as a leader. The quarterback improved to 18-2 as a starter and is unbeaten in nine starts away from Boone Pickens Stadium.
"Brandon has played well for us," Gundy said. "He has played well on the road. His leadership is good. When he sets his feet and steps up in the pocket, he can fling just as good as anybody."
Weeden's ability to do so has introduced a sense of urgency into the Cowboys' season. Oklahoma State's athletic department boasts Weeden and junior wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the 2010 Biletnikoff Winner, as "America's Best Pass-Catch Combo." Last season Weeden's first as the Cowboys' starting quarterback he threw for 4,277 yards with 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
"I think the difference between last year and this year is that he sees defenses better," Oklahoma State senior center Grant Garner said. "Also, he knows what we're doing more. I think he manages the game better with communicating and checking out of bad plays."
Weeden avoided bad plays Saturday with the exception of his lone interception. In the third quarter, Missouri sophomore cornerback E.J. Gaines stepped in front of Weeden's pass in the end zone and returned it 54 yards. The moment was a rare mistake on a day when dropped balls by Cowboys wide receivers kept Weeden's production from being even larger.
Beyond the victory over Missouri, Weeden's presence is a reminder that this fall might be Oklahoma State's best chance since Gundy became coach to make a national-championship run. The Cowboys have a difficult late-season stretch, facing Baylor and Kansas State in the next two weeks before closing with Oklahoma on Dec. 3. However, all three games are in Stillwater. Their toughest road test will be against Texas Tech on Nov. 12.
"Being a leader isn't just a one-time thing," said Oklahoma State sophomore running back Joseph Randle, who had 142 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries Saturday. "You have to see him all the time. Brandon is a leader for us all the time. You can't just pick out one reason why he is a leader. He has got to be a leader all the time. That's what he is for our team.
"Those kind of quarterbacks don't come around often. Of course we want to capitalize and make the best of this season."
Others around Oklahoma State's program do too. After he left the locker room Saturday, Weeden walked through an open gate and into a parking lot. Fans dressed in orange swarmed him for autograph requests.
He scribbled his signature on photos and footballs and posed for cameras. A potential upset was long since over, and Oklahoma State remained undefeated. Weeden was a star again.
"We're rolling," he said. "We're playing well. We're doing some good things. None of us are satisfied. We have a long way to go."
The Cowboys will go as far as Weeden leads them.