October 9, 2008

OSU's time could be now with win

There's a huge game in the Big 12 this weekend.

And don't forget to check out the Texas-Oklahoma matchup earlier in the day.

It's rare air for an Oklahoma State game to be right up there with the Red River Shootout (I know it's "Rivalry" now, but that's too tongue-twisting and PC for me), but here the Cowboys are, two days from the biggest non-Bedlam game in quite some time. The last game that carried as much weight as the one this weekend was when Texas beat OSU in Stillwater in 2003. Remember all the Tostitos bags in the stands that cold night?

But that was before Mike Gundy was head coach. So the question must be asked: Is this the biggest game of the Gundy administration?

I believe the answer to that is a resounding yes. Here's why.

Of course, Bedlam is a huge game for OSU every single year. Whether the Cowboys are 1-10 or 8-3, the season-ending Thanksgiving weekend slugfest is a game that fans in Orange Country obsess over and players and coaches want bad (though it's "just another game," they'll say). And, in recent years, Bedlam has become more prominent nationally, with the game appearing on Fox Sports Net and ABC.

But that game is just another fierce, in-state rivalry. While upsets in these types of series are noticed, they can usually be cast aside by a "Well, those things happen when in-state teams get together" comment. What has Texas A&M beating Texas the past couple of years done for the Aggies? Exactly.

But this game against Missouri is different.

This isn't an in-state match. Heck, it's not even an intra-divisional match. It's a game between two teams that haven't met since 2005. There's not really built-in emotion there. This is just another game on the Big 12 schedule for both teams. But because of the way this season has gone to this point, it's become a monster event. Faurot Field is sold out. All 68,000-plus seats are gone for the game between the No. 3 Tigers and No. 17 Cowboys. Mizzou has a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in Chase Daniel and the third-best offense in the land. Many believe this Tiger team is better than the 2007 version and a Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth - or even BCS title game berth - is within the grasp of their black and gold paws.

Those are just some of the reasons why this game is the biggest for OSU in years and by far the most important since Gundy has been head coach.

Simply put, this is a program-making game for the Pokes. While Mizzou is still relatively "new money" on the national landscape, they've quickly gained respect and acceptance with the big boys. They're no fluke. Gary Pinkel has built Mizzou the right way. And a win against the Tigers in Columbia in front of an ESPN2 audience would propel the Pokes upward in a big way. A win here morphs OSU from also-ran in the Big 12 South to a darkhorse BCS bowl participant. But it would do more than that.

Winning this weekend would go a long way in making the OSU football program a legit threat both within the Big 12 and nationally as well. It would mean a 6-0 record with a very realistic shot at 7-0 going into a road game against Texas, which could be for the driver's seat of the South Division if the Longhorns beat OU. If that happens, you're looking at a Cowboy team ranked in the Top 10 and a chance to crystallize legitimacy in the eyes of the college football world.

OSU isn't typically a program seen as anything more than middle-tier in the Big 12. But defeating Mizzou this weekend would give the Cowboys the opening they've wanted for years now. Make no mistake, this game won't be easy for the Pokes and it will serve as a huge test in Gundy's young head coaching career. But if he passes the test, the Cowboys will be in position to seriously make noise in the conference and they'll be a big factor the rest of the way.

This might not be OSU's time yet, but they could make it their time. Beat the Tigers and watch the possibilities unfold quickly.

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