While there’s still plenty of time to shake things up over these next two weeks, the Big 12 title game picture is beginning to look more clear.
At 6-1 in conference play, Texas stands alone atop the league standings as a near lock to play at Jerryworld on Dec. 3. The Big 12 championship is the Longhorns’ to lose. This may finally be the year where cries of “Texas is back” actually ring true.
But not if Mike Gundy has anything to say about it.
At the end of September, Gundy’s Oklahoma State squad had seemingly been left for dead. The Cowboys were 2-2, had dropped their conference opener to Iowa State and even flopped 33-9 against South Alabama. The team’s 17-year bowl streak was in jeopardy. Things were getting sticky in Stillwater.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Gundy has rallied his troops all the way back to a four-way tie for second within the Big 12, where the Cowboys hold the ultimate (albeit controversial) tiebreaker and control their own destiny for the chance to challenge the Longhorns.
Pay no attention to last week’s 45-3 face-plant at UCF. Prior to that hiccup, Oklahoma State had captured five straight wins — including a dramatic 27-24 Bedlam upset over Oklahoma — to get right back into the thick of the conference championship conversation.
Gundy already holds 100 career Big 12 victories and a league title to his name, but finishing the fight this season to topple Texas would be the crowning achievement of his career. Nothing would be more impressive, and there’s no one more worthy of such a feat than Gundy.
This is year 33 at Oklahoma State for Gundy, who played quarterback for the Cowboys prior to his breaking into coaching. As a young recruit in high school, he spurned the Sooners for Stillwater, a laughable decision at the time given Oklahoma’s prestige under Barry Switzer. While his 7-25-1 overall Bedlam record isn’t anything to brag about, Gundy did get the last laugh in the storied rivalry by spoiling the Sooners’ undefeated season two weeks ago in the final scheduled installment of the series.
There was no way Gundy was going to let Oklahoma skip town for the SEC without getting a closing punch. He delivered the first blow in the Sooners’ subsequent collapse out of serious Big 12 title or College Football Playoff contention. Now he can do the same to Texas.
Gundy is one of the most influential figures in the history of this conference. Seeing the Longhorns and Sooners depart after this season surely stings the fiery 56-year-old. The league’s tradition means a great deal to Gundy, and to witness its dollar-sign-fueled demise like this must be infuriating.
No one wants to see Texas or Oklahoma hoist the Big 12 championship trophy in their conference finale. It’s no fun when the “bad guys” win. Gundy has the best chance of stopping such a fate.
While he could spout off to the media to give his feelings on the matter — speaking his mind has made him a household name — Gundy is letting his team do the talking on the field. Winning out would ensure the Cowboys play at Jerryworld, and with just expansion foes Houston and BYU remaining on the schedule, Oklahoma State should be expected to do just that.
Ollie Gordon II has been the face of the Cowboys’ climb back into contention, sliding into the starting running back role at the beginning of Big 12 play to now lead the country with 1,250 rushing yards. Linebackers Nickolas Martin and Collin Oliver are playing inspired football for a defense capable of stepping up when the stakes are highest. Prior to stumbling in Orlando, quarterback Alan Bowman had finally got into a rhythm to conduct the high-powered OSU offense. Gundy has all the right dogs for the fight. Now it’s just a matter of finishing strong.
As I said before, there’s still a lot that could happen prior to Dec. 3’s conference title game, but of the four schools still in the hunt to take on Texas, only the Cowboys present a legitimate ability to defend the Big 12’s honor.
“Help me, Mike Gundy ... you’re my only hope.”