After three months of chaos, the Big 12’s final showdown is set.
Texas and Oklahoma State have emerged from the league’s scrap heap to face off in the championship game Saturday in Arlington. The Longhorns punched their ticket to Jerryworld through brute force. The Cowboys made it by fate.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Texas playing for the conference crown in its final conference game as a member of the Big 12. After all, Steve Sarkisian’s squad was the Big 12 preseason favorite and ranks No. 7 in the nation, finishing 8-1 in league play and boasting a rare road victory at Alabama. The Longhorns may be currently stuck on the playoff bubble, but a win Saturday and some additional outside entropy could see Texas crashing the CFP party.
Sure, they’ve had some close calls and a frustrating loss to Oklahoma, but the Longhorns have seven wins of 10 or more points, including a 50-point drubbing of Texas Tech last week.
As much as Texas has mastered the blowout, so has Oklahoma State in surviving through shootouts.
Seemingly left for dead after a sideways September, the Cowboys have rallied to capture seven of their last eight games, narrowly escaping with four one-score wins in that span — including a double-overtime win over BYU.
Aside from Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Ollie Gordon and his rushing prowess, Oklahoma State hardly does anything pretty. The Cowboys have a middle of the pack offense and rank second to last within the conference in total defense. Quarterback Alan Bowman has the worst passer rating of all league starters. Aside from Gordon, Oklahoma State has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry as a team.
Yet somehow, the ragtag Cowboys are still standing, and Texas should be terrified.
The Longhorns had eight First Team All-Big 12 selections to Oklahoma State’s two. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers has an NIL valuation north of $1 million, while journeyman Bowman is on his third school in six years. The Longhorns beat Alabama handily, while the Cowboys lost to South Alabama by 24.
These two teams are worlds apart, yet somehow paired up to compete for all the marbles.
Texas is the better team, but its path to Saturday was a breeze compared to the fire and flames Oklahoma State has withstood. The Cowboys should barely be bowl eligible, let alone playing at Jerryworld. After flirting with disaster all season long, there’s no way they can be afraid of the Longhorns now. Oklahoma State has majored in the improbable and won’t be caught off guard for the final exam.
As I’ve written before, this opportunity to topple Texas is overwhelmingly personal for Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy. He’s an Oklahoma State lifer, and after 33 years in the program is surely steaming over the Longhorns and Sooners skipping town for the SEC next year. Gundy already triggered Oklahoma’s collapse from contention last month, and now he can do the same to Texas on Saturday in what would likely be the most admirable achievement of his storied career.
This clash of Longhorns and Cowboys is one of playoff versus payoff. Target-wearing Texas could earn the chance to wrestle for a national title with a win. Sturdy Oklahoma State could finish a massive in-season turnaround to elevate its program atop the new-look Big 12 next year and beyond.
We all know to which side commissioner Brett Yormark would rather hand over the trophy, and it definitely isn’t the one abandoning him afterward. A Yormark/Sarkisian postgame photo op would be a gold mine for meme potential. Let’s see if Gundy can defend his commissioner’s honor.
To borrow from “Monster’s University” — if the Cowboys lose, no one will remember them ... but if the Longhorns lose, no one will let them forget it.
Saturday is the last dance for the conference of chaos in its current form. Let’s see how crazy it can get.