Thursday, September 3, 2009
It's put up or shut up time for Oklahoma State
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson was amazed during an outing last weekend at the excitement his team’s upcoming game with Georgia already was generating.
Ticket scalpers had set up shop on the streets of Stillwater, six full days before Saturday’s kickoff.
“This is the earliest I’ve ever seen anybody doing that,” Robinson said. “It was amazing to see that kind of interest so early in the week. I just started laughing when I saw it.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy learned about that early buzz when he took his oldest son, Gavin, to Wal-Mart late one night last week. While there, it seemed fellow customers were more interested in his football team than finding bargains at the store.
“In Stillwater, everywhere you go, that’s all everybody is talking about,” Gundy said. “Everybody that walks by, that’s all they talk about. It’s good there’s a lot of excitement in the community.”
Such attention isn’t unexpected for a game that is considered to be the biggest season-opening game in school history. A record crowd of nearly 60,000 is expected to attend the game at the recently refurbished Boone Pickens Stadium.
The Cowboys’ lofty preseason national ranking is the highest in school history. They are receiving unprecedented national attention as many perceive them a contenders for the Big 12 South title.
“I think everybody is ready for the challenge,” Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton said. “We’ve been hearing about it for so long that we need to step up and show what we’ve got as a program. We’re ready to prove ourselves to the nation and how we are perceived.”
The Cowboys started turning heads last season when they started 8-1. But they fell apart late, dropping four of their last six games including a disappointing 42-31 loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl.
Since then, Gundy has hired veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young to retool a defense that allowed 56, 61 and 42 points in three late losses last season and ranked last in the conference in sacks. Young is revered in the Big 12 after serving as the architect of the Kansas defense that helped boost the Jayhawks into the Orange Bowl in 2007.
The return of Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant and Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter also have helped boost excitement to a fever pitch.
"I've not been in a situation where we've had this much national attention," Gundy said. “I do worry about it. I don’t know what we can do other than practice hard and stay focused as a staff."
Gundy has also faced challenges this week after starting cornerback Perrish Cox was arrested for driving with a suspended license and tight end Jamal Mosley quit the team after he was slapped with a restraining order by a Stillwater woman.
And most significantly, middle linebacker Orie Lemon suffered a torn knee ligament in Monday’s practice that could cause him to miss the upcoming season.
Despite those issues, Gundy is eager to gauge his team in what could be a huge statement game for his program.
A victory will stamp them as a legitimate Big 12 South contender. A loss means they are just another overhyped team in the preseason.
“There’s no question [the preseason attention] affects you. It just does,” Gundy said. “There’s been more coverage, more talk and excitement than any time since I’ve been around and I go back to the mid-1980s.
“All that can factor in. But I just hope when we kick it off on Saturday, everything will settle down and the guys will go out and play hard.”