Commentary

Did Cowboys make their case?

Originally Published: December 3, 2011
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The question of whether No. 2 Alabama should be penalized already has been answered. While No. 3 Oklahoma State beat its archrival No. 10 Oklahoma 44-10, getting a last and very powerful word before the BCS judges, its rival for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome sideline opposite No. 1 LSU watched mutely from Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide didn't play Saturday because they're not a conference champion. That's a feeling with which the Cowboys are all too familiar. They had never won an outright conference championship. Ever.

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, who five days ago explained that it wouldn't be fair to rank his Cowboys ahead of the Tide, had a change of heart Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma QB Landry Jones was harassed all night by the Oklahoma State defense.

"They had their shot," Gundy said. "Just give us ours."

OK, Gundy is biased. But you couldn't blame him. He had watched his Cowboys force five turnovers, scoring one touchdown and setting up another. He had seen them limit the Sooners to one trip inside the red zone and befuddle the onetime Heisman hopeful, quarterback Landry Jones. He had seen his offense pound the Sooners for 278 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

"After what they accomplished tonight, and the way they did it against the No. 10 team in the country, I don't think there's any question that they deserve an opportunity to play for it all," Gundy said.

Oklahoma State has come a long way in Gundy's seven years. It is a tribute to his coaching and to the beneficence of T. Boone Pickens, the oilman who sunk $165 million into this program. The Phil Knight of the Dust Bowl had his arguments ready, too.

"If we don't get in the BCS, I'm not kidding you, if I have the power to do it, I'm going to have an investigation," Pickens, 83, said with a chuckle. "After the way we handled OU tonight, somehow, I can't imagine LSU playing Alabama twice. It doesn't make sense. It looks like it's an SEC closed system if that happens, and Alabama didn't even win the conference. Here we are. I think we are the ones who will play LSU, and for all the right reasons."

Alabama fans stake a powerful argument. They lost in overtime to LSU, 9-6, on Nov. 5. The Cowboys lost, 37-31, at Iowa State, a .500 team, on Nov. 18. They have plenty of other debate points. The university sent out an email at 1:03 a.m. ET Sunday, making OSU's case: a 5-2 edge over Alabama in wins against the current Top 25; a 7-3 edge in wins over bowl-bound teams.

Defensive end Jamie Blatnick, whose 59-yard fumble return to the Oklahoma 1 set up Oklahoma State's second touchdown, said, "I definitely think we deserve a shot at LSU. If you look at our body of work, it's fantastic."

Gundy also had a defense of the loss to the Cyclones: "We lost in double overtime. We didn't lose at home."

No one at Oklahoma State will cheapen the memories of women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and his assistant Miranda Serna by using their deaths in a plane crash the night before the Iowa State game to politic the Pokes into the BCS Championship Game.

Still, there's a reason that the Cowboys blew that 24-7 lead at Iowa State. PGA Tour golfer Scott Verplank, an Oklahoma State alum, may be the biggest Pokes fan not named Pickens. Verplank made the trip to Ames with the team. As both teams warmed up Saturday night, Verplank stood on the sideline watching and recalling that Friday.

"I was in the room with them when the university president came on TV and announced it," Verplank said. "They were done. Well, I don't want to say that. But the air went out of the room. There were 80 long faces. Everybody was dragging their lip on the ground. They laid around the hotel all day. Going to the game, they were not jacked up.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma State coach Mike Gundy wants to see his Cowboys in the BCS title game.

"Now you could say, if you say to them at 3 p.m., 'OK, put that out of your mind. For the next seven hours, I need you to focus on this football game,'" Verplank said. "But if that gets out, then you look like a jerk. If they could have pushed back one day and everybody had reflected on what happened, it would have been a different deal. They were ahead 24-7 and on the sideline, their heads were like this." He stared at the ground.

On the day before Bedlam, Gundy received a text from Budke's wife, Shelley.

"Mike, I got your number through Kurt's Contacts," Gundy said, reading from his phone. "I know everybody is excited about Bedlam. I don't want to put any pressure on you, because I know you have enough. I just want you to know how excited Kurt would be for this game. He was so bummed out that they moved Bedlam to this weekend.' -- He would have to play in Indiana tomorrow," Gundy explained.

"'I have to say this for him. Good luck. You've done a great job. Believe in yourself, believe in God, and believe in the team.'

"How about that?" Gundy said. "That's the kind of person she is. When Kristen and I went to see her the next morning, she said, 'I'm so sorry about the game.' I thought, that's a typical coach's wife. She had enough to her, she had to text because she knew Kurt wanted it."

If the debate comes down to which team is better, Alabama will win it. If it comes down to which team had a better record, Oklahoma State has the data on its side. Blatnick made an appeal on style points.

"Watching OSU football is exciting, and people want to watch an exciting football game," he said. "... They played LSU. They went to overtime. There were no touchdowns scored. It wasn't a very exciting game. I mean, it wasn't."

Without a playoff, this is where the college football debate is decided. Oklahoma State got the last word. We will learn Sunday night whether the Cowboys made their case.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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