Mike Gundy and Dana Holgorsen are no strangers. Both have graced the sidelines inside Boone Pickens Stadium wearing America’s brightest orange, and both have spent the better part of a decade coaching in the Big 12.
However, on Saturday they will meet inside TDECU Stadium for the first time as Holgorsen leads the Houston Cougars (4-6, 2-5) against Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-3, 5-2).
With UH now a part of the 12, and one of the 12 “most established” schools in the conference come 2024, there will be many years in the future when the Cowboys venture to H-Town to take on the Coogs. This inaugural meeting as Big 12 foes though, has quite a bit on the line.
For Houston, a win is necessary to get to a bowl game, as they cannot afford a seventh loss and reach the postseason. Their loss last week, a 24-14 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati, was the product of a sleepwalking team caught in the act. Now, with zero margin for error, Holgorsen’s group must come out swinging on Saturday.
Meanwhile, for Oklahoma State, the game is equally as important, maybe if not more so. A win keeps the Pokes squarely in place to make a Big 12 Championship Game appearance, as OSU currently holds a tiebreaker over OU and Kansas State. A loss would almost certainly dash their hopes of a trip to Arlington, and after last week’s no-show against UCF, they can’t afford to slip up.
While Houston has struggled in its first season with the Big 12, there’s a good chance that the program becomes one of the consistent powers in the conference one it gets a foothold. With one of the richest recruiting beds in the country and a great location to bring in out-of-state talent from Louisiana, there’s a shot for the Cougars to become a real power, as Gundy pointed out this week.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of it, I don’t know what goes on down there, I know they’re in a lucrative area,” Gundy said during his weekly press conference. “I would think that within a four-hour drive of [Houston], you’re gonna have 200 offers. That’s a guess, I don’t know. Dana [Holgorsen] can answer that question. I think they have a lucrative future from a recruiting standpoint and I think they have NIL advantages because when you’re in a metropolitan area like TCU, Houston, or SMU and you have a number of high school prospects that leave and go to Notre Dame or Michigan or somewhere.
“The studies that we’re seeing now are showing that there’s a high percentage of kids that portal go closer to home. I would think they have decent portal opportunities, where players would be somewhere else and say, ‘I don’t like it, I wanna go back home and I’ll just play at Houston.’ I don’t know that to be true, but I would think there’s a chance of that being true.”
There’s more to this game though for Gundy’s program, with intangibles that stretch past the next weeks of football. Playing in a metropolitan area like Houston, which is home to over 6.7 million people, is a chance to solidify a recruiting foothold for Oklahoma State in one of the biggest cities in the United States.
“It’s good when we play in Texas,” Gundy said. “It’s good for people to see who you are. It’s marketing, right? I mean, I didn’t take marketing, don’t know anything about it, but when people see your logo in places, it’s beneficial. It can help.”
“There were several prospects that were in the Orlando area that wanted to come to the game. We can’t give them tickets or anything but they contacted us, because they didn’t know the rules. ‘How can we get recruit tickets?’ And we had to say, ‘Well, we don’t give recruit tickets on the road, we can’t do that,’ but the point being, because were going there and playing there, there was interest in watching us play. So, that’s what happens in that situation, and Houston is a more prominent area for us.”
Oklahoma State and Houston are set for a 3:00 p.m. CT kick on ESPN, with the Cowboys currently favored by 7.0 points on the road.