If you gave me one phrase to describe the 2023 Oklahoma State Cowboys, it would be, “Life is like a roller coaster. There are going to be ups and downs.” I can’t think of a more perfect way to summarize this Oklahoma State football team.
Back at Big 12 Media Days, the Cowboys were picked to finish seventh in the conference on the same field at AT&T Stadium. Here were are five months later and Oklahoma State has found themselves playing for a Big 12 title in the very place they were written off at.
As great as it was to be here in Arlington on conference championship weekend, the path to get here had as many twists and turns as a roller coaster ride. It took Oklahoma State three full games to pick a quarterback as Alan Bowman, Gunnar Gundy, and Garret Rangel rotated each series.
While the Cowboys got off to a quick 2-0 start, it didn’t take long for things to go south. In Week 3, Oklahoma State was embarrassed by South Alabama at home in a 33-7 blowout loss. It was one of the worst losses in the Mike Gundy era and people started to wonder if Gundy was going to be able to turn things around.
Unfortunately for Gundy, the chatter got louder as the Cowboys followed up their loss to South Alabama with a tough 34-27 loss to Iowa State on the road. Heading into their bye week, no one gave Oklahoma State a chance to do anything. Many people wondered if Mike Gundy still had enough left in him to get the job done.
Well, it turned out that he certainly did. Oklahoma State came out of the bye week and faced a Top-25 Kansas State team on Friday night as double-digit underdogs. The Cowboys played their best game of the season up to that point and took down the defending Big 12 Champions 29-21.
The Cowboys followed that win by finishing the month of October undefeated. Over those four weeks, the story went from, “Can Gundy turn things around?” to, “Oklahoma State is a Big 12 title contender.”
One of the obstacles standing in their way was the Oklahoma Sooners. That Bedlam game was going to be memorable for many reasons. Not only was it going to put someone in a great position for a conference championship, but it was also the last Bedlam game for the foreseeable future with Oklahoma going off to the SEC. The Cowboys ended up winning that game 27-24 as fans rushed the field to take the goalposts to a nearby pond.
In a matter of six weeks, Oklahoma State went from having one of their worst losses in the last ten years to having their best win in the last ten years. On top of that, they were tied with Texas for first place in the Big 12. But once again, the roller coaster ride went down faster than the speed of lightning.
Whether it was a Bedlam hangover or something else, Oklahoma State played their worst game of the season in the next week against UCF in Orlando losing 45-3. The Cowboys were never competitive in the contest from the first snap on and looked like a shell of themselves.
Now, Oklahoma State was in a position where they had to win out to make it to Arlington. They had a close call against Houston two weeks ago, and then took years off the lives of their fans in their double overtime win over BYU last weekend.
No matter how good or bad it looked at times, Oklahoma State found themselves playing for a Big 12 Championship against Texas. Unfortunately for them, it was another twist on their journey as the Longhorns put a 49-21 beatdown on the Cowboys.
“These guys have had a great year,” Gundy said after the game. “I couldn’t be any more proud of what they did and what they accomplished. They deserve to be in this game. Our guys had an unbelievable year, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way they competed to get to this point.”
Despite the ups and downs of the season, the 2023 team should not hang their heads. After being picked to finish seventh, this team found a way to make it all the way to the conference championship game.
Even quarterback Alan Bowman took a step back to appreciate the moment saying, “I don’t think anyone in this room expected us to be here at the beginning of the season. To be playing in this game and competing at a high level with these guys is great. We had a loss to South Alabama early, a loss to Iowa State, and everyone checked out on us. We came together during the bye week and went on a run where we won seven out of eight coming into play this game. To look back on where we came from to where we are now is incredible.”
While there were certainly tough twists and turns along the way, there were some memorable rides up as well. The crazy part is that the ride isn’t over. Even with the loss in the Big 12 title game, this team still has a chance to win ten games this season if they can take care of business in their bowl game. If that happens, Mike Gundy would have his eighth ten-win season in the last 14 years.
You can count out Mike Gundy all you want, but it always seems like his best work is when nobody gives him a chance. With a new look Big 12 coming in 2024, don’t be surprised if Mike Gundy has his team playing for a conference championship in the near future. Hopefully, for his sake, the outcome will be different.