Oklahoma State and West Virginia will meet Saturday. One team has to win.
Even if the Cowboys win Oklahoma State may have to, at least in part, thank Dana Holgorsen. He has helped take both programs to where they want to be, and on Saturday the former offensive coordinator will be back in Stillwater for the first time as a head coach.
At the end of 2009 Oklahoma State scored a total of seven points combined in a pair of embarrassing losses to close the season. Quarterback Zac Robinson was dealing with a bum shoulder, but seven points isn't enough to do much else but rack up frustrating losses that leave point-loving fans unfulfilled.
Coach Mike Gundy was designing his offense and decided to take a different approach to begin the following spring.
Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback built to run and take hits, was being succeeded by Brandon Weeden, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior with a big arm and we'll say ... hesitant legs.
With Gundy looking to take on a different role for his team, hiring Holgorsen made sense.
"I had a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he had done with the program," Holgorsen said. "His question to me was how [former Houston coach and current Texas A&M head coach] Kevin Sumlin did things from a CEO standpoint. I think Mike wanted to be more of a CEO type head coach, as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day trying to get the offense better. I think he’s done a tremendous job of that.
"Since he’s gone back and made that switch, they’ve won a tremendous amount of ball games. Good for him."
Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games the next season. Holgorsen left for West Virginia, a team that scored just seven points in a frustrating bowl loss of its own to close the 2010 season and wanted a new head coach.
Once he left, Gundy hired former OSU receivers coach Todd Monken to run the same offense Holgorsen installed in one spring.
"I knew a whole lot about it prior to going there, from a facilities standpoint, a coaching staff standpoint, culture and recruiting standpoint, knew a lot about it," Holgorsen said. "There wasn’t any surprises."
He spent nearly a decade at Texas Tech before coordinating Sumlin's offense at Houston, where the Cougars played Oklahoma State in each of Holgorsen's seasons. In 2009, the Cougars even upset a top five Oklahoma State team in Stillwater.
His first season as head coach at West Virginia -- which only came after scandal led to an early exit for the late Bill Stewart -- was his only season in the past 12 in which he didn't face the Cowboys.
"We were just a typical spread offense. Run/pass, no-huddle offense," Gundy said. "The impact it had was we changed our style of quarterback, so we brought in a scheme that could best fit what Brandon Weeden could have success with, which was pocket-style passing."
It worked. The Cowboys ranked No. 3 nationally in total offense in 2010, up from 70th in a nine-win campaign in 2009. A year later, using Holgorsen's system under Monken, the Cowboys won their first Big 12 title and once again ranked third nationally in total offense.
Meanwhile, Holgorsen was helping build West Virginia, who won the Big East in Year 1 and won a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 -- Rich Rodriguez's final season in Morgantown.
"[Gundy] was with Pat Jones there for a long time, played for Pat Jones, which is old-school football, tough, hard-nosed physical football and incorporated it into our style of spread offense," Holgorsen said, "keeping it as physical as it can possibly be."
Holgorsen's fingerprints will be all over both sidelines, but without a stop at Oklahoma State and proof he could run his offense at a major conference away from mentor Mike Leach and away from a minor league like Conference USA, a high-profile head job like West Virginia might never have come along.
"It worked out good for everybody," Holgorsen said.