LUBBOCK, Texas -- Why can’t Oklahoma State win the Big 12?
J.W. Walsh couldn’t help but bristle a little at the question, and rightfully so.
“Why can’t this team win the Big 12? I think we can,” Walsh said. “No doubt in my mind.”
Now that the Cowboys have reached the end-of-October checkpoint unbeaten, it’s not hyperbole to acknowledge the road to a Big 12 title goes through Stillwater. No. 2 Baylor, No. 5 TCU and No. 14 Oklahoma all visit over the next four weeks. First up come the Horned Frogs and the chance to prove Oklahoma State is as legitimate a College Football Playoff contender as the nation’s best.
The Pokes are a 5-point home underdog this week, which certainly won’t bother defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.
“I love being the underdogs,” Ogbah said. “I don’t like it if everyone knows who we are. That’s what makes us great. People don’t know what we’re about. We have to show up. That’s how I feel. Every week, we have to show them.”
Coach Mike Gundy likes to think he has a pretty good barometer reading of these Cowboys. Even after a 70-53 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, he stayed cautious in his praise. The best way he can put it: He has a good team.
“We’re not a great team,” Gundy said, “but I have a lot of confidence in their willingness to come together.”
They don’t have the star power of Oklahoma State’s last conference title winner. They’re just good enough right now to be perfect. Last week, he said, they just needed to be good enough to beat Tech. But they’re not at a point where he’s ready to talk championships inside the locker room.
“The year we had [Brandon] Weeden and [Justin] Blackmon and Joe Randle and all those guys, we could make up for things on Saturday because we were so talented,” Gundy said. “We’re not in that situation at this time.”
What he does know is the Pokes have earned their skins. Five close games, four of them on the road. Five close wins. Against the Red Raiders, they faced deficits of 17-0 and 31-14 and not once did they push the panic button.
Gundy admired the Halloween shootout afterward as an “all-timer,” because that ballgame nearly filled up the bingo board of craziness: a double pass for a TD, a reverse for a TD, a kick return TD, a punt return TD, an interception for a TD, a 90-yard play, a controversial ejection, a fake punt and even a kinda-blocked punt.
And, of course, a comeback. In the past decade, no Big 12 team has given up more points in a road game and still managed to win.
“I looked in our guys’ eyes and nobody was wearing down, nobody was blaming each other for mistakes,” Ogbah said. “We all came together and kept playing hard.”
Walsh, their ultra-confident No. 2 quarterback who got hot and finished the fourth quarter, saw a mature team, one that kept throwing punches and coming up with answers.
This was still a 56-53 game with nearly five minutes left. Most teams would run the ball and run the clock there. Walsh instead chucked a 73-yard touchdown pass to James Washington. Then OSU forced a Patrick Mahomes fumble to clinch it, and corner Ramon Richards tacked on an easy pick-six in the game’s final seconds.
They shrugged off the unusually flat start on defense and got out of the hole they dug because they’ve been through enough of these -- Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia -- to know what they’ve got.
“A lot of people say we’re just sliding by with luck,” Washington said. “I don’t see any luck involved with this.”
But what does the College Football Playoff committee see? We’ll get a better sense of the real perception of Oklahoma State when the committee reveals its initial rankings Tuesday night. For all their hard-earned success, are the Cowboys going to get the top-10 recognition they’ve yet to receive from AP poll voters? Gundy will be watching closely.
“I think if I was to say I don’t have any interest then that would be unfair,” he said. “I think we all want to know what people think.”
Seems like most are still trying to figure out just how good these Cowboys are. And that's OK with Gundy and his players.
“We don’t have to worry about the big picture yet," Gundy said.