Few people understand today's historic opportunity facing the Oklahoma State football program better than coach Mike Gundy.
The Cowboys (9-0, 6-0 in Big 12) are No. 2 in the BCS standings, the loftiest perch in school history. They can post the school's first 10-0 record by knocking off Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4) at 11 a.m. today in Lubbock.
For OSU fans, that means unbridled excitement and anticipation. For Gundy, who has been a player or coach on six OSU teams that won at least nine games -- including this one -- it's made for some stressful days as pressure mounted to extend the team's perfect record to an unprecedented level.
"There is not a release valve," Gundy said. "There is a certain point that you can release the pressure, but it doesn't go away until you go to sleep at night. As soon as I wake up, it comes back into my mind. I am sure it is the same way to our players."
Gundy said he would welcome advice from coaches or players who have been through similar situations in regard to handling the mounting expectations.
"I certainly do not know how, other than to focus on practice ...and telling the players to play hard on Saturday," Gundy said. "That is easier said than done with the position we are in."
That approach has worked well enough to carry these Cowboys into the history books alongside the 1945 team that finished 9-0, including a 33-13 victory over St. Mary's (Calif.) in the Sugar Bowl. The 1945 Cowboys are the only team to finish undefeated in the history of an OSU football program that began in 1901.
Gundy will stare across the field today at a coach who could offer tips about closing out an undefeated season. Tech coach Tommy Tuberville put together a 13-0 team at Auburn in 2004, but he won't be sharing any secrets with Gundy before today's kickoff in Jones AT&T Stadium.
Instead, he'll be trying to squelch what Tuberville described as OSU's "huge opportunity" to announce itself as a major player on the national stage.
"Mike Gundy has done an excellent job ...and built this football team to where it's at," Tuberville said. "They've built it slowly, built it the right way, and they've got a huge opportunity. They know that coming in, and we'll get their best shot. But sooner or later, this defense is going to come around and things are going to go our way. It's going to happen. Hopefully, it will happen this week."
If so, the timing would be ironic. Tech put together a solid defensive stretch Oct. 22 during its 41-38 upset of Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the coaches poll at the time. The Red Raiders held the Sooners (8-1, 5-1) scoreless for eight consecutive possessions -- six three-and-outs, coupled with two turnovers -- while building a 31-7 lead to end OU's 39-game home winning streak.
To follow up by handing OSU its first loss of the season would mean triumphs over teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls during the same season for the first time in Tech history. Tech holds a 6-1 mark against OSU in Lubbock during the Big 12 era. But the Cowboys won last season in Lubbock 34-17 and are 10-0 in games played outside of Stillwater, Okla., with Brandon Weeden as the starting quarterback.
Weeden, 28, rallied the team for a game-winning touchdown on its final possession in last week's 52-45 victory over No. 14 Kansas State.
"Those games make you a better football team," Weeden said. "You can look back and learn a lot from a character standpoint."
OSU offensive lineman Lane Taylor, a junior from Arlington Martin, said the Cowboys' lofty ranking is "a really good thing for us" despite the additional pressure that comes with it.
"The past couple of years, we have been building up to this," Taylor said. "It's nice to see all the hard work finally come together."
But can the Cowboys, who lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-17) and rank second in scoring (50.1), make history today and become the first 10-0 team in school history?
Can they cross the finish line with a 12-0 mark at the end of the regular season and earn a berth in the BCS National Championship Game?
The mathematical possibilities exist. The key, said linebacker James Thomas, is not being distracted by those possibilities.
"We can't overlook anyone," Thomas said. "Anyone can give anyone a good game. I am sure Texas Tech is going to have a chip on [its] shoulder and will be looking to upset us."
If the Cowboys avoid the upset, they'll make school history. And they'll continue to add stressful days to Gundy's life in efforts to extend the possibility of a perfect season.
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