The most pivotal drive in the history of the Oklahoma State football program -- upward in the coaches and Harris polls, creating hope for a last-second berth in the BCS National Championship Game -- ended short of the goal line Sunday.
So we're left with leftovers in this year's BCS National Championship Game: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama, for the second time in two months.
No. 3 OSU, where coach Mike Gundy lobbied like crazy for his team's opportunity to play for the BCS crystal football after Saturday's 44-10 trouncing of then-No. 10 Oklahoma, fell short in the minds of enough poll voters and BCS computer programmers that the Cowboys won't be headed to New Orleans for the Jan. 9 national title game.
So the Cowboys (11-1) will meet No. 4 Stanford (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl in a matchup of elite quarterbacks: OSU's Brandon Weeden vs. Stanford's Andrew Luck. First team to 400 passing yards wins.
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It makes for a terrific warm-up act before the Big Game, which includes two SEC teams and guarantees the SEC its sixth consecutive BCS national title in football.
But from a Big 12 standpoint, Sunday's developments -- one BCS bowl berth for a league that placed two of the top eight teams in the final BCS standings -- could have, and should have, been better.
OSU, the Big 12 champion, finished at .933 in the final BCS standings, a mere .009 of a point behind Alabama (.942), an 11-1 team that did not even win its own division in the Southeastern Conference.
No. 1 LSU (13-0), the SEC champion, finished a perfect 1.000.
The Cowboys finished ahead of Alabama in four of six sets of computer rankings that comprise the BCS standings. But voters kept Alabama at No. 2 in both polls that factor into the BCS formula while OSU climbed from fifth to third. But no higher.
Local protocol, at this point, should call for outrage because the same computer models that help set the BCS standings ranked the Big 12 as a stronger league than the SEC in 2011. Like everyone else outside of the SEC, I wanted what OSU coach Mike Gundy pitched in his interview during Sunday's selection show.
"We wanted the opportunity to settle the debate that has gone on all year about the offense of the Big 12 and the defense of the SEC," Gundy said.
It would have made for great theater. It would have given the most talented team in OSU history a chance to complete a storybook season and add a national title to the school's first conference title since 1948.
But I can't get past one simple point: OSU held a 17-point lead in the second half against an Iowa State team that finished 6-6 and could not protect it.
Finish the job against an average team, rather than losing 37-31 in double-overtime, and there is no debate about who deserves to play LSU for all the marbles.
Instead, Alabama, which took LSU into overtime during its 9-6 loss, wound up No. 2 based on the eyeball test.
The Crimson Tide's worst moment of the 2011 season was much better than OSU's worst moment, in the estimation of poll voters. I cannot quibble with that for one minute.
What I can quibble with is this: How in the world is No. 8 Kansas State (10-2) bypassed for a berth in the Sugar Bowl by No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2) one day after the Hokies embarrassed themselves in a 38-10 loss to No. 15 Clemson?
The Sugar Bowl matchup -- No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Michigan (10-2) -- does not include any top 10 teams despite being a pairing of two at-large choices. Instead, it shows the bowl's willingness to pander to the ACC, which has a powerful commissioner (John Swofford) and a stable future, in lieu of the Big 12, which has neither.
The decision sets up one of the best AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic matchups in recent years at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington: No. 6 Arkansas (10-2) against No. 8 K-State (10-2). But it's a $6.1 million kick in the coffers to the Big 12, which deserved to have a second team in the BCS bowl mix.
"They'll both bring a lot of fans. But is that what it's come down to for BCS at-large teams?" said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit when breaking down the Sugar Bowl matchup. "Virginia Tech could not have looked any worse in their championship game within their conference."
But they're in the BCS bowl mix and K-State is not. Alabama is in the championship game and OSU is not. For the Big 12, it proved to be a double dose of disappointment on Selection Sunday.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760