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Very Early Thoughts on the Oklahoma State Game

The Bulldogs open the 2007 season between the hedges a scant 222 days hence, when the Red and Black will welcome the Oklahoma State Cowboys for the Pokes' first game in Athens since 1946.

As the Classic City Canines and the visiting Cowpunchers have not squared off within the memory, or even during the lifetimes, of most Dawg Sports readers, I thought it would be prudent of me to offer a brief primer on Oklahoma State . . . hopefully, without becoming a target of Cowboy fans' wrath on one of their message boards (or, for that matter, without getting called on the carpet again by Ludakit, who, despite being hungover, at least was a good deal more civil than the O.S.U. message-board posters).

"You are a cad and you have offended my delicate dust bowl sensibilities! Now I will exact my revenge by calling your legitimacy into question in an internet chat room in front of other life-deprived mouth-breathers!"

The Waddies spent two stints as an independent, playing football without a conference affiliation from 1901 to 1914 and again from 1957 to 1959. Oklahoma State University has been a member institution of four different leagues: the Southwest Conference (1915-1924), the Missouri Valley Conference (1925-1956), the Big Eight (1960-1995), and the Big 12 (1996-present).

The Pokes have spent much of their history in the shadow of the Sooner juggernauts built by Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, and Bob Stoops, but that does not mean that the squad from Stillwater has been without its achievements on the gridiron.

The periods of Cowboy prosperity have included the mid-1940s, when Oklahoma State went 17-1 with wins in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls during the 1944 and '45 seasons before posting back-to-back three-win campaigns in 1946 and '47 . . . the two years the Pokes played Georgia.

The Cowpunchers' greatest sustained success came from 1981 to 1988, when Oklahoma State attended six bowl games (including a pair of Gator Bowls) in eight years. When Jimmy Johnson took over in Stillwater in 1979, it wasn't as though the O.S.U. program was broken---the Pokes had posted five winning records in the previous seven seasons---but he upgraded the squad before taking over the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes following the 1983 campaign.

During his coaching stint in Stillwater, Jimmy Johnson led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Wait a minute . . . that can't be right, can it? (Photograph from Harry Walker Agency.)

Over the course of the five-year period that Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders were lining up in the Cowboy backfield, Oklahoma State went 44-15 and capped off the 1988 season by winning a shootout over Texas Tech in Tokyo, of all places. An extended downcycle followed Sanders's Heisman Trophy-winning season, as the Waddies recorded eight straight losing records between 1989 and 1996, including an 0-10-1 mark in 1991.

A 6-0 start to the 1997 campaign proved to be a mirage, as O.S.U. stumbled to a 2-4 finish and an Alamo Bowl loss before falling back into the doldrums, going no better than 5-6 in any of the next four autumns. Beginning in 2002, however, the Cowboys have gone to bowl games in four out of five seasons, although there are signs that the program may have slipped after Les Miles lit out for the bayou: Oklahoma State has lost 13 of its last 21 football games.

In four of the last six seasons, the Cowpunchers have opened the autumn outside of Stillwater, kicking off the campaign against Southern Miss in Hattiesburg in 2001, against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport in 2002, against Nebraska in Lincoln in 2003, and against U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles in 2004. O.S.U. was 1-3 in those campaign-commencing contests.

Lately, the Cowboys have had a penchant for playing nailbiters. Five of Oklahoma State's last nine outings were decided by a touchdown or less, including each of the last three, and the Pokes were 1-4 in those clashes. For their part, the Bulldogs are 10-1 since the Bicentennial in season openers against B.C.S. conference opponents from outside the S.E.C.

The "1" in that "10-1," by the way, was Georgia's 1979 loss to Wake Forest. I'm sorry for bringing that one up, Coach.

The Waddies ended the 2006 season with a win over Alabama in the Independence Bowl. That fact is at least somewhat encouraging, as Oklahoma State hasn't won back-to-back games against teams from B.C.S. conferences since the first two weekends in October 2004. Moreover, there is a pattern at work that bodes well for the 'Dawgs.

The Cowpunchers ended the 2001 season with a win but began the 2002 season with a loss. They ended 2002 with a win but began 2003 with a loss. They ended 2003 with a loss but began 2004 with a win. The 2004 and 2005 campaigns each ended in defeat, while the 2005 and 2006 seasons each began in victory.

In short, for each of the last five years, the Cowboys have obtained the opposite result in the first game of a new season from the outcome they earned in the last game of the previous autumn . . . and Oklahoma State heads into 2007 after having ended the 2006 season with a win.

How tight a ballgame should we expect? The last time the Cowboys played a season-opener against an S.E.C. team in the opponent's home state, O.S.U. lost to Mississippi State at Jackson by a 14-13 final margin in 1970. The last time the Bulldogs hosted a Big 12 team in Sanford Stadium, Georgia beat Colorado by a 14-13 final margin.

I thought about posting a picture from the Colorado game, but, since I didn't want Doug to destroy another toaster oven, I went with a picture of Boulder native Kristin Davis instead. (Photograph from Yahoo! GeoCities.)

Although a close contest wouldn't surprise me, a low-scoring affair would, inasmuch as both teams are led by dynamic young quarterbacks: Georgia's 2007 MaxwellPundit Award candidate Matthew Stafford and Oklahoma State's Bobby Reid. The Cowboys' sophomore signal-caller compiled 2,266 passing yards in 2006, throwing for 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while rushing for 500 yards and another five scores.

Finally, this fact has next to nothing to do with just about anything, but Georgia and Oklahoma State have something in common. Most college stadiums are oriented north-south in order to cut down on the glare of the sun, but the football fields in Athens's Sanford Stadium and in Stillwater's Boone Pickens Stadium both run east-west.

Geography dictated the former alignment, as the center of the University of Georgia campus slopes upward from Sanford Stadium both to the north and to the south, and climate determined the latter, as the winds would be worse if Pickens Stadium were moved one quarter-turn.

Labor Day weekend can't get here soon enough for me. Bring on the Cowboys!

Go 'Dawgs!