Wildcats, Cowboys focus on finish
Arizona puts dismal regular-season finish in past, eyes Cowboys
The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO -- Oklahoma State players insist their full attention is on Arizona for the Alamo Bowl. Not the Cowboys losing their offensive coordinator two weeks ago. Or their two stars possibly headed to the NFL early.
So there are no distractions, right coach Mike Gundy?
``There are some distractions. But I'm glad they feel that way,'' Gundy said.
There's perhaps no sense in pretending the 16th-ranked Cowboys (10-2) don't have other issues besides Wednesday night's game against Arizona (7-5). A victory would give Oklahoma State its first 11-win season in school history, but those most responsible for this unexpectedly successful run may not be around long to celebrate.
Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will leave next month for West Virginia, where he was hired this month as the coach-in-waiting. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon may be playing their final game at Oklahoma State if they leave for the NFL Draft.
Blackmon, the Biletnikoff Award winner and Big 12 Player of the Year, says he won't make his decision until after the bowl game. Same goes for Weeden, the 27-year-old former professional baseball player who broke most Oklahoma State passing records in his first year as a starter.
Weeden said he doesn't want to have any regrets. But the junior arrived at the Alamo Bowl with his conscious clear about one thing: that the Cowboys, after having the nation's top offense and some of college football's biggest stars, didn't squander their best shot at the Big 12 title.
The Cowboys fell to the Alamo Bowl, instead of playing their first Big 12 championship game, after losing their final game in a wild shootout with Oklahoma.
``The two games we did lose (Oklahoma and Nebraska) they were very, very good football teams,'' Weeden said. ``We accomplished a lot of goals we set before the year. I'll look back and say I was able to play with guys like Justin Blackmon and (running back) Kendall Hunter. Just to say I was in the same huddle with them.''
Arizona came to Texas to bury the recent past, too.
The Wildcats saw their conference ambitions much more gradually slip away than Oklahoma State's while being stuck in a tailspin over the final month. A November that began with a 7-1 record and ranked 13th ended with four consecutive losses.
``It's been a long time since we've had a win, but that doesn't mean we haven't played well over the last month of the season,'' Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. ``We're not far off. Our players have not lost confidence in what they're doing.''
If Arizona can complete a Stoops sweep - it was Oklahoma's Bob Stoops who toppled the Cowboys in their last game - the Wildcats will secure a third consecutive eight-win season. They'll also have their second bowl victory under Mike Stoops, whose only other bowl win in his seven seasons came in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl.
Last year, Arizona was trounced by Nebraska 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl. This time the Wildcats are the first Pac-10 team in the Alamo Bowl since 1994. The game ended its 15-year run with the Big Ten.
``Getting embarrassed a year ago was a tough feeling for us. We've never not competed,'' Stoops said. ``That's not what our program is about. I look for us to compete in a much better way (Wednesday) night.''
Win or lose, this Oklahoma State team might be remembered as much for its phenomenal offense as being one of the surprises of the season. The Cowboys began the season picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 south after losing stars like quarterback Zac Robinson and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Instead, the Cowboys wound up being even better. Oklahoma State finished the season edging unbeaten and No. 2 Oregon for the top offense in the nation (537.6 yards per game), overwhelming opponents while putting together the first 10-win regular season in school history.
Much of that credit goes to Gundy hiring Holgorsen. Weeden and Blackmon said their decision whether to return won't be influenced by Holgorsen's departure, and Hologorsen said it isn't his place to talk them into staying or going.
Like his quarterback wants to do, Holgorsen said he isn't going into his final game at Oklahoma State with any regrets.
``We didn't win (the Big 12). That's disappointing. But we did some things that have never been done around here,'' he said. ``There's plenty of things to be proud of. You don't want to sit there and dwell on what didn't happen. Just try to be excited about what did happen and move on from there.''
Arizona (7-5) vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2), 9:15 p.m. (ESPN)
- Series Record: Tied 3-3.
- Last Meeting: 1942, Arizona 20-6
What's at Stake
Becoming the first Oklahoma State team to win 11 games in a season might ease the Cowboys' disappointment of blowing their chance to play for the Big 12 championship. Arizona tumbled from No. 13 to unranked in November while losing its final four games, but a win would secure a third consecutive eight-win season under coach Mike Stoops.
Oklahoma State's exceptional offense vs. Arizona's embattled defense. QB Brandon Weeden and the Cowboys led the nation with 537.6 average yards of total offense - just ahead of unbeaten No. 2 Oregon - and scored at least 33 points in all but one game. That's bad news for the Wildcats, whose worsening defense helped unravel a 7-1 start. Arizona allowed at least 200 yards rushing in three of its final four losses.
Players to Watch
Oklahoma State: WR Justin Blackmon isn't saying whether he'll come back to Stillwater after dazzling the Big 12 with NFL pedigree in just his second year. The Belitnikoff Award winner is eight yards shy of surpassing former Pitt star Larry Fitzgerald and breaking the NCAA record for most receiving yards by a sophomore (1,672).
Arizona: Arizona QB Nick Foles has won in the Alamodome as a Texas prep star, and the Wildcats will probably need him to relive those glory days. Foles needs just 89 yards against the Cowboys to become the third quarterback in Arizona history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, even after the junior missed two games with a knee injury.
Facts and Figures
The Pac 10 returns to the Alamo Bowl for the first time since 1994. The game is beginning a four-year deal with the Pac 10 after ending a 15-year run with the Big 10. ... Arizona is seeking a second bowl victory in its seventh season under Stoops. The other was the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl. ... Oklahoma State's fifth consecutive bowl game is a school record but the Cowboys have lost in their last two appearances. ... Arizona and Oklahoma State didn't need this game to meet for the first time in 68 years. The schools begin a home-and-home series next season, starting in Stillwater in September. ... The Wildcats are playing in Texas for the first time since 1999 (TCU).