STILLWATER — We all wanted a Bedlam matchup of two unbeaten teams.
We wanted the Big 12 Conference championship game a month later to be a crimson and orange rematch.
We even briefly entertained the fantasy of No. 3-ranked Oklahoma and No. 6 Oklahoma State somehow meeting
in the College Football Playoff — maybe even the national championship game.
What a waste of a dream.
The moment was too big for OSU on a steamy Saturday afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys were beaten 44-31 by a TCU team that was battle-tested and laser-focused and, really, a legitimate Big 12 contender.
“We don’t lose a whole lot of games here in general. So it’s hard,” said OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph. “It’s not the usual. It’s not something you want to get used to.”
And yet, the heartbreak of another Saturday shortcoming in Stillwater has become reality.
This is a good OSU team. This OSU team (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) is better than TCU (4-0, 1-0). But the Cowboys — somehow, playing their first ranked opponent of the season (TCU was No. 16) and their conference opener — were lethargic and sloppy and uninspired.
“I thought they outcoached us,” said Cowboy coach Mike Gundy, “and I thought their kids started and played more aggressive than ours.”
How? How does the No. 6-ranked team in the nation, with a milk-and-honey future, come out so flat at home, where a loyal and true sellout crowd awaited?
The Cowboys committed field-changing mistakes on special teams. Quarterback Mason Rudolph — forced “out of his box,” Gundy said, likely because of two first-time starters on the offensive line — committed three turnovers. And America’s most talented receiver corps committed dropped passes and was largely outplayed by the Horned Frogs secondary.
“We’ll rally back tomorrow,” Gundy said. “Guys need to kind of let it soak in tonight. And then like every other week, even when we win, we gotta let it go and come back and get ready to play the next game. So that’s what we’ll do. We expect our guys to get over this and come back tomorrow with a smile on their face.”
Gundy said that in the regimented grind of college football, a day spent angry over a loss is a day lost.
Still, a smile on their face? Knowing that a spot in the College Football Playoff may have slipped away like so many tackle attempts?
“It’d make it difficult to come back,” Gundy said. “But I don’t think at any time you’re completely out. We’ll play teams that are ranked high and we have a chance to play well.”
For OSU to land a playoff spot now would mean sweeping the rest of the schedule and beating Oklahoma twice. The varied deficiencies and red flags that arose Saturday (“we weren’t very disciplined,” Gundy said) would seem to cast that scenario back into the realm of fantasy.
Gundy boiled down the outcome of this game to one sadly predictable element.
Historically, Oklahoma State tends to struggle on defense, while the Horned Frogs do not. TCU’s defensive stability, year in and year out — as evidenced by the Horned Frogs’ 4-1 road record last year, 2-0 this year and 35-10 since 2009 (third best in the nation) — is simply a hallmark of Gary Patterson’s teams.
“I don’t want to discredit their players. They played hard and tackled well,” Gundy said. “If you go back and watch the game, there weren’t many times that they missed tackles in critical times.
“With all the stuff that happened — the mistakes we made, didn’t play very smart, the double-pass (a goofy and unnecessary call that had wide receiver Jalen McCleskey throwing the ball, rather than Rudolph; he was intercepted at the goal line), whatever, I think you’ll see from a football standpoint that they made tackles, and that was the difference in the game.”
A squishy soft nonconference schedule didn’t do the Cowboys any favors. While TCU was being taken to the fourth quarter at Arkansas and struggling to put away crosstown rival SMU, the Cowboys often had their feet up in the second half of games, apparently soaking up their own hype.
OSU wasn’t just scored on in the first quarter for the first time all year. The Cowboys trailed in the first quarter, too.
Injuries on the right side of the offensive line — tackle Zach Crabtree was out, and guard Larry Williams will miss the rest of the year, Gundy said — was just the news an already ordinary front five didn’t need.
Now comes the bounceback. Or, at least, that mindset.
“It’s really a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things,” Rudolph said. “I think this team’s got so much potential and a lot of leadership on both sides. It’s gonna be something we look back and say, ‘Hey, that was an adversity deal,’ and it’s gonna help build us and make us stronger.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.