August 28, 2008

2008 opens in totally different direction

This time last year, Ray Charles was on permanent loop in the minds of Oklahoma State fans - and players - because Georgia was on the mind of everyone in Orange Country.

It was, simply put, a mammoth game. It had been awhile since the Cowboys played such a high-profile non-conference game as this. The Georgia Bulldogs - one of the most tradition-rich schools in the country. Everyone knows about them and their knockoff Green Bay Packers helmets. They're one of the institutions of college football. And the fans and players built up the game to huge proportions. Many thought the Pokes would be able to go into the heart of Dixie and steal one from a Southeastern Conference power.

It didn't happen. The Bulldogs handled the Cowboys fairly easily and sent OSU back to Stillwater with a loss that bruised many egos. That chance for a jump into the big time had been lost. With the way the game was built up for many, it was as painful as a close loss to Texas or Oklahoma.

But that was last year. Coming into this year, the Cowboys are traveling again to open the season, but this time to the Pacific Northwest. On Saturday, OSU will take on Washington State in Seattle to kick off the 2008 season.

Not quite as exciting, is it? Sure, the fans are talking about it - somewhat. And some are even going. But there's not as much buzz around this game. After all, Wazzu isn't UGA. The Cougars have been a mess for a few years now and are a Pacific-10 doormat. This one is a little harder to get excited about - even though the team is on the BCS level and is a "known" school.

This isn't lost on the Cowboys. They too notice the difference in the talk between the opening game of this year and the opener of last.

"It's definitely been a little bit different," said quarterback Zac Robinson. "Georgia, it was what we talked about ever since last January. We'd break it down and beat Georgia and beat the Dogs and stuff like that. But this year has been different. We've been focusing more on winning the Big 12 South. But in the last few weeks, we've really honed in on Washington State and been talking about them. But it's definitely been a little bit different."

"Last year, Georgia, that was something new that we hadn't done before and we weren't used to," said Andre Sexton, referring to the overall magnitude of the game. The end result of that game definitely put OSU in its place: the hopes of using that game as a springboard to the next level vanished.

But this season? There's not as much pressure. The opponent is known, but not a name. And honestly, this is a game OSU should win handily. Maybe less buzz will make that easier?

"Because of who Georgia was and also because of human nature it was talked about constantly," head coach Mike Gundy said. "We're not putting Washington State on a different level but I'm not necessarily putting them from an outside perspective the same as Georgia. For me to sit up here and say that everybody would say I was crazy."

So, with much less fanfare and hype, the Pokes are on the road once again to a far-flung part of the country to take on a BCS conference opponent. Will they be able to bring home a win this time?

"Our players understand they'll have to go up there and play well, not turn the ball over, be sound on special teams and not give up big plays to win the game," Gundy said. "We're not going to be able to just go out there and throw our hat out there and watch them roll over."

Sexton believes the team is better-suited to handle a season-opening road game than in 2007.

"Now I think everybody is more comfortable with the whole situation and we understand to not be worried about the hype that's going for the game, but focus on what we need to do to win the game," Sexton said. "Just trying to control what we can control and not worry about all the other stuff going around. I think that's how we've grown as a team over this past year. I think that's what's going to put us in a better opportunity to win the game, unlike last year."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!