TULSA – Now it's on, for real.
Sept. 24 has always been the jumping off date to Oklahoma State's schedule.
At Texas A&M, almost assuredly for the last time under the flag of the Big 12, we'll find out if the Cowboys are legitimately in the national title chase.
While College Station won't be the last rough patch of road on the path to unchartered territory, it will be a significant and revealing checkpoint.
Lafayette, Arizona and Tulsa served their purpose in the season's opening three weeks. Those games provided a platform for new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to gain comfort at the controls. Allowed Joseph Randle traction to confirm he's fit to follow Kendall Hunter in the feature-back role, and oh by the way, did he ever. Suggested that this Cowboys defense just might be able to get off the field in key situations.
And delivered three comfortable wins.
But these games weren't big-boy ball, not like A&M will be.
The Cowboys routed Tulsa 59-33, with any possibility for drama doused when TU quarterback G.J. Kinne got knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
That followed the real drama – would the game even be played, with storms and lightning causing a 3-hour delay and sending an already late kickoff into Sunday, at 12:16 officially? It's not every day/night/morning when the local bars shut down before halftime.
But on the field, it was more of the same for OSU: a monster day for Randle (128 yards, three touchdowns); an expanding list of Cowboys reaching the end zone, with Hubert Anyiam and Justin Gilbert becoming the eighth and ninth Pokes to score TDs this season; another uptick on the career stock watch for Mike Gundy, who secured coaching win No. 50 at his alma mater.
And the Cowboys ran their road winning streak to six games in their first venture of 2011 outside of Stillwater.
Still, it wasn't all good.
Tulsa gouged the Cowboys in the running game. Brandon Weeden tossed a couple more picks, running his season total to six. The offense was hit and miss, while the defense made and missed on some hits, yet did produce six turnovers.
Hard to say how much the delay impacted the Pokes. Tulsa dealt with it, too, although the confines were much more comfortable in the sparkling Case Athletic Complex than the cozy visitor's locker room.
“They became stir-crazy at some point,” said Gundy, not at all offering up an excuse.
But the adversity meter gets ratcheted up a few notches next week.
H.A. Chapman Stadium won't ever be confused with Kyle Field, not with more than half of Saturday's crowd dressed in orange, especially once this made-for-TV production turned into some wacky spinoff of USA Up All Night.
The Cowboys aren't easing into anything in conference play. As amped as the Live Orange crowd has been in dreaming of a special season, the Aggie yell has been just as loud.
Next week's winner elevates itself in the Big 12 and nationally. The loser lags.
“It's winner-take-all,” said OSU cornerback Brodrick Brown, exaggerating only slightly.
But it is on, for real.
“It is as big game,” Weeden said. “They're a good football team. We've got to go down there. It's going to be a challenge. We'll have our hands full.
“But that's why we play the game. That's why we play big-time college football, to get a chance to play a game like we are next weekend.”