STILLWATER — The best season in Oklahoma State football history will not end with a chance to play for the national title, but the Cowboys did earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to take on Stanford on Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz.
It's the first BCS bowl berth for the No. 3 Cowboys (11-1, 8-1 Big 12), who captured their first outright conference title Saturday night with a dominating 44-10 victory over then-No. 10 Oklahoma at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Interestingly, OU will not be far away, as the Sooners earned a bid to the Insight Bowl against Iowa on Dec. 30 in Tempe. It's a Phoenix-area bowl role reversal from the 2007-08 bowl season, when the Cowboys played Indiana in the Insight Bowl and the Sooners played West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
But the Cowboys were close to earning a spot in the big game, finishing .009 behind No. 2 Alabama in the final BCS standings released Sunday night. The Crimson Tide will take on unanimous No. 1 LSU on Jan. 9 in New Orleans in a rematch of the “Game of the Century,” a 9-6 LSU win in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5.
It was the smallest margin between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the final BCS standings in the system's history. Florida and Michigan were separated by .0101 in 2006, when the human polls boosted the Gators over the Wolverines following the season's final week largely to avoid a rematch between Michigan and Ohio State.
And OSU coach Mike Gundy was hoping voters would follow the same thought process this season.
“I'd feel a lot better about it if they hadn't already played,” Gundy said. “That's the part I don't like. They just played.”
“The debate's gone all year about the defenses in the SEC and the offenses in the Big 12. We had a chance to settle that. That's what's really disappointing to me.”
OSU finished second in the final computer rankings but third behind Alabama in both the USA Today coaches' and Harris polls. Saturday night's convincing victory over the Sooners was enough to move the Cowboys up from No. 5 to No. 3 in both polls, but they ultimately did not gain enough votes to overtake the Crimson Tide.
BCS guru Brad Edwards also said on ESPN's BCS Countdown show the fact that Alabama finished ahead of OSU in two computers helped the Crimson Tide stay ahead of the Cowboys.
Still, earning the automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 champions is another step in the elevation of the OSU program. The Cowboys started the season 10-0 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the BCS standings before their double-overtime loss at Iowa State on Nov. 18 ultimately ended their national championship hopes.
The Fiesta Bowl clash between the Cowboys and No. 4 Cardinal is also one of the most intriguing matchup of the bowl season.
Two of the nation's premier quarterbacks will share the same field in OSU's Brandon Weeden and Stanford's Andrew Luck. It will peg OSU's high-powered spread offense against Stanford's physical defense. And the game's winner could finish No. 2 in the final Associated Press standings.
“Really and truly, guys are really excited about it,” Weeden said. “Obviously, we wanted to go to the big one. Overall, I think everybody's really, really looking forward to being in Scottsdale.
“Shoot, it's a BCS game, and it's never been done here.”