STILLWATER – Mike Gundy's casual demeanor quickly flips tense when the topic turns to scheduling.
But then, nothing seemingly agitates Gundy more than that one topic, which regularly sends the Cowboys coach into his spiel on why taking on challenges in the nonconference portion of schedule makes no sense. It was that one topic, presumably, at the crux of Gundy's rub with athletic director Mike Holder and his interest – real or imagined – in the Tennessee and Arkansas jobs last winter.
And with Oklahoma State just days away from a testy opener against Mississippi State in Houston, the Cowboys coach still hasn't warmed to the matchup.
Lamenting the long-term affects of preparing to play a physical foe like the Bulldogs in the opener, which requires a more grueling month of August, Gundy sounded concerns about his team's well being come November and after.
“We have to put more time in, and we have to have more drill work and competition where there's guys that are hitting each other,” Gundy said, “than what we would if we weren't playing an opponent of that type until the middle of September.
“It's almost like being in a Little League baseball tournament and you have to throw your ace in the first game. Instead of saving him until you get to the winners bracket final. We have to throw him in the first game.”
Oh, Gundy vows to have his team ready come Saturday, when this Big 12/SEC clash fills ABC's premium 2:30 p.m. time slot. But like it or welcome it, he won't. Gundy has a philosophy, a belief, and he's sticking to it.
Meanwhile, over in the enemy's camp, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has fully embraced the opportunity, even with a rugged SEC schedule waiting down the line.
Reports in and around Starkville have Mullen using such words as “excited,” “motivated,” “challenge” and “honor” to describe the date with OSU.
Mullen said he also believes that this level of opener spices up the preseason.
“I think starting with a big-time game really draws that urgency from Day 1 that the clock is ticking to kickoff,” Mullen said.
To that end, OSU's players agree.
A year ago, they were prepping for Savannah State.
“It makes fall camp a lot better, in my opinion,” said Cowboys receiver Charlie Moore. “Taking nothing from last year, but you're about to play at team that's coming with it. It adds a little tempo to the fall camp and you start working on a Mississippi State than you would another team.
“August gets to be very long. So when you bring a team like Mississippi State in Week 2 of camp, it's like, ‘Yes.' It's good to bring a change of pace.'”
Said Cowboys lineman Parker Graham: “It's a big opponent for us. It's not Savannah State. We know the opponent is going to be ready for us. Having that mindset going into that first game is really going to help us, I think.”
Gundy's concern is focused on later, when the grind of the season kicks and the schedule closes with consecutive games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma. The Bedlam game doesn't take place until Dec. 7, carrying the season across 15 Saturdays.
“I think everybody has an opinion,” Gundy said. “We have an opinion. It's a pretty hot topic right now. I know that our season has been extended. So we've now almost asked college players to carry an NFL-type schedule on their bodies.
“If we were playing a different-type game for the first couple games, we wouldn't pick up the pace until the middle of September to try to do the best we can to take care of and protect our athletes and give them the best chance for success late in the year.”
And unlike recent seasons, the Cowboys are away from Boone Pickens Stadium for three of their first four games. While Saturday's contest is a neutral site matchup at Reliant Stadium, it's not a home game.
“It's a road game for us,” Gundy said. “There's a big advantage in playing in (Boone Pickens Stadium), and we're not playing here, so it's basically a road game.”
In contrast to the Gundy and Holder flap over scheduling, Mullen was the one who convinced his athletic director, Scott Stricklin, that taking on the ESPN-proposed game was a good idea.
Scheduling issues have smoothed some in Stillwater, although Gundy hasn't budged on his stance and Holder signed on for a game against Florida State in Dallas to open next season.
“We've always talked, and we'll continue to talk,” Holder has said. “He wants to play all his games in Stillwater, and I'm in the same camp. But it's not always practical or possible to do that.”