STILLWATER — Leading up to a Thanksgiving weekend Bedlam showdown in Norman, Oklahoma State was still very much in the discussion for a BCS at-large berth.
Eight days later, the Cowboys had fallen to the Heart of Dallas Bowl to face a 6-6 Purdue team on New Year's Day.
Back-to-back losses at Oklahoma and Baylor to end the season certainly contributed to the slide. Still, the Cowboys finished tied for third in the conference standings, and were getting sent to the postseason game with the final Big 12 tie-in.
That means four other bowls — the Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, Meineke Car Care of Texas and Pinstripe — that had the option of picking OSU all passed.
How does that happen?
“Obviously, it doesn't matter where you finished in the league,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said.
Gundy's right, of course. Bowl games are not required to select their participants based on the order of how they finish in the conference. Their goal is to create the matchup that sells the most tickets, results in the most fan travel and generates the most local and national interest.
As a result, athletic directors, coaches and other school officials often try to schmooze — or at least talk — their way into certain bowls.
Gundy and OSU athletic director Mike Holder aren't exactly fans of that.
“I think it behooves our conference to look at how we make selections,” Holder said. “It puts the athletic directors and administration in a tough spot. You can't explain it. It would be better off it was straight off your finish.
“If you want a better bowl, win more games.”
Emails obtained by The Oklahoman show that there was at least communication between officials from the Alamo, Buffalo Wild Wings and Holiday Bowls and Holder, OSU director of football operations Mack Butler and other prominent members of the football program.
But an OSU source explained the reasoning behind why the Cowboys ultimately fell so far.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected TCU because OSU had just played in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona the previous year. The Holiday took Baylor because it wanted a fresh team, and the Bears had never played in that game. And the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City made sense geographically for West Virginia.
But the most interesting nugget of the selection process comes from the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which picks sixth, following the Buffalo Wild Wings and Holiday Bowls.
The source said about 35 representatives from that bowl met the morning of Selection Sunday and voted on a priority list of teams they would want for the bowl. They didn't even talk about OSU, because they did not believe the Cowboys would still available to pick.
But when Northern Illinois busted the BCS and pushed the entire Big 12 pecking order down a rung, the Cowboys suddenly fell past the Buffalo Wild Wings and Holiday Bowls. The Big 12 then called the Meineke Car Care Bowl and told it OSU was available to select.
The bowl had about 10 minutes to decide, a la the one-hour window James Harden had to decide if he wanted to take the Thunder's final contract extension offer or get traded to the Houston Rockets.
Rather than trying to call up all 35 representatives, the bowl leaders opted to go with what they had voted on earlier and picked Texas Tech.
So the Cowboys tumbled to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, a game that kicks off before noon on New Year's Day and is televised by ESPNU.
“Wherever the conference sends us, that's where we go,” Gundy said. “Obviously, the conference sent us to this bowl.”
Staff Writer Berry Tramel contributed to this report.