STILLWATER — Mike Holder watched Monday night's national championship game between Florida State and Auburn with interest.
Rooting for the Seminoles.
Florida State will begin its title defense against Oklahoma State on Aug. 30 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in the Cowboys Classic. It's a contest that was pegged as a marquee matchup when both schools signed on to play in December of 2012.
Now? It's even greater for the Cowboys.
At least, that's how the OSU athletic director views it.
“It doesn't get better than that,” Holder said. “What an opportunity to play the defending national champions and Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Jameis Winston). It would be hard not to rank them No. 1 next year (in the preseason).
“Looks like an opportunity to play the best team in America right out of the gate.”
How did this neutral-site matchup come about, anyway?
ESPN executive and scheduling master Dave Brown first contacted Holder in 2010 about the possibility of a 2014 game against Florida State at “Jerry World.” Holder ran the idea up the food chain of coaches, who weren't exactly thrilled by it.
So Holder declined.
But Brown was persistent. He'd periodically check in with Holder and bring up Florida State. Holder reminded Brown that OSU had already turned that game down. In the interim, Brown scheduled OSU's 2013 contest against Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Yet Holder still kept following Florida State, from its recruiting rankings to its progress as a program under coach Jimbo Fisher. Over time, Holder “started to warm up to the idea,” and OSU and Florida State finalized the deal last December.
When Holder signed on, he predicted the Seminoles would be a top-5 team in 2014. Perhaps even the preseason No. 1.
But all of this?
“Now, I didn't really get extravagant and think they'd be the defending national champions,” Holder said. “But I fully understood how good they were, and probably how good they were going to be.”
On the field, this game looks like a gigantic challenge for OSU.
The Cowboys lose seven starters on defense, starting quarterback Clint Chelf, three of their top four receivers and two starting offensive linemen. Florida State, meanwhile, could return as many as 14 of its 22 starters — headlined by Winston — depending on which underclassmen declare early for the NFL Draft.