STILLWATER — Brandon Weeden still ponders how close his Cowboys came to playing for the national championship.
“All the time,” said Weeden, now three years removed from Oklahoma State’s 2011 bid, yet still contemplative, even while focused on his career in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I still think about it.”
OSU was thisclose to being in the big game, falling .009 shy of the No. 2 spot in the final BCS Standings, leaving Alabama and LSU to face off instead in an all-SEC showdown that was a rematch from the regular season. The Cowboys felt they belonged on college football’s grand stage that year — and still do.
Now, space in the ultimate spotlight expands, with arrival of the simply, yet aptly, named College Football Playoff, a four-team bracket that begins with two national semifinals.
For the Cowboys, it’s three years late.
“There should have been a better answer, a better format,” Weeden said. “I think this system will give a chance for the two best teams to play for the championship. The two most deserving teams.”
Mike Gundy campaigned for his Cowboys in 2011, suggesting an entertaining matchup and a clash of wills: the Big 12’s best offense vs. the SEC’s defensive reputation.
“We certainly would have liked to have been in it,” said the Cowboys’ coach. “It would have been interesting.”
Gundy proved, too, to be ahead of his time, pushing the need for a four-team playoff.
“That year, and before this came to be, I mentioned that there should be a four-team playoff,” he said. “And it’s kind of funny it came out that way. There’s always debate over (Nos.) 2 and 3, so you could throw 4 in there and play it off.
“I think it’ll be really good for college football.”
Three years ago, it could have really been good for OSU football.
The exposure alone would have been priceless.
It’s more than logical to believe that the program and the university would have gained a significant bump in popularity. And in turn, a boost in recruiting.
And the Cowboys were close to gaining all of that.
After LSU beat Bama late in the season, OSU moved up to No. 2 in the BCS Standings, having improved to 9-0 with a wild win over Kansas State. Another win, over West Virginia, kept the Cowboys at No. 2 another week, with three weeks remaining.
But on a Friday night in Ames, after news broke that morning that a plane crash had taken the lives of women’s basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, OSU fell in double overtime, 37-31, to a mediocre Iowa State squad. The Cowboys weren’t sharp, with multiple mistakes factoring into the upset.
Alabama moved back into the top two and stayed there, even after OSU pasted Oklahoma — a top 10 team in the BCS standings — 44-10 on the eve of the final BCS Standings.
“I think about that Iowa State game all the time,” Weeden said. “It still haunts me a little bit. But I tell you what, we had a heck of a run at it that year. We had a great football team. It was a lot of fun.
“But it would have been nice to play for it all.”
Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has some history with college football playoffs, appearing with teams during his stint at the Division II level spanning 11 years. He reminds that just because the number of teams in the hunt has expanded, the possibility for controversy and complaint won’t go away.
“We took 16 teams to the national playoffs,” said Spencer, who was an assistant and head coach at West Georgia. “That 17th team was always upset. So the fifth team this year is going to be upset.
“They’re going to have a gripe.”
That’s why Spencer prefers not to look back in angst. Not to let what might have been linger.
“I’m always to the mindset, just throw the rules on the table and let’s play ball,” Spencer said. “Those are the rules now.
“What good does it do to look back? It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t change a thing.”
Few current Cowboys were around in 2011, and none had major roles.
James Castleman, a freshman on that team, said he felt bad more for the seniors than himself, believing more chances would come. Now Castleman is a senior, still hoping.
“It would be awesome,” Castleman said.
Daniel Koenig, another senior and a starting tackle, was a redshirt freshman playing tight end in 2011. Like Castleman, he said he didn’t fully realize what was missed. Now, however, he recognizes the appeal of involving more teams.
“It’s much needed,” Koenig said. “It’s not just the hype of a team to make it to the national championship game.
“Three years ago, we should have been there if there was a playoff. And kept on going.”