DALLAS — First came the Bedlam heartbreak. Then the loss at Baylor. Then the slide down the Big 12 bowl pecking order.
Now here Oklahoma State sits in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, preparing to face Purdue in a New Year's Day matinee at the Cotton Bowl that appears to be a total mismatch.
So what, exactly, can be gained from a game that the Cowboys are expected to win — and big?
Start with the simple record up for grabs: 8-5.
“It sounds a whole heck of a lot better than 7-6,” defensive end Cooper Bassett said.
A whole heck of a lot better to the seniors — the second-winningest class in school history — who are trying to go out with a win and finish their careers with three consecutive bowl victories.
A whole heck of a lot better to the coaches who will pitch the program during the stretch run of recruiting season, and the players who will quickly move into winter conditioning.
And a whole heck of a lot better for a program that is about to begin a very intriguing offseason, featuring at least one major change at coordinator and possibly another quarterback derby.
“It makes everything a little bit easier,” Bassett said of winning the bowl game. “To go to weights at 6:30 in the morning, it just kind of makes everything a little bit more fun.”
But back to the sheer numbers. The win would swing an injury-filled, up-and-down season — one that still had BCS aspirations in late November — back up.
The Cowboys started 2-2, including a thrashing at Arizona and a controversial loss to Texas in the Big 12 opener.
Then they won five out of six, with the only loss coming at eventual Big 12 champ Kansas State.
Then came the two-game skid to finish, which turned into a slide to a lower-tier bowl that is greatly overshadowed in its host city by Johnny Heisman and Jerry World and Friday's Cotton Bowl Classic.
Gundy admits this is different from last year, when OSU won the Big 12 and was preparing to face Andrew Luck and Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. And he said it's fair to ask what's left to play for.
Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins pointed to a flag that flies above the stadium only when the Boilermakers win. A victory over the Cowboys means recruits, players, coaches and fans would see that flag for months and remember the work put in during December and January.
For OSU, 8-5 simply looks much better than 7-6 when the season is only 13 games long.
“It's not like baseball. It's not like basketball where you get to go play 35, 40 games,” Gundy said. “We get 13 opportunities to compete. Our players have a responsibility to themselves and the team and the university to go compete.”