STILLWATER – With Barry Sanders and the '88 Cowboys in the house, the game began with a fitting tribute.
Justin Gilbert returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, just as Sanders had done the first time a Cowboy touched the ball in that memorable 1988 season.
But that was about it Saturday in terms of thrills and chills. OSU routed Kansas 42-6 in a snoozefest that, sans Gilbert's kick return, included none of the wild times of 25 years ago.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
1988 is remembered for a Heisman Trophy and an offense for the ages and unmatched yardage.
But that doesn't trump a Big 12 championship. And the 2013 Cowboys, unlike those heroes of a quarter century ago, can win the conference.
OSU, 8-1, plays at Texas next Saturday, then hosts Baylor before a Bedlam season finale. Texas and Baylor sit atop the Big 12. Baylor looks unbeatable at home, but the Bears have to come to Stillwater.
“These next three games are our biggest three games,” said OSU receiver Tracy Moore. “You wouldn't want it any other way. This is why I came back (for a fifth season). Last year, we lost early, didn't have much to play for. Now there's everything to play for.”
To beat Texas, much less Baylor, the Cowboys will have to play better than they did against Kansas. But there's no reason they shouldn't.
The mission against Kansas was play crisp, don't give away state secrets and keep everyone healthy.
Let's see. The early foot injury to flanker Josh Stewart is troublesome; the Cowboys need the little guy.
But otherwise, OSU's play was solid, considering the vanilla offense after a quick lead. The Cowboys didn't run Clint Chelf at all after a 20-yard scamper on their second snap of the game. That will change in Austin. And while Kansas dared OSU to throw, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was willing to keep plugging away with the run game.
Mike Gundy said the Cowboys should have just gone to a two-receiver set, mass protected Chelf and thrown the ball deep repeatedly. But Gundy didn't say it with much conviction. He seemed content with a mundane rout.
“Each week, there's a challenge based on who you're playing,” Gundy said.
What he meant was this. Playing Kansas is an emotional test. Playing Texas and Baylor and OU are physical exams. Everyone will be ready emotionally.
The Cowboys could use a little more efficiency from Chelf, who played solid but again showed that he's going to fire more than his share of incompletions. Chelf completed 19 of 37 vs. Kansas; in the four games since he regained the quarterback job, Chelf has completed 46.7 percent of his passes.
But Chelf's deep balls were efficient. He completed five of nine throws downfield, including gains of 41 yards to Tracy Moore, 39 yards to David Glidden, 34 yards to Marcel Ateman and 19 yards to Des Roland for a touchdown.
The Cowboys can live with 50 percent completions if they get big plays like that.
“You'd like to really explode and be better than … 19 of 37 throwing the ball,” Yurcich said. “You're never totally satisfied with those numbers. But we did what we had to do to win the football game. I thought Clint did a nice job. Made some critical throws.”
Meanwhile, the OSU defense played its typical (for 2013) excellent game. Kansas is no offensive threat at all, but the Cowboys have shown their defense is legit.
Which is something else the '88 Cowboys didn't have, the reason why those Pokes didn't do what these Pokes can. Win a conference championship.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.