HOUSTON – Finally, Saturday, after Oklahoma State's rugged handling of Mississippi State, a few players allowed themselves to cop to some SEC satisfaction.
“We looked like we were the SEC team today,” said Cowboys running back Desmond Roland.
No, it wasn't Bama or Florida or LSU or Georgia or even South Carolina. But it was a 2012 bowl team with plenty of players returning and more optimism for the future.
And Saturday inside Reliant Stadium, the Cowboys popped the Bulldogs SEC-style, dominating along both lines and prevailing as the more physical bunch after arriving with its Big 12 finesse reputation.
“As a player, when you hear stuff like that, and they put another conference as better than your conference, it just pumps you up,” said OSU receiver Josh Stewart. “It's like, ‘We're good over here, too.'
“And when you show up and play physical on both sides – we played physical with them – that's exciting to show the world that we can ball, too.
“We did pretty well, I think.”
The Bulldogs entered with a massive offensive line that featured as many as three potential NFL big bodies led by All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson and overall presented a contrast far from what the Cowboys are used to seeing.
“It was a big challenge,” said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “We talked about it the last couple weeks, about the SEC and their big offensive line.”
The Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown.
And after the Cowboys made their initial adjustments in response to Mississippi State's early offensive success, the Bulldogs barely moved on offense.
“Good football team,” said Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning. “They did a nice job. We stayed close early and couldn't stay with them late.
“They held us out of the end zone and that's a good part of winning.”
Throughout August, in fielding constant peppering from the media on the topic of the mighty SEC, Cowboys players and coaches continually deflected the conversation away from the league that is propped up as the measuring stick for all outsiders. And many did again after the win Saturday.
“We're satisfied in ourselves,” said linebacker Shaun Lewis. “We know what we can do as a team and a conference. We're satisfied in our style of play and what we bring to the table. It's up-tempo and it's physical, too.”
Still, the satisfaction was evident.
“A nice little pound-it, SEC football,” Roland said, after the Cowboys ran for 286 yards and scored all three touchdowns.
On the other side, the Bulldogs were impressed, too.
“They beat us and we're in the SEC,” said Mississippi State wideout Jameon Lewis. “They should have a good season. I hope they do.
“They're a good school, No. 13 (ranked), whatever. They've got good players and they're going to have a good season.”
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said facing OSU represented a valuable gauge on their season.
“It can be a benchmark against a team that is supposed to win their conference championship,” Mullen said. “Where are we at?
“And our guys can really learn from that, see where we are, and the little things we have to fix so that we can be a team that contends for the conference championship this year.”
For a day, a Big 12 team served as a measuring stick.
“We definitely gained a lot of respect today,” Lewis allowed. “And this is going to give us a ton of confidence going forward. This is big for us.”