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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 31-23 Victory in the Texas Bowl

What a year.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]


HOUSTON — A few short months ago the Cowboys winning double-digit games seemed downright ridiculous, but here the Pokes are.

Oklahoma State beat Texas A&M 31-23 in the Texas Bowl on Wednesday. Here are 10 thoughts from the game.

1. Bowl Game Brennan

Brennan Presley is has always been an outstanding receiver, but he seems to turn it up a notch in bowl games.

He tied a program record with 16 receptions Wednesday, going for 152 receiving yards. He now shares that record with Alex Loyd, who had 16 receptions against Kansas in 1949. That also brought Presley to 101 receptions on the season, as he became the fifth receiver in program history to eclipse the century mark in a season, joining Justin Blackmon (twice), Rashaun Woods and Josh Stewart.

And on top of all of that, Presley completed a 34-yard pass to Rashod Owens. Presley finished with a passer rating of 385.6.

Back to his bowl dominance, here are Presley’s lines in the four bowl games he has now played in:

Cheez-It Bowl against Miami: six catches, 118 receiving yards, three receiving TDs, one rush, six rushing yards
Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame: 10 catches, 137 receiving yards, one rush, five rushing yards
Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Wisconsin: six catches, 74 yards
Texas Bowl against Texas A&M: 16 catches, 152 receiving yards, one pass, 34 passing yards

So, he is averaging 9.5 catches and 120.3 receiving yards per bowl game.

Despite being a senior, Presley has a year of eligibility remaining because of the pandemic, but he wasn’t ready to announce any decisions after the bowl.

“I’ma quote Ollie (Gordon): ‘I’m on my own time,'” Presley said.

2. But Also, Rashod Owens

Rashod Owens has been perhaps the feel-good story in a season full of feel-good stories.

Owens was a terror to Aggie cornerbacks Wednesday, catching 10 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns and earning game MVP honors.

A part of the same 2020 recruiting class that brought Presley to OSU, Owens had just 25 catches for 361 yards and a single touchdown in his first three seasons in Stillwater. Then he started this season as a depth piece before injuries elsewhere brought Owens more regular snaps, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Owens finished his redshirt junior season with 63 catches for 895 yards and five touchdowns. Of his 63 catches, 59 have come since the Kansas State game, and 96% of his yardage total has come since that win against the Wildcats.

In the transfer portal era college football abides in, it would have been perfectly normal for Owens to take his talents elsewhere, but after a season like the one he has had, it’s going to be hard to deny Owens looks in 2024.

3. Nickolas Martin Cracks Top 10 Tackle List

Since 1984, no Cowboy has had more tackles in a single season than Nickolas Martin this year.

Martin, a redshirt sophomore, had seven tackles against the Aggies, bringing his season total to 140. That ranks sixth on OSU’s all-time list and everyone else inside the Top 10 is from ’84 or earlier. Just think of all the great defenders of the Gundy era. None of those guys had more tackles in a season than Martin did in his first year as a starter.

Here is OSU’s new tackles in a season list:

1. Mike Green (1982) — 183
2. Matt Monger (1984) — 175
3. Barty Chappell (1970) — 171
4. Larry Gosney (1968) — 157
5. Ricky Young (1979) — 146
6. Nickolas Martin (2023) — 140
7. John Little (1968) — 139
8. Mike Green (1980) — 138
9. Matt Monger (1983) — 136
10. Leon Ward (1964) — 135

4. That Got a Little Dicey

The Cowboys went into halftime Wednesday with a 24-6 lead against a team that was on its fourth-string quarterback. It seemed like an open-and-shut case, but Cowboy football in 2023 couldn’t end with simplicity.

The Aggies stormed back, intercepting two passes in the second half and scoring 17 points to give themselves a shot at a Hail Mary, but the Cowboys found a way to hold on. It would’ve been hard to dampen the mood of a team starting 2-2 and battling back to make the Big 12 title game, but blowing an 18-point lead in the second half of a bowl game might’ve done it. Luckily for the OSU fanbase’s sanity, it didn’t come to that.

5. The Xavier Benson Punch Out Was Huge

A play that will go under the radar in the grand scheme of things was Xavier Benson chasing down A&M running back Amari Daniels in the fourth quarter and punching the ball loose.

Daniels was racing toward the end zone, and a touchdown and 2-point conversion would’ve cut OSU’s lead to 31-28 with about 14 minutes to play. But Benson, in his final college game, made a heck of a play to force that fumble that Martin recovered.

6. Ollie’s Sophomore Swansong

In the final game of his stellar sophomore season, Ollie Gordon ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

It was tough sledding for Gordon, as the Aggies loaded the box — which is part of the reason why OSU’s receivers were able to have such big games. But Gordon still busted a few, recording three runs of 10 or more yards. His longest run came in the fourth quarter when he started an OSU drive with a 25-yard dash.

Gordon’s final tally for his Doak Walker-winning campaign is 285 carries for 1,732 yards and 21 touchdowns. It’s the sixth-most yards and OSU back has rushed for in a season, behind Barry Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, Terry Miller, Ernest Anderson and Thurman Thomas. His 21 rushing touchdowns are tied four fourth on OSU’s season list.

He also became just the fifth player in program history to record 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season:

1. Barry Sanders (1988) — 3,526
2. Chuba Hubbard (2019) — 2,334
3. Thurman Thomas (1987) — 2,130
4. Ollie Gordon (2023) — 2,062
5. Terry Miller (1976) — 2,009

OSU football has been on the map for a while now, but Gordon solidified that this season. He was the engine that turned this season around. A year after everything seemed on fire in Stillwater, Gordon calmed the waters and made it cool to play at OSU again.

People like Mike Gundy, Boone Pickens and Mike Holder are the big picture to the standing Oklahoma State has in the college football world, but a season like the one Gordon had and it happening when the Cowboys seemingly needed it the most are the moments why this machine will continue to chug along.

7. Bowman’s Future Still Uncertain

Alan Bowman eclipsed the 400-yard mark for the first time in an OSU uniform in what could’ve been his final college game.

Bowman completed 69% of his passes for 402 yards against A&M, throwing for two touchdowns and two interceptions. He said after the game that he still doesn’t know the status of his waiver — something he’ll need approved to continue his college career.

Like almost everything related to OSU has been this season, Bowman’s 2023 season has been one of a kind — from a three-quarterback rotation to leading the Cowboys to a Big 12 title game despite throwing 15 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.

He ended up throwing for 3,460 yards — the seventh-most in a season in program history. But his 14 interceptions are tied for the sixth-most in a season in program history. Given when he came to Stillwater, he’ll often be compared to Spencer Sanders. Sanders never threw for as many yards as Bowman did this season; his career best was 2,839 in 2021. But Sanders was lambasted for his interception numbers, but guess what? Sanders never threw as many as Bowman did this year. Bowman threw 14, and the most Sanders threw was 12 in 2021.

Bowman had brilliant throws Wednesday, specifically his second touchdown to Owens, but he also had some ugly ones — like airing it over Owens’ head and into the arms of a defender for his second pick.

Still, Bowman leading a team to 10 wins almost certainly means he is the Cowboys’ best option in 2024 should he be able to play. It’s at least the safest option for the Pokes. There are some portions of the fanbase on social media ready to move on because of the INT numbers, but the backup quarterback is often the most popular guy on a football team because of the thought that the grass is greener. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t. With all the guys OSU has coming back, a new quarterback would throw a wrench in things, and if Bowman can cut down on those interceptions, things ought to be just fine.

8. From the Portal to the End Zone

Outside of the Presley pass, there wasn’t too much trickeration to this bowl game, but the Cowboys did throw in a little wrinkle to provide a touchdown.

Gunnar Gundy — who is in the transfer portal — entered for a play in the second quarter. He took the snap, faked a pass and ran into the end zone untouched. It was dubbed the “Stun Gun” package. The “Gun” part of that was obviously for Gunnar, but it was also stunning that a player in the portal was featured in a prominent role. It was a fun play and worked to perfection, as Gunnar went in untouched. It felt like a throwback to the Rudolph-Walsh partnership from the 2015 season where Rudolph would get the Cowboys to the redzone before Walsh would come in and clean up.

Gunnar’s story was quite the fascinating one. Obviously he is the coach’s son, but after a successful career at Stillwater High, he delayed going to college for a year before walking on at Oklahoma State, turning down a few Group of Five offers to do so. Then he actually got to play, filling in some for an injured Spencer Sanders last season before being part of the early season quarterback rotation in this year. Although his OSU career might be over, his football one isn’t. He still has two years of eligibility remaining and has announced portal offers to Elon and Abilene Christian.

9. What a Wacky Year

This time last season, I was yelled at in the Arizona Diamondbacks locker room for asking Mike Gundy a question about potential staff changes after the Pokes finished the 2022 season losing five of six. Then the Pokes started the year 2-2. And now they finished 2023 with 10 wins.

The Cowboys went 2-1 against teams that will be in the SEC next season and 0-1 against the Sun Belt. The Cowboys had the nation’s leading rusher and a guy who had the most tackles in an OSU uniform this century, and 14 games later, I’m still not certain how good the Cowboys are. They’re at least fairly good because of the 10 wins, Gordon and all that jazz, but three of OSU’s four losses were blowouts. One of those was to South Alabama, and another was to UCF.

It was memorable, that’s for sure. Here are some of the moments (good and bad) this season provided:

Three-quarterback rotation
Losing at home to South Alabama
Gordon’s October stretch
OSU winning the final Bedlam
OSU getting blown out in a Florida monsoon
OSU making the Big 12 title game
Gordon winning the Doak Walker

There was quite literally never a dull moment. It was painful, it was exhausting, but it was a whole lot of fun.

10. 10 Wins

For the eighth time in the Mike Gundy Era, Oklahoma State has reached double-digit wins.

It’s happened with so much consistency that it could be easy to take it for granted, but look at it this way: you’d have to go back to 1985 to count eight 10-win seasons for Texas A&M. That’s a program with so much money it paid a guy about $75 million to not coach there. That’s a program who consistently has Top 10 recruiting classes.

This program is among the best in the country. When you look at the numbers, it’s impossible to dispute that, and that’s in large part to how good of a coach Gundy is. The only other coach in program history with a 10-win season is Pat Jones, who had three.

I think nationally, OSU is thought of in the same realm as Kansas State. But since Gundy took over in 2005, the Wildcats have had just three 10-win seasons. In terms of the new Big 12, only Utah has won as consistently as OSU since Gundy took over. The Utes have seven 10-win seasons since 2005, but three of those came in the Mountain West.

As the league changes and the College Football Playoff expands, perhaps OSU will finally be able to take that next step in national perception — to be talked about how a team that wins at the level the Cowboys do ought to be talked about.

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