Know Your Foe: Oklahoma State Cowboys


Coming off of its biggest victory of the season, an 89-88 win at Baylor, and a new No. 2 national ranking, the Missouri Tigers will be riding high into Stillwater as they take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Cowboys (9-10, 2-4 Big 12) upset the Tigers in their only meeting last year at Gallagher-Iba Arena, but both Missouri (18-1, 5-1 Big 12) and the Cowboys are much different squads at this point this year.

Before Oklahoma State even became Oklahoma State, it was known as Oklahoma Territorial Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M). Oklahoma A&M was founded in 1890 as the land-grant university given to Oklahoma by the Morrill Act. It was established in Payne County, which caused a rift between the cities within the county who wanted the college in their city. The city of Stillwater ultimately was chosen, where the university remains today. Classes were first held in 1891, but an academic building was not built until 1894. Classes were held in local churches until Old Central was built in what would become the southeast corner of campus. The campus continued expanding on the prairie on which it was located, including a barn and reservoir pond, now known as Theta Pond, and Williams Hall, which was known as the “Castle of the Prairies” because of its structure.

The greatest period of growth for Oklahoma A&M took place under the watch of president Henry G. Bennett from 1928-1950. Bennett introduced a plan focused around a library in the center of campus (Edmon Low Library which opened in 1953) and oversaw the construction of a Student Union in 1950. Many of the ideas revolving around expansion pioneered by Bennett contributed to the university’s size and prominence today.

Expansion continued as such, including through 1957, when Oklahoma A&M officially changed its name to Oklahoma State University, a name more recognizable to today’s culture. The change of name also led to the creation of the Oklahoma State University System, with the OSU campus in Stillwater being the flagship institution.

Most of the recent additions to OSU have involved the athletic department, including hefty donations from boosters like T. Boone Pickens to build new facilities and upgrade existing ones. Still, the University expanded enough to be able to house the current enrollment of 23,522. OSU offers over 200 majors in six academic colleges, including pre-law, pre-medicine, and pre-veterinary programs. The largest college at OSU is the College of Education, which contains 29 different programs. Students also have over 400 student organizations to choose from, and can take part in a Greek Life tradition that has existed for over one hundred years. About 3,000 OSU students take part in the various fraternities and sororities on campus.

As far as athletics go, the Cowboys have competed in the Big Eight/12 since 1960. They offer 16 varsity teams, and have won a total of 50 national championships in all sports, fourth-most among Division I schools. This includes 10 golf championships and 34 titles for OSU’s dominant wrestling program. The Cowboys have won at least one wrestling national title in every decade since the 1920s, including four straight from 2003-2006, though 2006 was the last time they won a team title.

The Cowboys’ football team can’t compete with the wrestling team in terms of national championships, but they have seen a great deal of success in recent years. They have a long history of offensive playmakers, the most notable of which is running back Barry Sanders. Sanders’ junior year in 1988 is considered one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time and earned him OSU’s only Heisman Trophy. Not including Oklahoma State’s 62-14 beatdown of Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl, in which Sanders rushed for 222 yards and five touchdowns, Sanders ran for 2,628 yards, gained a total of 3,249 all-purpose yards, and scored 39 touchdowns (37 rushing). His Heisman campaign  set 25 NCAA records at the time, including most total rushing yards, most touchdowns, and most all-purpose yards in a season.

After posting back-to-back 10-win seasons in 1987-88, the Cowboys’ run of success was cut short by the NCAA during an investigation involving a “bidding war” for a highly touted high school prospect. OSU was hit with four years’ probation, a bowl ban for three years, and a limit of 20 scholarships from 1989-92. This crippled the program and OSU only had one winning season from 1989-2001.

Les Miles took over as head coach in 2001, and led them back to relevance before leaving for LSU in 2004. Current coach Mike Gundy was Miles’ successor, and has taken the program to even greater heights. The 2011 edition of Cowboys’ football is likely the best in the history of the program, going 12-1 and beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-38 in overtime. They came within a heartbreaking overtime loss to Iowa State, 37-31, from playing in the BCS National Championship for the first time in school history. However, they still won their first ever Big 12 football title, and finished No. 3 in the final polls, their highest finish.

Before transitioning to Oklahoma State’s performance on the basketball hardwood, tragedies involving both the mens and women’s basketball teams should be addressed. On Jan. 27, 2001, a plane carrying 10 passengers involved with the Oklahoma State mens basketball team crashed on its way back to Stillwater following a game against the University of Colorado. All 10 people on board were killed, including Nate Fleming, a redshirt freshman guard on the team, and Dan Lawson, a junior guard, among others. Fleming was an extremely popular player, a Jarrett Sutton-like figure, who only scored three points in his OSU career and saw the floor only in blowouts.

Just months before the 10-year anniversary of the crash, another tragedy struck Oklahoma State. On Nov. 17, 2011, Kurt Budke, head coach of the OSU women’s basketball team, and assistant coach Miranda Serna were killed, along with the two pilots, in another plane crash, this time coming home following a recruiting trip in Arkansas. Budke had essentially turned a struggling OSU program back into contenders, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2008, before his death devastated a university that had just dealt with tragedy less than a decade earlier. The Cowboys have worn an orange “4” on their jerseys with the initials of the victims, commemorating the tragedy.

The Cowboys’ men’s basketball team has won two national titles, in 1945 and 1946, but have not threatened to return to that glory since the 2003-04 season. That year saw the Cowboys go 31-4 and reach the Final Four led by forward Tony Allen. Since then, the Cowboys have not fared as well, but have put together three straight 20-win seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament in two of head coach Travis Ford’s first three seasons.

This year’s team will have to have a serious turnaround to make it three tournaments in four seasons. The Cowboys have gotten off to a 9-10 start, including 2-4 in the Big 12, but have lost their last three games. Senior guard Keiton Page (14.9 PPG), who led OSU with 19 points in last year’s upset of the then-No. 14 Mizzou Tigers, again is the biggest threat offensively for a Cowboys team ranked eighth in the Big 12 in scoring offense. Freshman forward Le’Bryan Nash, the 10th ranked recruit coming into the season, is probably the Cowboys’ most well-rounded player, averaging 12.5 PPG and 4.9 RPG.

Though they are one of the weaker teams in the conference, they have not made things easy for their last two opponents, losing on a buzzer beater at Iowa State and making a late rally before being held off by Kansas State. With the way the Tigers have been playing recently, the Cowboys shouldn’t be a problem for Mizzou, but caution must always be exercised when going on the road in the Big 12. Mizzou is coming off a huge game in Waco against Baylor, and has to keep up the intensity and momentum that has earned the Tigers the No. 2 ranking in the polls, their highest 2001. If they can play anything like they did against Baylor, it should mean win number 19 for Frank Haith’s squad.