'It means everything': Chance to play for Big 12 football title is next step for Oklahoma State

Scott Wright

STILLWATER — Last January, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy sat his coaches down and established a goal for 2021.

It involved the Big 12 championship, but not specifically winning the title. 

First things first.

“It wasn’t so much to win the Big 12 championship,” OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. “That wasn’t what his thing was for the team. It was just getting to the game. That was the chief thing, and it was huge for me, personally, and for a lot of guys who have been here for a long time. 

“I’ve got a Big 12 championship ring, that was in 2011, but I’ve never been to the championship game. So this is special and it’s really a good feeling to get there.”

With their 23-0 win over Texas Tech on Nov. 20, the Cowboys cemented their spot in the Big 12 championship game, which came into existence in 1996, but went away from 2011-16 after Nebraska and Colorado left the league. It returned in 2017 as the conference sought an extra opportunity for its top team to boost its resume for the College Football Playoff.

OSU's resume looks even stronger after a 37-33 win over Oklahoma on Saturday night in Stillwater. 

The seventh-ranked Cowboys will make their first-ever appearance in the Big 12 championship game at 11 a.m. next Saturday against Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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“It feels good to be in there,” said defensive end Tyler Lacy, who played high school football in Sachse, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Arlington. “Growing up, playing in Jerry Jones’ stadium, now, you went off to college and now you get the opportunity to come back and play there. It’s amazing.”

In the Big Eight/Big 12 era, dating back to 1960 when the Cowboys entered the conference, OSU owns two conference championships, the 1976 Big Eight title and the 2011 Big 12 title.

Now, the Cowboys are one win away from adding another championship to the list.

OSU linebacker Devin Harper is one of seven super-seniors who elected to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA during the pandemic of 2020. For them, this opportunity carries special weight.

“This is why I came back,” Harper said. “It’s been the goal from the jump. Every day, through all the early workouts, the late workouts, we always preached, ‘Get to the game’ and we always been preaching it since. Now it’s happening and we gotta follow through with it and get the win.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has often said he came to OSU because he felt it was a program that could play for championships, and in his fourth year, he’ll get that chance.

“It means everything,” Knowles said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. 

“I’m really happy for our players and our program and our university and our fans. Oklahoma State’s a great place, so it’s good that we’ll be able to represent the university there.”