MANHATTAN — Oklahoma State opened the season as the Big 12’s top-ranked team and continued to look like the class of the conference in its first three games.
Now the No. 21 Cowboys are clinging to a spot in the national polls and are looking up at six teams in the standings.
That rapid plunge makes Saturday a crossroads moment. Who are the Cowboys? Are they the guys who dominated Mississippi State on a neutral field and pummeled lesser teams on the way to a 3-0 start, or are they the bunch that turned the ball over three times and inexplicably lost to West Virginia last week?
A 2:30 p.m. game against Kansas State on Saturday may provide the answer.
The Cowboys want to make a statement against the Wildcats. Motivation won’t be a problem.
“Man, (losing) was disheartening,” Oklahoma State linebacker Ryan Simmons said of the West Virginia loss. “Guys were just upset more than anything because we beat ourselves, that’s what we believe. There are a lot of things that we knew that we messed up on and could have done better at. But it is what it is, and we need to bounce back harder this week.
“We’re really fired up. We’re just ready to play. Last week is in the past, so we’re ready for Kansas State.”
That could make things more challenging for K-State, which the oddsmakers have made a 14-point underdog. But the Wildcats are also eager to take the field coming off a loss at Texas. They learned valuable lessons during their first road game and, after an open week, are hoping to put them to good use against the Cowboys.
They also got the chance to watch Oklahoma State stub its toe against West Virginia.
“They will be angry,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “They certainly will continue to be very competitive. I think it is that emotion, when you lose a ballgame, the real competitive people get very upset about it and anger can be channeled in the right direction to help perform. I guess it could work both ways. I understand that as well, but each individual is a little bit different in how he deals with that emotion. You can see it being a benefit.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy thinks it will work to his advantage.
Sometimes, it has been difficult for him to convince his players that an unranked opponent coming to Pickens Stadium, where Oklahoma State has won 14 of its last 15, is capable of pushing them for four quarters. That wasn’t the case this week.
“There’s times we’re in this situation the last few years where we are ranked in the top 10 in the country and you are worried about them looking past an opponent,” Gundy said. “Now we’re saying we have to put that one aside and get ready for the next opponent.”
Players were receptive to that message.
Winning three straight was a lot more fun than losing to a team that was coming off a shutout loss. They want to prove last week was a fluke.
“It’s never good to lose, but whenever you do lose, you have to come back, practice harder and pay attention to detail,” safety Lyndell Johnson said. “Now, we have to do everything we can possibly do to be better than we were the week before. We have to make sure we can’t lose the next game.”