Mike Gundy has only had one losing season in his head coaching career, his first in Stillwater. Since then, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have been to eleven consecutive post season battles, including this week’s match-up with Colorado.
Looking back over the last eleven seasons, let’s rank the top five bowl games of the Mike Gundy era.
#5: 2006 Independence Bowl vs. Alabama
This win—in Gundy’s first bowl—looks really good on paper, but that Crimson Tide team was not the juggernaut we’ve come to expect under Nick Saban. Still, this was a bowl win against a name brand opponent. It was a close game. OSU entered as a two point favorite and won with a Jason Ricks field goal in the closing seconds. While the product on the field is far-removed from the offensive show we expect from the Pokes, this game served as a boost to the fanbase that Cowboy football could recapture the success seen under Les Miles and as a sign of hope that the still-green Gundy was only getting started early in his career. Dantrell Savage garnered MVP honors, and other notables like Adarius Bowman and Brandon Pettigrew made their presence felt. Cowboys win 34-31.
#4: 2010 Alamo Bowl vs. Arizona
The Wildcats stumbled their way into this bowl, having lost four consecutive games to close out the season. OSU (10-2) would extend Arizona’s skid. While not a marquee match-up, this bowl would become a launching pad for the following season, where the Pokes would win 11 games and finish third in the polls. Weeden, Blackmon, Bailey and Hunter (in his final game as a Cowboy) used this season and this bowl as a warning shot to the country that this program was on the cusp of something extraordinary. Cowboys win 36-10.
#3: 2014 Cotton Bowl vs. Missouri
Not all losses are bad. The Cowboys surprised many with a 10-2 record and a Top 15 ranking. OSU squared off against former Big 12 foe Missouri, which boasted its own No. 9 ranking carried on the shoulders of its offensive attack. This bowl saw a tight contest throughout and five touchdowns and two field goals in the fourth quarter. The Pokes took a 31-27 lead with about five minutes to play after Desmond Roland scored from two yards out, but saw the lead evaporate two minutes later as Henry Josey rushed for his third touchdown of the night. Missouri added a fumble return late for the final score. Cowboys lose 41-31.
#2: 2014 Cactus Bowl vs. Washington
This is what non-championship bowl games are supposed to be about. The fun of the game. The Huskies came in as the favorite but left with a loss at the hands of Jeremy Castleman. At least that’s the way it felt as Castleman was involved on both sides of the ball and gave a Cowboy classic moment with the chrome explosion rumble in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win.
The victory capped a strong entrance for freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who took off his redshirt against Baylor after early-season success under Daxx Garman fizzled into a losing streak. Rudolph guided the Pokes to a Bedlam win—aided by a Tyreek Hill punt return—to close out the season and earn the bowl berth. The best parts of this game were that fun was had by the players and fans and the future was established after a midseason swoon that could’ve turned out much uglier. Cowboys win 30-22.
#1: 2011 Fiesta Bowl vs. Stanford
There’s not much doubt to this one being in the top slot. It was the best team Gundy assembled facing the best team in the country not playing in the BCS Championship. It is also the only bowl game in which Gundy has defeated a ranked opponent. Having been spurned by the BCS, the Cowboys came in with a chip on its shoulder and showcased its prolific offense with contributions from NFL talent (Weeden, Bryant and Randle). Justin Gilbert also impacted the game on special teams and with an interception of Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck. Though the game hinged on missed field goals from the Cardinal and overtime heroics from Colton Chelf and Quinn Sharp, OSU proved its season was no joke. This victory took a little of the sting off that lone loss in Ames and continues to fuel wonders of what could’ve been in the BCS Championship Game. Cowboys win 41-38 in OT.
In the last decade, OSU has had some fantastic bowl experiences under Gundy, and the fans have had plenty to cheer for while also suffering through some struggles. Ultimately, the goal is to put on a good show and to celebrate the accomplishments built over a long season.