According to the countdown application on my iPhone, at this moment there are five days and 31 minutes until kickoff in the Oklahoma State-Georgia football game. By my count, that means there are roughly nine hours until we know if the OSU football team is doomed for another 10-year run of mediocrity.
I know it’s difficult, maybe even foolhardy, to put too much stock in the first game of the year. We’ve all read how OSU can lose the Georgia game and still realistically make a run at the conference title. It’s conceivable, given not-so-easy wins against Texas and OU, that OSU could lose to Georgia and run the table all the way to the national championship game. Conceivable? Yes. Likely? No. But say there’s no Big 12 title for OSU, and obviously no BCS bowl game, will the year be a waste? Not necessarily. So you might ask yourself, “why’s this guy making such a big deal about the OSU-Georgia outcome?”
It’s simply because if any game in the history of OSU football — heck, maybe even all of football — could ever be considered a legitimate springboard game, this is the one. Win this game, and OSU can say they are ready for prime time; lose, and they continue to be the not-ready-for-prime-time players they proved to be when the ventured down to Athens, Ga., in 2007 or when they hosted OU last year. A win against Georgia would provide almost immeasurable momentum. And here’s the catch: OSU will need every drop of momentum they can take into the off-season.
Take a look at OSU’s starting lineup, and you’ll know why momentum throughout 2009 — from Georgia all the way to the bowl game — will be key. At the conclusion of the bowl game, OSU will lose it’s only experienced quarterback; its top three running backs (if Kendall Hunter goes to the draft); the best wide receiver in the country; the best punt returner in the country; the best kick returner in the country; its top cornerback; arguably the country’s top offensive tackle and four starters on the offensive line in all; all three starting linebackers; and two starters on the defensive line. All-told, 16 of OSU’s 22 starters and its top two special team players could be gone. Think about it: OSU could very well kick off in 2010 with only a half-dozen returning starters.
You want to talk about a rebuilding project? OSU football 2010 will be a doozy. Mike Gundy better hope the 2009 recruiting class really rounds into form, and that the 2010 class brings a lot of talent to campus as well. Chances of OSU starting 2010 ranked as highly as they are now are really low. And I mean really low. Now I know about the new stadium and locker rooms. I know about the improved recruiting. I know about all the media attention. Plenty of teams have been there before. Plenty of teams have been the “it” team of college football. Remember Kansas State of the 1990s? Remember Rutgers and South Florida making recent runs into the top five in the polls? Not hearing too much about them now.
And that all amounts to why OSU needs to take advantage of this year. They need to win and win a lot. It’s the Cowboys only hope of moving into the upper echelon of the college football world, because if they don’t really strike this year, I just can’t see such a depleted roster doing it in 2010. And if they fall off the map of college football relevance in 2010, you can forget about contending in 2011; that’ll be like the next 2008 — another year of trying to get on the map. Another year of starting too low in the polls to have a legitimate chance to make a dent in the BCS standings.
OSU is in a cycle right now. Peak just enough to rouse everyone’s interest (read: Cotton Bowl after 2003 season, scuffle into bowls three of the next four years), then fall of the map again when it can’t be sustained. That’s why a win over Georgia is so crucial for OSU. Lose at home to a Georgia team breaking in a new starting quarterback, and can you really depend on OSU to beat Texas at home? Or OU on the road? Lose to Georgia this year, and the season becomes a microcosm of OSU’s recent football existence. The Cowboys would be the not-ready-for-prime-time players yet again. The Cowboys need to beat Georgia to set the tone not only for 2009, but beyond. They need to prove that now they are indeed ready for prime time.