Georgia at Oklahoma State
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: Stillwater, Okla.
On TV: ABC
STILLWATER, Okla. — Get ready for a season opener unlike any other at Oklahoma State.
For the first time, the Cowboys will run out of a brand new football complex with leather couches in the locker room and hydrotherapy pools in the training area to play in the renovated Boone Pickens Stadium.
The stadium’s namesake will be there for a rededication of the facility he helped transform with about $250 million in donations. Career rushing leader Thurman Thomas will stop by for a promotional appearance. In the stands will be an energized season-ticket base of 45,000-plus, about 5,000 more than last year’s school record.
And on the field, coach Mike Gundy has put together the school’s first squad to crack the preseason Top 10.
The stage is set for a Cowboys coronation.
“This is a moment in time that may not ever come again,” said Bill Young, a former OSU lineman brought in from Miami this offseason to coordinate the Cowboys’ defense. “To have the kind of program we’ve got, the brand new facilities, all the anticipation, the preseason rankings. It’s a great time to be here and experience it, and hopefully we can build off of it.”
Standing in the way of the ninth-ranked Cowboys is No. 13 Georgia, the same SEC powerhouse that dashed an offseason of high hopes for the ‘Pokes in 2007 with a 35-14 victory.
Russell Okung, the Oklahoma State tackle projected as a top NFL draft pick, said there were no excuses to be made for a loss when the Cowboys simply got “physically outmanned, manhandled.”
“I think any time you’re going to face a big game or come up against a big obstacle, people are going to be anxious. There’s a lot of expectations for the year, so there is going to be a bit of a certain excitement,” Okung said. “But that’s what college ball is all about. You’ve got to face a challenge and hope to overcome it.”
The Bulldogs will be only the second Top 25 team the Cowboys have hosted in a season opener, with the other being a 64-21 loss to No. 2 Nebraska in 1995. This one is being billed as perhaps the best home opener in school history.
“I know they are excited about opening up in their new stadium. I would be too from what I’ve seen on video and heard about. It should be an exciting day for them,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Then we kick it off and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Richt is 8-0 in season openers at Georgia, including two wins against Clemson and one against Boise State. He called this one perhaps the toughest he’s faced. He’ll no longer be able to rely on quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, both first-round picks in the NFL draft.
“They lost a couple of first-round picks, but Georgia’s got players,” Gundy said. “They always have and I’m going to guess for a long time they always will.”
Senior quarterback Joe Cox, whose only career start came in 2006, was expected to take over Georgia’s offense before a bout with the flu brought his status into question Friday.
Cox told ajc.com that regardless of the illness, he’d be playing tonight, the Web site reported. Sophomore Richard Samuel is expected to be taking his handoffs.
“The good news is Joe knows the system. We don’t have to sugarcoat anything for him,” Richt said. “He can run anything that we do from a mental point of view. There might be some things he does better physically than others. We won’t say we’ll throw every route that Matthew threw. We are going to do what Joe can do best.”
Since the teams last met — with Gundy declaring that Oklahoma State was “not ready for the big time” afterward — the Cowboys have catapulted from a team scraping to get into a bowl each year to one that’s eyeing a Big 12 title and the school’s first BCS appearance.
Unlike Georgia, three of the biggest cogs from OSU’s high-scoring offense are back: quarterback Zac Robinson, Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter and breakaway receiver Dez Bryant.
Their T-shirts and wristbands read “270 STW 2 DFW,” shorthand for the distance in miles from Stillwater to the Dallas area, where the Big 12 championship will be played. While the Georgia game won’t impact the Big 12 South race, it’ll give OSU an immediate feel for whether they’re ready to take down division rivals Texas and Oklahoma.
“I’d say it’s probably as big as it gets,” Gundy said. “If you were going to say the right thing publicly, you would say, “Oh, no, it’s not anything like (the) Bedlam (rivalry against Oklahoma).’ But I would say that there’s a lot of excitement and the anticipation in the community is very much like what it would be in a Bedlam week.”