ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida State only needed eight plays to travel 94 yards necessary to take a 17-point lead in the second quarter.
The defending national champs’ game threatened to morph into an exhibition capped by a fourth-quarter victory lap against an unranked Oklahoma State team that returned nine starters from 2013 — fewer than all but one team in college football.
The Cowboys answered with their best drive of the night — 11 plays for 75 yards and seven points. On this night, there would be no rout.
Oklahoma State lost, 37-31, but had the ball twice in the fourth quarter with opportunities to take the lead against the No. 1 Seminoles. You won’t hear anybody who suited up in all black on Saturday say it, but that’s an accomplishment in itself.
OSU may be 0-1, but it showed reason to believe it will be a factor in the Big 12 title race, where Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State have dominated the conversation.
"From the freshmen to the fifth-year seniors, everybody was ready for this game," cornerback Kevin Peterson said.
There are a lot more of the former than the latter in Stillwater these days. OSU had 16 freshmen or sophomores in both its offensive and defensive two-deeps.
"Three offensive linemen playing for the first time ever in their college career," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said of the lineup.
That doesn’t even include firecracker/preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Tyreek Hill, a junior college transfer who lived up to the hype and looked every bit as fast as the fastest Seminole and looked the part of a bigger, faster Tavon Austin, even if he doesn’t have Austin’s quick stop and change-of-direction abilities.
There was no reason to believe Oklahoma State could stay on the same field with Florida State, and yet, moments before quarterback J.W. Walsh got flipped head over heels and dropped the ball on the way down, OSU was 56 yards from taking their first lead of the night in the game’s final minutes.
"The one thing we proved is that the young players and this team won’t back down from anybody," Gundy said.
We shouldn’t be surprised. The Cowboys have steadily risen up the recruiting rankings in recent years, and Hill may be Gundy’s biggest coup in that span. The five-star recruit (and indoor 200-meter Big 12 champion) had offers from Oklahoma, Alabama, USC and yes — Florida State, among others. By the fourth quarter, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was kicking away from Hill.
New faces like sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah (two sacks, two PBU, six tackles) and junior Ashton Lampkin (INT, PBU) were ready when their time arrived and departures meant a move up the depth chart.
"We came in expecting to do big things this year," Ogbah said. "Everybody doubted us, but we don’t care what people think. We just care about what we have to show the world."
Oklahoma State showed flashes on Saturday night that middle of the pack may be too low of an expectation for the Cowboys.
OSU is flawed, sure. Special teams mistakes (missed FG, two botched snaps on punts) ultimately cost the Cowboys a gigantic win. They’re also talented and composed. Walsh tends to resemble a shot putter at times and looks hopeful throwing the ball down the field more often than he looks confident. He’s also the same guy who broke loose for a 24-yard touchdown to get Oklahoma State to within three in the fourth quarter and shrugged off an early pick six and a 17-0 deficit to finish 15-of-27 for 203 yards, 51 yards rushing and three touchdowns.