Big crowd expected for Oklahoma State opener

Friday, September 5th 2008, 3:52 pm
By: News 9

Associated Press

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Boone Pickens wanted to give Oklahoma State the kind of stadium that could make it competitive with any football team in the country.

The Cowboys (1-0) will take another big step toward reaping the rewards on Saturday.

Financed by hundreds of millions of dollars from Pickens, Oklahoma State's stadium now features a bowled-in west end zone for the first time ever.

Back when it was Lewis Field, there were risers at that end of the stadium for the band. Last year, the concrete was poured to build the seating areas at the new Boone Pickens Stadium but the only ones allowed to sit in the area during games were families of the construction crew -- and that was only a few hundred people.

It's a whole different ballgame now.

When Houston (1-0) visits Stillwater on Saturday, the Cougars will find a far different facility than when they last came to town in 1986. The west end zone structure is completed, with club suites and coaches' offices topping off the concrete stands that were built last fall.

And because there are cheaper tickets available in that area, the bowl could end up being more full than the north and south stands.

"I would think it would be good. This is a loud stadium to play in to start with. I would think now with the enclosure and the sound bouncing off of (Gallagher-Iba Arena) and now having an opportunity to stay in with (the added club suites) that there should be some crowd noise," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "It should be an advantage for us, as long as they're wearing orange."

Oklahoma State officials estimate there could be about 45,000 fans in attendance for the home opener, putting a couple records within reach: The school record for attendance was 51,458 at the 1979 Bedlam game against Oklahoma, and the nonconference record was 51,000 for the Arkansas game that same year.

The capacity of the stadium actually shrunk during the recent renovations, but now it can hold around 60,000.

No matter what the crowd ends up being, Gundy expects it to help the Cowboys.

"I don't think there's any question that our players will be excited about playing at home in front of the fans. There's definitely an advantage, we all know that," Gundy said. "The fans here have been terrific, and with the new stadium there should be some added excitement."

Beyond the debut of the stadium's new seating area, the game will have several other story lines.

Oklahoma State has won its last 12 home openers, the longest streak in school history, but could be facing its stiffest nonconference test this week. Houston is coming off a 55-3 win against Southern of the Championship Subdivision, and there is some mystery to exactly what the Cowboys will be up against since first-year coach Kevin Sumlin didn't have to show much of his hand in the first week.

Sumlin brings a twist of his own, adding some Bedlam flavor after leaving his job as a co-offensive coordinator on Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' staff. That doesn't necessarily mean the Cowboys will see many similarities to the Sooners.

"We don't have a lot of signs that make us think they're doing what Oklahoma did on offense. I think they're going to run a lot of schemes like Texas Tech has with (coordinator) Dana (Holgorsen) being there on the offensive side of the ball," Gundy said. "I think that they've instilled most of that system, more so than what Oklahoma's done in the past."

It's also a rematch of the Cougars' 34-25 win against Oklahoma State two years ago in Houston that slowed down the Cowboys after a 3-0 start. Only six Oklahoma State players who recorded stats in that game are still with the team, and five are defensive starters -- including safety Ricky Price, who back then was a receiver.

"Now that I look back on it, we were young. We were all freshmen," said Perrish Cox, who tied a school record with his third career kickoff return touchdown in this year's opener. "Now we kind of know the game, we know what needs to be done; we know what we've got to do. Let's do it. Let's work on all the mistakes we had in that game and make it better this year."

For many Cowboys players, the game could also hold some extra meaning in the form of bragging rights back home in the Houston area. Eight of Oklahoma State's starters are from around Houston.

"In the fall, we make our living recruiting down there. We do the best we can in Oklahoma but the numbers down there with the population are much greater, so it's important to play teams from that area," Gundy said. "And it's a good game for a lot of the players because we probably have 30 or 35 guys that are within a four-hour drive of Houston."