Welcome to Mike Gundy’s nightmare scenario.

Four nights from tonight, Oklahoma State opens its season against the top-ranked defending national champions, quarterbacked by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, in a nationally televised primetime telecast with the College GameDay crew on site to hype the event. Last year’s team, a club that came within one defensive stop of winning the Big 12, may have been more equipped for this challenge. But the 2014 Cowboys? This is a group breaking in 12 new starters, including at quarterback. Gundy said Monday that as many as 20 Cowboys will get their first taste of college football against a team that’s as good as any he’s played in his now decade-long tenure.

Where is Savannah State when you need them?

For the record, this is the exact opposite of Gundy’s stated philosophy on building a non-conference schedule. According to Gundy, the best way to win a national championship is to turn September into something of an extended training camp. To be fair, there are softer non-conference schedules than the traditional Oklahoma State slate, but there aren’t many. Florida State is just the third ranked opponent the Cowboys have faced in Gundy’s now 10 seasons at Stillwater; there was the 35-14 loss to No. 13 Georgia to open the 2007 season, and then the corresponding 24-10 win over No. 13 Georgia to open 2009.

“But ultimately, at the end of the day, when I go recruit, and I go into meetings with these guys (fellow coaches) every day, and tell ’em this is what I believe in and this is what I want them to believe in, if it’s not that way, then I can’t do it,” Gundy said previously. “I’ve got to go do something else.”

It was that reported butting of heads with athletics director Mike Holder that led Gundy’s name to be connected to openings at Arkansas and Tennessee.

To his credit, Gundy has said the right things leading into Saturday night’s game. They’re embracing the game, and they’re excited for the opportunity, Gundy says. But he hasn’t abandoned his philosophy. 

But there is another way to frame this argument.

Continuing with the golf analogy, Oklahoma State’s game with Florida State essentially amounts to nothing more than a free swing. The Cowboys are 17-point underdogs. Things could go incredibly south for the Pokes, but, ultimately, it won’t matter because a 42-13 Oklahoma State loss will tell us exactly the same as an another 84-0 trouncing of Savannah State – absolutely nothing. And what if Oklahoma State – gasp – wins? 

It would be the first win over a No. 1 ranked team in Oklahoma State history. It would be just the third win in program history over a reigning national champion. And it would be an extremely beneficial exposure point for Gundy’s program, not only on national television, but in a stadium where this season’s national champion will be crowned, which happens to be in the exact center of one of the Cowboys’ most important recruiting areas. 

And suddenly a team picked in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, and not their No. 1 ranked opponent, is in the driver’s seat to return to Dallas five months from now. 

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.