DALLAS (AP) – There are a couple of games Oklahoma State would like to have back.
Purdue certainly feels the same way, especially with the near-misses the Boilermakers had on the road against two of the nation’s undefeated teams.
By losing its last two games by a combined 10 points, Oklahoma State became one of five Big 12 teams that finished 7-5 and slid down the league’s bowl pecking order.
The Boilermakers (6-6), who had tight losses at top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State, recovered from a five-game Big Ten losing streak midway through the season by winning their last three games just to get bowl eligible.
Oklahoma State and Purdue play in the inaugural Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday. It will be the third consecutive New Year’s Day game played in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium since the namesake game that this season features Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma moved to Cowboys Stadium.
“I know they might not be as excited as we are,” Purdue running back Akeem Shavers said. “But just coming from where we came from and where our season’s went, we’re just blessed to be here.”
Last January, the Cowboys capped a Big 12 championship season with a 41-38 victory over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Three years ago, they were playing in the first Cotton Bowl at that shiny new NFL stadium.
But after a dominating 59-21 home win against Texas Tech, the Cowboys lost in overtime at Oklahoma after the Sooners scored the tying touchdown with 4 seconds left in regulation. Oklahoma State finished the regular season with a 41-34 loss at Baylor.
“Being part of the team last year and doing so many great things, we’re ready to go out and get this eighth win and finish on a good note,” Cowboys senior defensive end Cooper Bassett said.
When the bowl pairings were announced the day after the loss at Baylor, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team went wherever the conference sent them but said he was surprised to be in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Now the focus is just on playing the game, in which the Big 12 Cowboys are more than two-touchdown favorites.
“I feel like our players, we are excited to be around each other for another month and playing a game,” Gundy said. “I mentioned this when those questions were asked several weeks ago; that I coached 11 years and never had an opportunity to play in a bowl game, and so I tried to stress the feelings and the opportunity for our players, and certainly our coaches. I feel like that they have handled it very well. I don’t think there’s any question when we start the season, we all have goals that we would like to reach.”
It’s the first game between Purdue and Oklahoma State since 15 years ago in the Alamo Bowl, when the Boilermakers won 33-20 to cap then-coach Joe Tiller’s first season.
This was their fourth season under Tiller’s hand-picked successor, Danny Hope, who was fired at the end of the regular season with a 22-27 record.
Kent State coach Darrell Hazell was hired to replace Hope, but receivers coach Patrick Higgins is serving as interim coach through the bowl.
Purdue lost 20-17 at Notre Dame the second week of the season when the Irish, who play in next week’s BCS national championship game against No. 2 Alabama, kicked a field goal with 7 seconds left.
The five-game losing streak included a 29-22 loss at Ohio State, which scored the tying TD with 3 seconds remaining in regulation. The Boilermakers trailed 34-7 at halftime the next week at Minnesota and lost at Penn State before their consecutive wins over Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
“We had our backs against the wall, and we’ve kind of crawled out, and now this is an opportunity for us,” quarterback Robert Marve said.
Higgins said the players realized after the Penn State loss that every game was like a championship game if they wanted to reach their goal of playing in a bowl. They won at Iowa for the first time in more than 20 years and won consecutive Big Ten road games, another rarity, before the rivalry win over Indiana.
“A lot of people counted us out when we were 3-6, and I think every game we won we weren’t supposed to win,” Marve said. “So we’re trying to keep the trend going in the bowl game.”
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