STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ A solid victory over a Division I-AA opponent last week was encouraging for Oklahoma State. Now the challenge is to play the same way against a Big 12 team.
The Cowboys (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) play host to Missouri on Saturday night in a game they know is important to their bowl game chances.
``It's almost a must win,'' tight end Mark Milosevich said. ``If we get that third win now, then we just need three more after that to get to a bowl. If you don't beat Missouri, then the schedule only gets harder.''
Oklahoma State has lost to Southern Miss and Texas A&M. Both games were on the road, and the Cowboys were underdogs each time, so from that perspective they are right where they should be.
Their two victories have come against Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State of Louisiana. They were at home and were the favorites in both, as is the case Saturday night against Missouri (1-2, 0-1).
From that angle, Oklahoma State can't afford to lose.
``We know that it's one of those games where if we go out and play and don't make mistakes and all that, we should win,'' Milosevich said.
Oklahoma State has made only one bowl trip since 1988. That was the 1997 Alamo Bowl, when the Cowboys finished 8-4 with Les Miles as the offensive coordinator. Miles is now the head coach, charged with turning around a program that has had only one winning season in the past 12 years.
But how do you get a team over that hump?
``What you're trying to do is give every opportunity for your team to win, and then let them do it,'' Miles said.
``I think it's easy for us to say that we are a good football team, but then we have to prove it,'' he said. ``It doesn't make any difference what I think or the sportswriters think or what anybody thinks. It's got to do with what's inside those guys.''
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel finds himself in a similar spot with the Tigers, who have struggled since going to bowl games in 1997 and '93. They were 3-8 last season, and opened conference play last week with a 36-3 loss to Nebraska.
Kirk Farmer is back at quarterback for the Tigers, replacing Darius Outlaw. Farmer returned to the lineup last week after missing time with a broken hand, and Pinkel said he played well.
``I think he has a lot of the ingredients,'' Pinkel said. ``I feel comfortable we're doing the right thing.''
Miles said that despite the score, he was impressed by Missouri's defensive effort against Nebraska. It may provide problems for an Oklahoma State offense that played well last week, but isn't close to being where Miles wants it.
In a similar setting a year ago, matching two fairly even, struggling teams that each needing to win, Missouri took control early and won 24-10.
Miles would love to see that reversed this time, although he isn't counting on anything coming easily.
``I felt Northwestern Louisiana was really pretty good,'' he said. ``I knew that there were some advantages for us as I looked at some of their personnel. I see less of those advantages against Missouri.
``The way I've got it figured, it's tooth and nail and nail and tooth, and find a way to win at the end.''