STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- For the Oklahoma State football team, the hardest thing about getting ready to play NCAA Division I-AA Southwest Texas Saturday may seem to be coming up with ways to legitimize the matchup.
"Teams like this have nothing to lose," warned OSU tackle Josh Lind.
"It's a game we can't take lightly," said OSU coach Bob Simmons.
But mantras of the heavy favorite notwithstanding, how worried should the Cowboys really be? After all, the Bobcats just last week fell 19-13 to fellow Division I-AA member Cal State Northridge. The week before that, Northridge was crushed 55-6 by Air Force.
Southwest Texas finished just 3-8 in 1999 and has only three winning seasons in its 16 years in Division I-AA.
But if the Cowboys are indeed underwhelmed by their Southland Conference foe, Simmons need only point to the last time Oklahoma State took the field against a Division I-AA team to provide a reality check.
The day was Aug. 31, 1996, and the opponent was Southwest Missouri State. Despite being a heavy favorite, Oklahoma State found itself trailing 17-10 in the final minute of the game when Cowboy quarterback Chris Chaloupka hit tight end Jack Golden with a 7-yard TD pass to force overtime. The Cowboys held firm in the extra period and won the game, 23-20.
A nice story for Bobcat coach Bob DeBesse to use in pre-game perhaps, but his goals against Oklahoma State are downright sheepish.
"This is a chance to play in front of a crowd that we're not normally used to playing in front of in a big-time college atmosphere," DeBesse said.
"I don't mean to be downplaying it at all, but we're not building it up to be anything more than a great opportunity and a great experience."
DeBesse marvels at Oklahoma State's size and speed. He groans at the mention of OSU defensive end Juqua Thomas, who ran step-for-step with Cowboys defensive back Elbert Craig as Craig sprinted 98 yards with a 2-point conversion return against Tulsa last Saturday.
"There's a lot of things we've cut out of the (Tulsa) video not to show the kids," DeBesse said with a not-exactly-comfortable laugh.
In addition to facing mismatches in size and speed, Southwest Texas also comes into the game unsure of the services of its top two running backs, Bronson Sanders and Lee Davis. They combined for 255 yards in the Bobcats' opening 34-13 win over Midwestern State, but both went down with knee injuries against Northridge. DeBesse said they are questionable for Saturday's game.
If they can't go, Southwest Texas will rely on sophomore Lee Lundin to provide a ground attack, while using its spread offense and multiple sets to try to keep the Cowboys off balance.
Besides Oklahoma State's speedy defense, the Cowboys counter with an offense that appears on the verge of a renaissance behind the leadership of senior tailback Reggie White and four-year starting quarterback Tony Lindsay. White ran for a career-high 187 yards in the 36-26 win over Tulsa last Saturday, while Lindsay passed for 166 yards and 3 TDs.
But the Cowboys don't want to get too cozy resting on their strengths, Lind said.
"You go into a game thinking you're going to win. You always want to do that," the tackle said. "But if you go into a game thinking you're just going to destroy a team and have kind of lackluster practices -- that's not the way you go into a week before a game."
Nonetheless, he said the team has no plans of letting Southwest Texas derail what OSU players are hoping is a banner year.
"We're 1-and-0 and we should be 2-and-0 after this coming weekend," Lind said. "We're trying to go for a bowl."