Mike Gundy has had plenty of success in his eight years at Oklahoma State, and it seemed inevitable his name would pop up for a high-profile job despite a disappointing regular season by his standards.
While Gundy ultimately decided to remain at his alma mater, Purdue’s failure to meet expectations resulted in a coaching change.
Before the Darrell Hazell era begins, the Boilermakers will take on Gundy’s Cowboys in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday.
Oklahoma State had won at least nine games in each of the previous four campaigns, finishing 11-2 in 2010 and 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl victory last season.
The Cowboys, though, dropped their last two games of 2012 and stumbled to a 7-5 record - Gundy’s worst since the last of back-to-back 7-6 seasons in 2007.
Gundy had high expectations for this season’s squad, which was ranked 19th in the AP preseason poll, and figured it would be playing in a postseason game of more prestige.
“Wherever the conference sends us is where we go,” Gundy said. “I can only say I’m surprised we’re in this game.”
Despite the disappointing record, Gundy reportedly was sought by Tennessee to help rebuild its program, though discussions didn’t amount to much before he proclaimed his commitment to the Cowboys.
“The only thing I’m going to say is (the talks) haven’t gone as deep as what people say,” Gundy said.
“In our profession, if you do good, people are going to contact you. If you don’t, you’re going to get fired.”
That’s precisely what happened to former Purdue coach Danny Hope, who went 22-27 in four seasons and was let go after this year’s 6-6 record. The Boilermakers won their final three games to qualify for their second straight bowl, but it wasn’t enough to save Hope’s job.
Enter Hazell, who impressed athletic director Morgan Burke by turning a once-dismal Kent State program into a contender for a BCS bowl bid in just two seasons.
Hazell, a former wide receivers coach for seven seasons under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, went 5-7 in 2011 before coming up a MAC title game victory shy of guiding the Golden Flashes to an improbable BCS bowl berth.
The Golden Flashes fell 44-37 in overtime to Northern Illinois on Nov. 30, but they’ll appear in their first postseason game since 1972 when they face Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6.
Hazell will coach Kent State in that contest before beginning his tenure at Purdue.
“I’m extremely excited to work with the players at Purdue, and I look forward to experiencing a lot of success in the future,” Hazell said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. Purdue University has a great football tradition, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who called plays for the final three weeks after offensive coordinator Gary Nord hurt his back, was named interim coach for Purdue’s bowl game.
“This is a team that a lot of people gave up on,” Higgins said, “but they came together collectively to win their final three games and earn this trip to Dallas. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
A major focus in preparation for this game must be on defense, as the Boilermakers allowed 406.8 yards per game to finish 11th in the Big Ten despite having second-team All-American Kawann Short. The senior defensive tackle has 14 1/2 tackles for loss to go along with six sacks.
Short leads a Purdue defense which will face a big challenge from an Oklahoma State team that ranked fifth in the FBS in total offense at 548.9 yards per game. Junior Joseph Randle was named first-team All-Big 12 after leading the conference with 1,351 rushing yards while posting eight 100-yard performances.
The Cowboys passing offense ranked seventh nationally (333.4 ypg) despite starting three different quarterbacks in junior Clint Chelf, true freshman Wes Lunt and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh. Chelf started the final four games after Lunt suffered a concussion in a loss to Kansas State on Nov. 3.
Gundy has announced Chelf will start against Purdue, saying he’s “earned the right to start the bowl game.”
While Oklahoma State scored fewer than 30 points only once, it allowed more than 40 five times. The Cowboys defense surrendered more than 600 yards in each of the final two games to finish sixth among the 10 Big 12 teams in total defense (426.3 ypg).
The only time Purdue scored more than 28 points in Big Ten play came in a 56-35 home victory over lowly Indiana in the regular-season finale Nov. 24.
Sixth-year senior Robert Marve went 20 for 29 with career highs of 348 yards and four touchdowns in that game as he continues to play through a torn ACL suffered earlier this season.
Akeem Shavers totaled three touchdowns against the Hoosiers, recording season highs of 126 rushing yards and 99 receiving. Purdue went 6-0 this year when Shavers runs for a TD, compared to 0-6 when he didn’t. The senior was the team’s top rusher with 778 yards.
This will mark the second meeting between the schools, with the Boilermakers beating the Cowboys 33-20 in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.