“From our administration, players and the Big 12, we want to say thank you to AT&T. Bowl games are about an opportunity for the fans, coaches, players to enjoy a week. And as everybody said, the Cotton Bowl's been terrific, the hospitality, everything involved. We've had a great week.
“We're very excited about the game. We want to say congratulations to Coach Pinkel, his staff, and his players for a terrific season, what they've been able to accomplish.
“And we're looking forward to playing. We've been at this since August 1, and we're excited about the competition and the game and looking forward to getting out there and kicking it off.”
At the senior awards conference Parker Graham got up -- and you had mentioned this before -- told a story about how this team was different than the one that went to the Fiesta Bowl in
terms of the Fiesta Bowl was kind of a star-driven team and this one has gotten where it is by being something other than that. Do you feel like that's true? And what was that -- how do you feel about that?
Gundy: “It is interesting. That question's come up a few times. We had several players that were -- a couple guys picked in the first round and a couple other guys that were what I would call high round picks. And this year, we may have one guy that's picked early. But other than that, we have 28 seniors and we're a very mature team and they've been in our program for four or five
years. And we have a lot of confidence in developing young men in the weight room and then learning our system, our core values.
“And it is one thing we talked about actually with Missouri and seeing them for years, even though they've been gone from our conference for a couple years, is they develop players in their
system. And sometimes we don't know who they are and then they show up as redshirt sophomores and juniors and end up being really good players. We would like to think that we have success with that at Oklahoma State.
“And Parker is one of those guys. In somebody's opinion, he would have been a one-star or two-star recruit. And he's come into our program and worked hard and developed and is part of a group of seniors that's won 50 games.
“And so we feel the same way. Each team is different. They create their own personality. And we hope as coaches that they develop a team chemistry and care about each other enough to go play hard on Saturdays. And this team has done a good job of that this season.”
Just on preparation this week, how do you balance having fun and focusing on what you need to do Friday?
Gundy: “We tell our players the same thing; they have earned a right to be here. We want them to enjoy themselves and have a good time. There's a time to have fun; and then there's an hour, hour and 15 minutes of meetings a day. And there's an hour and a half to an hour 45 of practice most of the days. And that's the time we have to be focused. When that's over, they can enjoy themselves. It's all about the team and them accepting that responsibility and the leadership of the players that if they don't focus during that time, then they shouldn't expect to play well during the game.
“So we tell them the exact same thing, and they have done a good job of that. And at times, if you lose a player a little bit, you got to pull him back in.
“But we certainly don't want to take anything away from the Cotton Bowl and what they provide for the team because they've worked very hard really year-round to get to this point.”
Talk about the development of your defensive tackle James Castleman from Amarillo High and how he's developed over the last three years for you.
Gundy: “James has come a long way in the last couple years. We brought him in, played early in his career. We had a position that we didn't have a lot of depth at, so we had to put him on the field
really before we wanted to. He's just starting to catch up physically and has developed during his time. He has a great attitude. He's turned into a leader for our football team. We're looking forward to him being a leader next season. But very athletic.
“Was interesting, when we were recruiting him, the day I went out to see him, he was playing in a basketball game. And I saw him shoot with the left hand, shoot with the right hand, be able to
make moves in the paint and rebound. So we were very excited about him at that point. He's another player that was not highly recruited; a couple three schools had offered him but has come
in and really developed into a fine player in our league.”
Besides the game, what will be your favorite Cotton Bowl memory? Any fun or funny stories you can share with us?
Gundy: “We've had a lot of fun. I don't know that there are any stories that would be really funny. But I think it was special for our team and our coaches and families to be able to go to the Dallas Cowboys game the other day when they played the Eagles. It was actually the first NFL game that I had ever been to, which I know surprised people. But we're working during that time of the season. It is hard to get away on Sunday and go to an NFL game.
“We have a number of players that are on their team, and it was really special for us to see them. I think it was a positive influence on our team to see players that they have been in the locker room with, competed with in the summers and during the season and had a personal relationship with guys that are successful, not only as players but quality people.
“So that was a great experience for all of us in general. And each night and every day the Cotton Bowl has something for us. It really never stops. But that was a great experience for our team.”
This bowl game and bowl games in general, how important is it recruiting-wise? I know both of your squads have Texas players on it. So how important is it for this game in the North Texas area for recruiting?
Gundy: “I think every game is important in recruiting. I think we have 77 players on our team, give or take a few from Texas. So it's always important. I would have to agree with what Coach says.
Our philosophy is the same. Every game is a big game. People say, ‘You got a big game this week,’ ‘You got a big game.’ The next game is not big if you don't play well in the last one. They are each big.
“I think for our staff, we take a lot of pride in preparation and the focus and the work that we put in on what would be a Sunday through Friday on a normal week. We've had three weeks
preparing for a bowl.
“And then for me personally, you want the players to go out and play hard. You want them to have fun and enjoy the game. There will be a number of people that are able to watch it and will be excited for both schools to recruit them if they were in a Cotton Bowl and they were playing in a national spotlight on FOX. So it's huge for all of us in recruiting.”
How does Desmond Roland compare to Joseph Randle, Kendall Hunter, some of your more recent backs?
Gundy: “Desmond is a different style of runner than what Kendall runner is. Kendall was more of a slasher and Dez relies a little more on power and has been able to break more tackles compared
to avoiding defenders like Kendall would have.
“There are some similarities with Joseph Randle. Joseph was a very, very intelligent football player and a great receiver. And Dez stays in the backfield most. But he's developed and really helped us over the last six or seven games get to the point we are now.”
Your coverage units have been really good all season, but you gave up that big play on the punt return against OU. What did you see when you kind of went back and re-examined that? And what did you do maybe to try to make some adjustments during this time?
Gundyu: “Well, we had to do a better job of tackling. We had a couple guys that were in position to make a play. And so from a coaching standpoint, we always try to identify where those mistakes are and put our players in a better position and we ask them to run a little faster and do a better job of coming to balance and corralling those guys and getting them down to try to avoid a situation like that in the kicking game.
“He's a very good returner and he had success. We knew that going in. But we need to do a better job of getting down the field quicker and trying to make sure that we're sound in our ability of tackling.”
Coach Gundy, how confident are you, you can handle Missouri's defensive line?
Gundy: “Well, I'm not sure. We're going to find out. I said yesterday that I thought that they have done as good a job as maybe anybody in the country. Again, I don't see a lot of games on the West Coast or the East Coast of rushing the passer. They have very talented players and some similarities to the past.
“They've got a guy playing for the 49ers now that we played years ago. And these guys get up the field and rush the passer. And they have big guys; they get pushed inside and have had success with it and are very good at it. So it will be a great challenge for our tackles and our offensive line in general to handle their pass rush.”
I know obviously a lot is on the line for this game for your team. But in some regard, do you look at this as Big 12 versus SEC? Would it be nice for the Big 12 to get a victory? Not only are you playing for yourself but are you playing for your conference?
Gundy: “I guess from a media and a fan standpoint, I should say yes. But I hate to say that -- you know, every game I said, "This is a big game for us." And I said this throughout the year in the media. And I may not be stimulating enough interest out there. But no matter who we're playing, we ask our coaches and our players to commit to preparation for every game and the SEC and the Big 12 obviously are very strong conferences that have had tremendous success over the last six, eight years.
“And so if we were playing a team from another conference, we would ask them to prepare the same way. So we're playing a very good football team. And they know the challenge at hand, and they have handled themselves very good over the last three weeks. We are excited about playing in the game and looking forward to the competition.”