Everybody reportedly arrived on time and in good shape prepared for the first practice after putting in the nine workouts in Stillwater before the Christmas break and the trip to Arizona for the final preparation for the 2015 TicketCity Cactus Bowl against the Washington Huskies.
"Well, we're all here safe. It's been a great half of a day. The facilities and the hotel are beautiful, so everybody is pretty excited," Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said before the first practice.
"The weather is perfect, too, so we're looking forward to having a great practice. As always, we've had great hospitality here with the volunteers, and we're very appreciative of TicketCity and the Cactus Bowl for everything they've given us."
"We're looking to be refining everything and making sure we’re ready to play this game," star linebacker Seth Jacobs said of what needed to be accomplished on the practice field. “I have not really looked at it that thoroughly, but I’m sure we’re going to be doing a lot of really good stuff. I’m excited to be here. It’s a great place, so I’m excited.”
The Cowboys have had good fortune in the desert and the Valley of the Sun under Gundy. Gundy's second bowl game as a head coach came in he his very same bowl, then under the name of the Insight Bowl, as the Cowboys blasted Indiana 49-33 in the 2007 version of the game.
Then following the 2011 season and the Big 12 Championship, Oklahoma State made its BCS debut with a 41-38 overtime win over Stanford in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. Add in a 1974 Fiesta Bowl win over BYU and the school is 3-0 in bowl games in Arizona.
"It really does," Gundy said when asked if Arizona means success to the Cowboys. "It has been very good to Oklahoma State, and we've enjoyed our time out here.
"We've had great experiences and great practices out here, especially with the extra week with the players. They've played well, and that's what's important with bowl games. We've had really good practices back home, but we want to finish up strong this week, enjoy our time here and go out and play the game."
Gundy and his team know that Washington is a good team that finished 8-5 and really improved in the month of November with a near upset of Pac-12 runner-up Arizona on the road in Tucson, and season-closing wins over Oregon State and rival Washington State.
The Huskies also sport three All-Americans on defense including a consensus All-American in nose tackle Danny Shelton and a unanimous All-American in linebacker Hau'ali Kikaha.
“They’ve got a lot skill players on defense, a lot of NFL prospects and a lot of physical players on their D-line and a lot of skilled players on their defense," senior running back Desmond Roland explained. "We’ve got to come ready to play.”
"They're a very good football team. They're very well coached," Gundy said. "I've followed Coach Petersen for a number of years now and in his time with Boise State. He's had a lot of success, and they're really multiple in all three phases. They do a lot of different things on special teams, and they're very multiple with offensive formations.
"Defensively, they've got three All-Americans and arguably one of the best outside linebacker-types in the country. We'll have our hands full, but I think our team will play very well. One of the interesting parts is that they've played very well over the last four or five weeks, and our team has improved over the last four or five weeks. I think it's a great matchup."
As for the players they are simply excited to be part of a bowl game. It was an experience that looked very uncertain prior to the season's final game in Bedlam, but now the players are ready to build on the momentum generated from the 38-35 win over rival Oklahoma.
“That was a great win. It felt good to win like that," Jacobs added. "We just kept fighting throughout the game. It was definitely a confidence boost going from that game. It’s just one of those things where we have to keep moving forward and practice hard each day.”
The Cowboys are back at practice on Sunday and Monday before the next scheduled team event off the field at the famous Don and Charlie's on Tuesday evening. Gundy, as usual on a bowl trip, will allow the players a few days without curfew to have some fun before curfew kicks in, but all the freedom is reliant on continued good work habits and performance during practice.
"Most of our work is put in back home. When we come here, our goal is to have two good practices, a couple of lighter practices and a walk-through," Gundy explained. "There's time, especially early in the week, when they'll get to be around town and be a college student.
"They'll have time to go out and enjoy their lives, but there's also time to be serious. We have an hour of meetings and two hours of practice each day, and they know they have to stay focused during that time. We've had a system that's been good to us over the last nine years now. We feel like it has worked, so we'll stay with it and give the players a chance to enjoy Arizona, but also get ready to play in the game."
“We’re out to win a ballgame, especially the seniors," Roland added. "It’s our last one and we want it to end on the right note, so the intensity level is very high right now. We’ve got to pick it up today.”
The Cowboys got a one day jump on the Huskies as Washington arrives in Phoenix on Sunday and begins practice at their designated practice site of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.