Cowboys Excited About Independence Bowl

STILLWATER - Just after finishing up a one hour and 50 minute practice head coach Mike Gundy found out that the Oklahoma State Cowboys were officially going to play in the Petro Sun Independence Bowl. Gundy was able to tell the entire squad that news before dismissing the team.

Then shortly after Gundy and eight of his players arrived at a press conference they found out officially that they would be playing Southeastern Conference and traditional college football power Alabama as an opponent in Shreveport, La.

"We are looking forward to it," said Gundy. "Earlier I said you play an SEC opponent and I guess they won the Cotton Bowl last year, and we've seen video tape on them and they are very quality. Obviously, I watch more defensive tape at this time and they are only giving up 18 points a game. They are pretty good on defense and it will be another great challenge to move the ball offensively and score some points. I have not looked at the other side of the ball yet. I think our players will be very excited.

"If I was a fan of Oklahoma State football I would want to drive down to the game. I would want to be there to see my team play Alabama."

Cowboy captain Victor DeGrate said, "I think it is a good opportunity for us. A lot of things didn't go the way we wanted them to this season and our record wasn't what we wanted. This gives us an opportunity to show us what we can do against a team like Alabama."

"You know what you get with Alabama, you get a tough defense and a physical run game," said captain and senior offensive tackle Corey Hilliard, who is from SEC country growing up in New Orleans. "I remember occasions where they came into LSU's stadium and beat them when I was growing up, so I know what kind of challenge it is going to be."

"I want the boys next year to start off on a good note," said DeGrate. "I want to leave them with a winning record this season and something to give them a push to a greater season next year. I think that is what seniors want to leave their guys with. This gives us the opportunity to win our last game and do that."

The trip to the Petro Sun Independence Bowl will be the 17th bowl appearance for Oklahoma State with the last coming in 2004 when they lost to Ohio State in the Alamo Bowl. This trip represents the fourth bowl game in a five-year period for the Cowboys, making it only the third time that has happened in school history. The last time was in 1988 when the Cowboys played Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl to cap off Barry Sanders' Heisman Trophy.

The Cowboys have been to the Independence Bowl before as they played Texas A&M in the 1981 version of the game.

Alabama is steeped in tradition and the 6-6 Crimson Tide will be making their 54 bowl appearance as they have a 30-20-3 record all-time in bowl competition. It will be the first meeting in history between the two schools, although Alabama is familiar with Big 12 teams in bowl games as three of their last four bowl opponents are from the Big 12, including a 13-10 win over Texas Tech last season in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Interestingly enough, with Mike Shula having been dismissed as Crimson Tide head coach last week, the interim head coach and defensive coordinator Joe Kimes is familiar to Cowboy fans. Kimes was then OSU athletic director Terry Don Phillips first choice as head coach in 1994 when Phillips fired Pat Jones. Due to fan pressure Phillips decided not to hire Kimes and went with Bob Simmons as the new OSU head coach.

"That's forever ago," Kimes said when asked about the coincidence. "This game will be about these two teams at Alabama and Oklahoma State. I hardly remember that happening. I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast yesterday."

As for the game and matchup with Oklahoma State, Kimes added, "We are very excited to be playing in the Independence Bowl," said the Bama interim head coach. "This is a great opportunity for our team. We have the opportunity to work and get better and that is what we are going to try and do. We appreciate this opportunity against a quality team. I remember Coach (Mike) Gundy from my days at Arkansas when he played at Oklahoma State. They always had really good teams with an explosive offense. We are very excited and looking forward to this game."

Alabama finished 6-6 on the season and 2-6 in SEC conference play. They had a stout defense that only allowed 18 points and 288 yards a game. The offense struggled at times and averaged 22.2 points and 341 yards a contest. The Crimson Tide defeated Hawaii 25-17 in their season opener and also notched wins over Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Monroe, Duke, Ole Miss, and Florida International. They lost in overtime to SEC West champion Arkansas 24-23 and lost to ranked teams Florida 29-13, Tennessee 16-13, and LSU 28-14. They closed out the season losing to arch rival Auburn at home 22-15.

They are led on offense by quarterback John Parker Wilson, who completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,539 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His top receivers were the tandem of D.J. Hall (57 receptions for 1,014 yards and five touchdowns) and Keith Brown (43 receptions for 583 yards and three touchdowns). The leading runner for the Crimson Tide is Kenneth Darby with 820 yards on 200 carries for a 4.1-yards per carry average. He scored no touchdowns as the short yardage back appears to be Tim Castille with five touchdowns.

Quarterback John Parker Wilson had this comment on the bowl game invite and playing Oklahoma State. "We are real excited about the bowl game and getting this bid today," said the Bama quarterback. "This means a lot for our program. We will have an opportunity to get some of the younger players some extra work and the extra practices are huge for us and our program as we move forward. This is a great opportunity and we look forward playing in this game."

On defense Alabama is led by safety Jeffrey Dukes with 74 tackles. Cornerback Simeion Castille leads the team in interceptions with five. Middle linebacker Prince Hall has the team lead in tackles for losses with 10.5 stops behind the line. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry leads the team in sacks with three for 20 yards in losses. Gilberry also commented on the bowl game.

"We have the opportunity for the seniors to go out on a winning note and to give the younger guys and opportunity to improve and get ready for next season," said the Bama defender. "We have worked hard to get this bid and we will work hard to try and end the season with a win."

The Petro Sun Independence Bowl will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. (Central time) on Dec. 28 at the Independence Bowl Stadium and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

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