This fall will mark the 20-year anniversary for the 2002 season, which should go down in history as the biggest turnaround year for Oklahoma State football.
There were some notable hiccups and frustrating losses to begin the 2002 season, but by year’s end, much of the road had been paved for the future success of the Cowboys on the gridiron.
Fans tore down the goal posts at Lewis Field (twice), “Crazy George” was still whipping up the crowd in a frenzy, and a young offensive coordinator named Mike Gundy was directing a prolific Cowboys offense. It didn’t hurt to end the year with another Bedlam victory — the last time the Cowboys have won consecutive games against the Sooners — and a bowl win against Southern Miss, the Cowboys’ first postseason victory since Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman Trophy-winning season.
While other years (like 2011) saw more wins and a league title, the 2002 season marked a true breakthrough for the Oklahoma State football program.
Multiple players from the 2002 squad would go on to become first-round NFL Draft picks, including wide receiver Rashaun Woods, who set a number of school records, only some of which have been since broken, and defensive lineman Kevin Williams, who would go on to become a six-time Pro Bowler with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
The team’s 2002 quarterback, Josh Fields, would go on to become a first-round baseball draft pick of the MLB’s Chicago White Sox. He was a 2003 all-Big 12 third baseman with the Cowboys. In the fall of 2002, the sophomore from Ada threw for 3,145 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. His passing touchdowns mark was tied for third-best in the nation, behind current Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech.
It was the second season for a young head coach named Les Miles, a Michigan alum who had most recently been the tight ends coach of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The year before, the Cowboys pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history in defeating OU 16-13 in Norman, spoiling the Sooners’ chance to compete for another national championship. It was a great momentum builder for the following season, despite the 4-7 finish.
To begin 2002 season, the Cowboys completed a dreadful “Poke choke” against Louisiana Tech. The Cowboys led 36-18 late in the third quarter before allowing the Bulldogs three unanswered scores, losing 39-36. The team came out flat against No. 23 UCLA two weeks later, losing 38-24 and hardly looking like a team that would end the season on a four-game winning streak.
The OSU offense drastically improved in its second year under new offensive coordinator Mike Gundy, a standout Cowboy quarterback from the late 1980s.
In 2000 and 2001, the Cowboys ranked No. 97 and No. 88 in total offense. They jumped up to No. 13 in the nation during the 2002 season, averaging more than 411 total yards and four touchdowns per game.
Led by Josh Fields, the OSU offense scored 45 points in at least four contests, featuring a two-pronged attack that would become a staple of future Cowboys teams. Tatum Bell rushed for 1,041 yards and 11 touchdowns while Fields orchestrated a high-octane passing game with wideouts Rashaun Woods, John Lewis, and T.D. Bryant.
The emergence of Woods as a game-changing wide receiver helped the OSU offense evolve. The Millwood High School graduate set OSU school records in career receptions (293), receiving touchdowns (42), and receiving yards (4,414), the former two of which still stand. He also set numerous single-game and single-season records, including 226 receiving yards in the Bedlam win.