Cowboys land back in Arizona to face a new head coach at a bowl game again

Dec. 5—Oklahoma State's bowl scenario is similar to a year ago.

The Cowboys are headed to Arizona to face a team that will now have the same head coach as it started the season.

However, it's not an identical situation.

Oklahoma State isn't playing in a New Year's 6 bowl like the Fiesta Bowl, instead it will be the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 27 — formerly known as the Cactus Bowl, which the Cowboys participated in last in 2015 — at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And the opponent for the Cowboys has a new head coach not because the former coach took a new job, but because he had been removed from his position. Paul Chryst was fired after a 2-3 start to the season for the Badgers — finishing his career at Wisconsin with a 67-26 record and having made it to a bowl game every year with the Badgers.

"At this time, for Oklahoma State, over the next eight or nine practices, we will be concerned with ourselves and our offense and our special teams and our defense, and all the areas we need to improve," Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. "And we'll sprinkle some of Wisconsin in based on what we see on tape, and that's all we can go on at this time. And then at some point, the last six practices or so, probably have a pretty good idea maybe of what they are going to do, and then we'll start to work in some more looks versus what we think Wisconsin will show up with out there in Arizona."

Wisconsin's new head was going to be a familiar one for the future of the Big 12 Conference before landing the Badgers' job.

Luke Fickell, who met with the media for the bowl introduction, was named the new Wisconsin coach in November after going 57-18 with the University of Cincinnati — including a spot in the College Football Playoff last season.

The new head coach said he will be a part of the bowl game with the Badgers, but he is uncertain as to in what capacity it will be.

"'I'm going to be there, and I'm going to be a part of the staff to coach the game," Fickell said. "I envision myself being the head coach. But that means I'm coaching the punters, I'm coaching the kickers, I don't know. I just want to be around the guys."

Also just like last season heading into the bowl game, the Oklahoma State squad already knows of players planning to transfer from the program.

Linebacker Mason Cobb — OSU's leading tackler this season — announced over the weekend that he is entering the portal, which officially opens Monday.

While Gundy allowed those players planning to transfer to participate in bowl practice last season, he wasn't yet sure if that would be the case this year — at least until he gets a better feel for who is available to work out leading up to the bowl.

"We're going to look and see where we are at and see what we are dealing with," Gundy said. "When you look at our team right now from a health standpoint, we have to be a little careful about what we are going to do or not do, because we need enough healthy guys to practice over the next three weeks, and then obviously get out there and play a good, competitive game. So we will have to see with what we are faced over the next couple of days."

Wisconsin is expected to have a different signal caller against the Cowboys.

Shortly after the Badgers were announced as Oklahoma State's opponent in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Graham Mertz — who started the past 32 games for the Badgers as a former top-25 national recruit out of Overland Park, Kansas — declared he was entering the transfer portal.

"I encouraged him to stick around here and wait to see how the changes go," Fickell said of the news. "... We have to continue to move ourselves forward in all that we are doing.

"So does that open up some things for us? Yes, that's another one of those unique things that we have got an opportunity at this bowl practice to find out what we really got and have had behind him. That's what we'll do."

Senior Chase Wolf is listed at Wisconsin's backup quarterback. He has attempted only six pass this season and 31 in his four-year collegiate career.

But the Badgers won't be alone in having a new quarterback under center.

A day later, Oklahoma State starting quarterback Spencer Sanders declared for the transfer portal, as well. It came after Gundy had said on Sunday that he believed Sanders' health — struggling with an arm injury the last two months of th regular season — was trending in the right direction.

"My personal opinion is, I can't imagine he won't feel good in even another week," Gundy said. "As that tissue starts to — the trauma in that tissue starts to go down and scar up a little bit — you feel better and better every day. And I would expect him to feel really good in another week."

Now Gundy won't have to concern himself too much with the health of Sanders. He and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn will get a jumpstart as to what next year's team might look like without Sanders — with the potential of current Cowboy quarterbacks Garret Rangel or Gunnar Gundy, who each made a start this season, or if it might ultimately be Zane Flores, a commit out of Nebraska who is expected to be a January enrollee.

Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State and high school athletics.