Sam Hutchens: Oklahoma State has played in Houston just twice in the past ten years. That changes 3 p.m. on Saturday when OSU plays Houston on ESPN2. If you ask coach Mike Gundy and OSU marketing leaders, playing in Houston is a good thing.
Oklahoma State is returning to a city it has tapped into for years.
The Cowboys’ last game in Houston was a 2019 loss to Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. Before that it was a 2013 win against Mississippi State in Reliant Stadium to start the season.
The days of intermittent play in Houston are over.
With the Houston Cougars joining the Big 12, OSU’s conference schedule will provide ample opportunity for the Cowboys to play in the largest city in Texas. After Saturday’s game, OSU will host the Cougars in 2025 and visit Houston again in 2026.
Houston has a population of 2.3 million and 27 Class-of-2024 recruits ranked in Texas’ Top-100, according to 24/7 Sports. It’s a good place for any football team to increase brand recognition.
“I know (the Houston Cougars) are in a lucrative area,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “I would think that within a four-hour drive of that school you’re going to have 200 (high school football players with) offers.”
Some of OSU’s best players have come from Houston: Thurman Thomas and Hart Lee Dykes in the 1980s and, more recently, future NFL defenders Emmanuel Ogbah and Amen Ogbongbemiga. Currently, offensive linemen Cole Birmingham, Jason Brooks and Calvin Harvey are from Houston, as well as freshman receiver Camron Heard.
Gundy said you’d have to ask Dana Holgorsen, his former offensive coordinator and current UH head coach, to get the full scope of Houston’s bountiful positioning in a football hotbed.
“The high school football in this state is the best in the country,” Holgorsen said in his 2019 introductory press conference.
“Nobody does it better than the state of Texas. With the resources, with the way they pay the coaches, the facilities, the practice time, nobody does it better. (Houston) is the best state and city to be able to recruit because of how things work like that.”
And according to Chase Carter, Senior Director of Marketing at OSU, Houston’s importance to OSU extends beyond the gridiron.
“Houston is extremely important (to Oklahoma State),” Carter said. “At the alumni association we talk about our four mega markets, which are our four largest areas of alumni. Those being Tulsa, Oklahoma City, North Texas, which is the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and then Houston.”
Carter said OSU has about 6,500 alumni in a 45-mile radius of Houston. There are about 425 current students in that area. Behind Dallas, Houston houses the largest grouping of OSU alumni outside of Oklahoma.
Saturday is OSU’s only scheduled game in Texas this season, an oddity considering the Cowboys have played at least twice in Texas since 2008. Gundy, who aided Carter’s marketing efforts from the Fiesta Bowl podium in 2021 with a ‘We have a logo too’ speech after beating Notre Dame, said it’s important to win games in markets like Houston.
“People see who you are,” Gundy said. “It’s marketing, right? When people see your logo places, it’s beneficial, it can help.”