Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy holds a unique distinction.
He's the first coach in the history of college football to disagree with the rest of college football about a usually simple, fundamental fact: his team's record.
"I told the team that I consider that a win and I always will," Gundy said Monday when I asked him about a Saturday that, for better or worse, has come to define his team's season.
The Cowboys are officially 9-2, but all season long, Gundy has referred to the "one" in his team's loss column. Way back on Sept. 10, Oklahoma State stumbled to what -- when the clock hit triple zeroes -- looked like a close win over an average Central Michigan team that finished fifth in the MAC West.
Facing a fourth down with a few seconds left on the clock and a three-point lead, Gundy called for quarterback Mason Rudolph to dawdle in the pocket before launching a pass out of bounds. His strategy eliminated the risk involved in bad deep snap or a blocked kick if he brought his punting unit on the field.
It worked exactly as designed, but officials threw a flag for intentional grounding and offered the Chippewas a final, untimed down, mistakenly believing the game couldn't end on an offensive penalty, even though the rule states that the game isn't extended if it's a loss-of-down penalty. It happened fast, and Gundy wasn't sure enough about the ruling to raise enough of a stink to force a review.
CMU made the most of the play, offering one of the most unforgettable finishes of the season, completing a Hail Mary short of the goal line and adding a lateral that allowed a game-winning score, 30-27.
Oklahoma State officials went into action mode, trading frustrated e-mails, but the NCAA's rules are ironclad: When a game goes final, its result can't be overturned for any reason.
The MAC suspended its officiating crew for two games the Big 12 suspended its replay booth. Oklahoma State took a loss. Two weeks later, the Cowboys lost again at Baylor. Back then, it was easy to chalk up the Central Michigan debacle as a mostly irrelevant oddity.
Then a funny thing happened: Oklahoma State got a lot better. The Cowboys haven't lost since then, and their seven-game winning streak, capped by a 31-6 beatdown at TCU, has shoved the issue back into the national consciousness.
Selection committee spokesman Kirby Hocutt began facing questions about the result a few weeks ago, when it appeared Oklahoma State could become a factor in the playoff picture.
"Consistent with weeks before, Oklahoma State's record is 9-2," Hocutt said last week. "However, the selection committee is aware of what transpired in the Oklahoma State-Central Michigan football game, so we're aware of that, but Oklahoma State is ranked 10th with a 9-2 record."
This week, the Cowboys are still at No. 10, behind five other two-loss teams. Two losses vs. one can mean the difference between a historic season for a program that retroactively claimed its only national title earlier this year -- from way back in 1945 -- and just a very good season that could still end in another major bowl.
The Cowboys' resume is solid: They have two top-25 wins, against Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and they play No. 9 Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman with the Big 12 championship on the line. But there's no getting around their second loss.Just one loss might have OSU sitting as high as No. 5 going into the weekend. If the Cowboys had secured the win over Central Michigan, it would mostly be a footnote on an otherwise solid resume.
"I thought we put a committee together to eliminate the computer so humans could make decisions on actual game situations," Gundy said.
As Oklahoma State prepares to play against Oklahoma on Saturday, its only path to the playoff involves the Big Ten ceasing to exist. And the Central Michigan result, for all its insanity, has overshadowed Oklahoma State's remarkable rise over the season's final two months.
The simplest explanation is the emergence of the running game behind true freshman Justice Hill, who's been joined by senior Chris Carson in recent weeks to revive a ground attack that struggled even as the Cowboys raced to a 10-0 start a year ago. In the first month of the season, OSU ranked 112th nationally in yards per carry. In November, the Cowboys ranked 10th.
"We're not a great running team, but we are good enough running team that it allows us to be balanced. We gave them a plan," Gundy said. "On a scale of 1 to 100 we're about a 75 percent there. We've still got a ways to go but, we were floating around 10 percent the last two years."
Hill has topped 100 yards rushing in five of eight games, carrying the ball more than 20 times just twice. Carson shook off an early-season hand injury to rush for 269 yards and three scores on just 27 carries in the Cowboys' past two games.
It's fair to suggest Oklahoma State could find itself in a better position if it either 1) had found a way to keep the Chippewas out of the end zone from midfield, or 2) not turned the ball over twice inside the red zone in an 11-point loss to Baylor.
However, the Cowboys did what should have been needed to secure a win against Central Michigan. On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens executed a similar strategy in an awkward situation, committing mass holding penalties to take a delayed safety and finish a 19-14 win over the Bengals. Gundy's final play was just as crafty, but he wasn't sure enough if it was legal to try to override faulty officiating while the game's result was still in doubt.
Now, Oklahoma State has hit its stride in the season's final month, but the loss to Central Michigan isn't going away. And if you're waiting for Gundy to change his mind and admit the Central Michigan game actually was a loss, you'll be waiting just as long as Gundy will be waiting for the NCAA to change its mind.