September 5, 2008

Cowboys play in bowled-in BPS this weekend

"There's no place like home."

That now-famous phrase, most notably from The Wizard of Oz, is fitting to throw out there given that Oklahoma State opens its 2008 home schedule tomorrow. But maybe it should be re-worded a bit. How does "Home hasn't looked any better than this" sound?

The Cowboys are about to play their first game in the 60,000-seat version of Boone Pickens Stadium. While the team-oriented stuff down deep is still a year away from being ready, the fan areas and exterior are ready to go for tomorrow's game against Houston, set for a 6:05 p.m. kickoff.

While not 100 percent complete, the visible completion of the West End Zone is the end of a years-long makeover of the former Lewis Field. Slowly but surely, the old, high-school-ish rust bucket of a football stadium morphed into a palace and feelings about the place changed from embarrassment to pride for OSU fans.

And this weekend, at least to the public eye, the transformation will be complete. The WEZ now joins the north and south stands of the stadium to create a bowl. Couple that with the imposing wall of Gallagher-Iba Arena to the east and it's a safe bet BPS will be louder - and maybe even more claustrophobic - this year.

"This is a loud stadium to play in to start with," said head coach Mike Gundy. "I would think now that with the enclosure and then with the sound bouncing off this building (Gallagher-Iba) and now have an opportunity to stay in with this building, that there should be some crowd noise. There should be an advantage for us."

"I think it's going to be good playing in the stadium, but I think all we'll have to do it just get zoned in and block the crowd out," Dez Bryant said. "But I don't think it'll affect us much. It might affect our opponent but I don't think it'll affect us much. It's going to help us. We're going to be fired up ready to go. We're just going to block that out."

It should be interesting to see just how different the place is once the game against the Cougars kicks off. The stadium can be a tough place for opponents when it's full and fans are at their craziest. How much louder and different can it get now that the sound doesn't have anywhere to go?

"I want to see how loud it can get in this place," Keith Toston said. "A couple more thousand people you know, it's bowled in. I expect it to be a whole lot louder when the defense is on the field."

It's not like the team hasn't played in the stadium since it began to change. Last year, the lower half of the west side was bowled in around mid-season. The suite and office level took a little longer, but finally came together in the past few months. Has there already been a noticeable change?

"The first time I really noticed it was during the spring then during a couple of practices during two-a-days," Toston said. "We had several thousand fans come out and it was pretty loud then, but nowhere close to being full in the stands. So I think it's going to be pretty loud."

We'll see just how much louder it is, but one thing is for sure: the enthusiasm over OSU's new home field advantage has fans - and players - eager to get out to the Boone.

"I don't think there's any question that our players will be excited about playing at home in front of their fans," Gundy said. "There's a definitely advantage, we all know that. The fans here have been terrific and with the new stadium there should be some added excitement and I'll know they'll be excited about playing in front of their friends and family."

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