No. 24 Cowboys, unranked Nebraska in role reversal

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:44 PM ET

STILLWATER, Okla. -- There's very little evidence suggesting that Oklahoma State should be anything other than a prohibitive underdog when it meets Nebraska on Saturday.

The Cornhuskers have lost only five games at home since 1990 -- the best record in the nation over that time. They hold a 35-3-1 series edge over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys haven't won in Lincoln since 1960.

Nebraska also has the added motivation of trying to avenge a 24-21 loss in Stillwater last season, a defeat that snapped the Cornhuskers' 24-game winning streak over the Cowboys.

But even with that kind of past on the books, it's Oklahoma State that is ranked and Nebraska that is not as they enter Saturday's contest. It's the Cowboys that are talking about shooting for Big 12 titles and the Cornhuskers who are talking about rebuilding after their worst season in 41 years.

Seems weird, doesn't it?

"Growing up, I always thought Nebraska was a powerhouse team," Oklahoma State safety Elbert Craig said. "They have always been good. This last year they had an average season. I could have never imagined them having that type of season."

They did. Nebraska finished 7-7 last year, prompting coach Frank Solich to hire two new coordinators and four other assistants. In doing that, Solich fired six assistants with a combined 98 years of coaching at Nebraska.

All offseason, the Cornhuskers have pointed to their season opener against Oklahoma State as its chance to reclaim a bit of its mystique. Nebraska has invited some 800 former players to the game, holding a "reunion weekend" to kickoff the season.

Quarterback Jamaal Lord has even called the Aug. 30 matchup a "must-win."

That's pretty hefty buildup for a game against the Cowboys, a team that has only had two winning seasons in 14 years. Oklahoma State, however, was the Big 12's hottest team down the stretch last year, winning six of its seven final games to finish only a victory short of winning the conference title.

The Cowboys enter 2003 as the nation's 24th-ranked team, their first appearance in the preseason poll since Thurman Thomas' sophomore season. The opportunity to start the season at Nebraska, third-year coach Les Miles said, is just what they need to put a stamp on the resurgent program.

"I might have given you a different answer two years ago," Miles said, "but considering we are a week away from one heck of a contest, I think everyone is looking forward to it."

In fact, that may be one of the telling signs of how far Nebraska has fallen -- Oklahoma State isn't intimidated at all about playing in Lincoln.

"I think this is the best time to catch Nebraska," said Craig, a senior. "They have a new offensive and defensive coordinator. I think this is the best time to open up against them and catch them on the road like this."< COWBOY NOTES:@ Les Miles has lost both season openers since taking over at OSU, including an embarrassing 39-36 loss to Louisiana Tech last year ... The last time Nebraska and OSU met for a season opener, the results were ugly. In 1995, the Cornhuskers rolled to a 64-21 win in Stillwater. It was Bob Simmons' first game as the Cowboys' coach. ... Oklahoma State has sold all 4,000 tickets allotted to its fans for Saturday's game.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index