Mon Jun 29 03:42pm EDT
The Oklahoman delivered probably the best lede of the offseason Sunday, on the preseason magazines' infatuation with Oklahoma State:
STILLWATER — If the college football media were a 12-year-old boy, Oklahoma State would be the girl he met at camp.
That's a nice analogy for summer puppy love, though I think of the Cowboys more as the new girl in school everyone falls for immediately, ignoring some fairly obvious baggage until it's too late. I picked out OSU in February as one of two teams -- along with Ole Miss, whose media bubble has been a fat, frequent target here -- destined to emerge as the hot new thing, and here we are: The Cowboys are a top-10 outfit by most estimations, top-15 at worst, on the strength of last year's near-breakthrough and the four-headed offensive monster (quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, receiver Dez Bryant and tackle Russell Okung, the last two probably regarded as the best in the country at their respective positions; not to mention Perrish Cox, a first-team All-American at kick returner according to Athlon). For a program with one top-10 finish (No. 5 in the 1945 AP poll) and not even a top-15 finish since the Thurman Thomas/Barry Sanders-powered Pokes finished 11th in 1987 and 1988, this is probably the most hyped team in school history.
Along those lines, the Oklahoman posed its central question -- "How will they handle it?" -- and attempts to apply the brakes to the runaway hype train (emphasis added):
The Pokes dealt with some national hype last season, but nothing like this. It didn’t arrive until early October, when OSU won at Missouri. From there, OSU jumped into the top 10 and drew the attention that comes with such a ranking.
But the hype never lasted more than a week at a time leading up to a big game, and faded after the blowout loss at Texas Tech.
One of the reasons the hype consistently faded is that the Cowboys didn't win any of those games: After vaulting into the national consciousness with its upset at Missouri -- which had lost almost all its luster by the end of the season as the Tigers struggled to finish 1-3 against winning teams the rest of the way, the one win coming in overtime against Northwestern -- Oklahoma State had four big games, against Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon, and lost them all, the last three by double digits. At least Ole Miss is backing up its unprecedented hype with a couple skins on the wall, over Florida and Texas Tech; counting Mizzou, which was No. 19 in last year's final AP poll, Mike Gundy's teams are still 1-11 against opponents that finished in the top-20 since 2005, and 0-8 against Oklahoma and Texas.
They get three teams this year expected to fit that description, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma, with Missouri and Texas Tech coming to Stillwater as wildcards. Not even the most wildly optimistic projections are picking OSU over the Longhorns and Sooners within the South division. That leaves the opener against Georgia as the lynchpin of the season, just like it was the last time the Cowboys entered the season as a darkhorse, in 2007, and left Athens with a 35-14 spanking that dropped them permanently from the rankings. Minus first-round picks at quarterback and running back and its top receiver, this edition of the Bulldogs is ripe for the picking, and -- assuming they live up to expectations as roughly No. 15 nationally -- would be Gundy's biggest win yet as a head coach. OSU would be more or less validated (and almost certainly undefeated) through its Halloween date with Texas, also at home, which parallels the unprecedented heights achieved by last year's hot new thing in the Big 12 South, Texas Tech. If Robinson hits Bryant on a ridiculous sideline throw to beat the 'Horns at the last second, we're in the Twilight Zone. (Which is a bad omen for the finale in Norman. But you take the best season in school history however you can get it.)
But if the Cowboys fall on their face against Georgia out of the gate, at home, it's 2007 all over again: Not ready for prime time. At least they'll establish their identity for the season -- legitimate upstart or same old underdog -- right from the beginning.