November 20, 2010
Oklahoma State 48, Kansas 14. The way the season has turned out, a five-touchdown road rout over one of the worst teams in the Big 12 is just another business-as-usual afternoon for Oklahoma State. Quarterback Brandon Weeden passed for nearly 400 yards with multiple touchdowns; lethal, All-American weapons Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon went over 100 rushing and receiving, respectively, for the eighth time this year. The final tally on offense, 48 points on 598 yards, was just a hair over the Cowboys' season average on both counts. A day at the office, really, for an outfit that's now one win away from clinching its first Big 12 South title.
Three months ago, though, none of the above would have seemed possible. In fact, it was last year's team, a veteran lineup that opened in the top 10 with historic expectations, that was saddled with delivering the breakthrough – and came up a little short, when a promising 9-2 start collapsed in a 27-0 shutout at Oklahoma and a 21-7 Cotton Bowl debacle against Ole Miss featuring seven OSU turnovers to close the season.
This team, ravaged by youth and attrition, had none of its predecessors' advantages on paper. The prolific senior quarterback was gone. The All-American, first-round left tackle was gone The defense, off possibly its first respectable campaign in decades, was missing six of its top seven tacklers. Phil Steele's exhaustively calculated "Experience Ratings" ranked OSU as the greenest lineup in America, No. 120 out of 120. A handful of prognosticators egged the Cowboys to finish dead last in the Big 12 South; no one saw them finishing higher than fourth.
With expectations running high, the crucial measure for coach Mike Gundy in 2009 was whether he could finally beat Oklahoma or Texas and potentially finish the season in a BCS bowl. This year, division titles and January bowl games didn't enter the discussion. The question was more fundamental to the trajectory of the program: Six years into Gundy's tenure, had the Cowboys progressed enough to remain a competitive, bowl-worthy outfit when almost every card in the deck is stacked against them? Could new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen get enough of the revamped offense to keep it in the black? Or would the attrition send them tumbling back into the division cellar, where they finished in Gundy's first season?
There was no option for a top-10 team that leads the nation in total offense, cruises past Texas in Austin and (as of today) matches the school record for wins in a season with Oklahoma still to come. Weeden has turned Holgorsen's "Air Raid" inspired scheme into the most prolific passing attack in America. Blackmon is the best receiver in America. Hunter is the best running back in the Big 12, at least. The Sooners come into Stillwater next week with all the big season goals on the line: The Big 12 South, a ticket to the Big 12 Championship Game, a ticket to the BCS. As for the really big goal, though – building a stable contender that holds its ground even in supposed "down" years – Oklahoma State has never been closer than it is right now.