STILLWATER — Oklahoma State football is stuck in a rut. Ruts happen. Ohio State's in a rut; win the Big Ten, lose the national championship game. Oklahoma's in a rut; win the Big 12, lose the Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia's in a rut; three straight 11-win seasons, all with a January bowl victory. Oklahoma State is in a 7-6 rut. Two straight years of 6-6 regular seasons, followed by a bowl victory. That's good and bad. Good that the Cowboys got on the right side of .500; bad that the Cowboys keep flirting with mediocrity. All of which means that in 2008, 6-6, plus a bowl capper, won't cut it. Build a temple in which to play and it's not only ticket prices that rise. Standards do too. To establish momentum and build interest and give hope, the '08 Cowboys must improve. Seven pre-bowl wins would be acceptable; eight would be nice. Six would make State fans wonder if they're glued and doomed to middling. Especially with the 2008 schedule. OSU has five virtually automatic wins. Also has three near-certain defeats. That leaves four games that should determine the season. The wins: Houston, Missouri State, Troy, Baylor and Iowa State, all at Stillwater. The Cowboys lost road games at Houston and Troy the past two years, but at Boone Pickens Stadium, OSU should roll. The losses: at Missouri, at Texas, at Texas Tech. All are ranked in the AP top 12. The Cowboys won in both Austin and Lubbock in 1944, and have not won in either place since. And Mizzou has maybe its best team ever. The unknowns: at Washington State, Texas A&M, at Colorado, OU. Not all those games are tossups, of course. OSU should beat Washington State in Seattle; the Cougars are rebuilding. Bedlam is a hard sale for OSU; it plays OU tough in Stillwater, but the Sooners are loaded. The Cowboys should beat A&M, but they should have beaten the Aggies a lot of times. Winning at Boulder never is easy. So those four games will determine the OSU season. Win three, go 8-4 and the Mike Gundy era revs. Win two, go 7-5 and it's a solid step forward. Win one, 6-6 again and who the heck is going to be excited about Cowboy football? In the last 50 years, OSU five times has had the same record two years running. All five times, the Cowboys broke out of the rut by falling back, often falling far back. Bob Simmons went 5-6 in 1998 and 1999, then went 3-8 and got fired. Pat Jones went 4-7 in 1989 and 1990, then hit rock bottom at 0-10-1. Jones went 10-2 in 1987 and 1988, then came that 4-7. Phil Cutchen went 4-5-1 in 1966 and 1967, then went 3-7 and lost his job. Cliff Speegle went 4-6 in 1961 and 1962, then Cutchen replaced him and went 1-8. No way will Gundy fall back in 2008, unless Zac Robinson gets clobbered by a bus or a mean linebacker or something. But another 6-6 certainly would be disappointing. The Cowboys are set up to be better. Time to escape the rut.