STILLWATER — Just how good can Oklahoma State become?
The Cowboys host Texas A&M on Thursday night at Boone Pickens Stadium. And how the Pokes handle their first Big 12 Conference game could go a long way toward defining their season. Here are five reasons why this game could define OSU's season and five reasons why it might not:
Why: It's the Cowboys first game against an nationally respected opponent.
OSU has put up big numbers on its nonconference opponents and cruised to a 3-0 record. Questions about how successful the Pokes offense will be in the Big 12 still remain. Big 12 athletes are quicker, stronger and faster, which means the Cowboys' offense will have to raise their game to another level to have continued success.
Why not: Texas A&M is not the favorite to win the Big 12 South.
The Aggies are an explosive team with NFL-caliber players on both sides of the ball. Yet, they've never been considered the favorite to win the Big 12 South this season. So what does a win over them really mean? It proves the Pokes can defeat a quality opponent, but OSU will have to do more to be considered a Big 12 South title contender.
Why: A win is a huge step toward a fifth-straight bowl appearance.
A win puts OSU at 4-0, and it would be tough to imagine the Pokes going 1-7 the rest of the way to finish 5-7 and out of bowl contention.
Why not: Win or lose, nobody knows how the Cowboys will play on the road.
OSU is counting on several young players to be playmakers and the Pokes have no idea how those players will respond on the road. OSU has five road games including at Texas and at Texas Tech. Will Brandon Weeden be as productive on the road as he's proven to be in Boone Pickens Stadium?
Why: A loss could have adverse effects on the youthful Pokes.
Like it or not, the perception is that this game is OSU's first true test. If the Cowboys fail the test, how will they respond the next week against Louisiana-Lafayette, in their first road game? Will a setback hurt the Pokes' confidence? Or can they forget it and move forward?
Why not: A win does nothing for the Pokes if they become content with what they have accomplished.
A big reason for OSU's 3-0 record thus far is the passion the Pokes entered the season with thanks to the disrespect they felt they were getting nationally. If national perception changes from disrespect to accolades, will the hunger remain?
Why: A win would create great momentum and potential 5-0 record heading into Lubbock.
Mike Gundy likely could not invent a better scenario with OSU's youthful roster than the Pokes beginning the season with a 4-0 record, including a national television win over Big 12 South rival. With Louisiana-Lafayette looming Oct. 8, the Cowboys could travel to Lubbock on Oct. 16 with a 5-0 record and tons of confidence.
Why not: There still are plenty of games left regardless of the outcome.
Friday is the first day of October, so needless to say, there is plenty of football left to be played. No matter how good OSU looks in September, the injury bug could hit or the Cowboys' youth could emerge via game-altering mistakes in the latter half of the season. It's a marathon not a sprint.
Why: A win over Texas A&M would be OSU's third-straight over the Aggies, a fact that cannot be underrated in recruiting.
The Cowboys often go head-to-head against Texas A&M in recruiting battles for some of the best players Texas has to offer each year. Winning head-to-head battles on the field leads to head-to-head wins on the recruiting trails. The better OSU recruits, the sooner the Pokes can compete for championships.
Why not: A&M was picked to finish third in the Big 12 south, yet almost lost to Florida International.
The Cowboys could win and still have questions remain about their long-term potential, especially if they win an ugly, turnover-filled game on national television. An unimpressive win could lead to people saying Nebraska will be their first true test instead of the Aggies.