By John Helsley
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Wednesday inStillwater, Mike Gundy chatted on about how Oklahoma State’s profile had improved, with logo hats now clearly recognizable from coast to coast.
Thursday, confirmation came in the coaches preseason rankings, where the Cowboys were slotted at No. 19 in the USA Today Poll.
Four Big 12 teams – No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 11 West Virginia, No. 15 Texas and No. 17 TCU – are all ranked ahead of OSU. Still, the Pokes are perceived as a top-20 team, even as they enter a transitional season after losing arguably the most impactful on-field duo in the program’s history – first-round NFL draft picks Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
Compare and contrast that perception to the last time OSU lost a standout quarterback-receiver tandem: two years ago when Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant left Stillwater. Those Cowboys were picked for the bottom of the Big 12 South and far from the radar of the preseason polls.
And who now would argue that Weeden and Blackmon weren’t better?
“People ask the question, ‘Who’s going to fill in for Blackmon and Weeden,’” senior defensive end Cooper Bassett said recently. ”People were asking that a couple of years ago about Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant.
“We answered that question. I have no doubt that some guys are going to answer that question this year.”
Clearly, the view on OSU has changed for the better.
The Cowboys have some work to do, set to proceed with a true freshman quarterback in Wes Lunt. Even Gundy allows that repeating the program’s first Big 12 championship won’t be easy.
And yet, as he said Wednesday, “We’re sure going to try.”
The Big 12 figures to again be a grind, as the coaches poll indicates. Along with the four teams ahead of OSU, KansasStatesits at No. 21.
Nationally, the Cowboys are looking up at a familiar pair of favorites, with LSU andAlabama– the teams picked just ahead of OSU for the BCS championship game – pegged for No. 1 and 2.
Southern Cal rounds out a tight voting for the top three spots at No. 3, gaining 19 first-place votes. That’s actually more than LSU’s 18 and just behind Bama’s 20.
The rest of the top 10 is dominated by regular powers: No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Florida State, No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Arkansas.