Over the last 10 years, when talking about how far Oklahoma State football could climb, Auburn and Oregon have been two of the most-mentioned schools as guideposts for the Cowboys.
Yep. The two schools playing Monday night for the national championship.
Auburn, because it has carved out a successful program playing in the shadow of mighty Alabama. Oregon, because the Ducks had meager success for much of their history but used the generosity of a mega-booster (Phil Knight) to build superb facilities that immediately upgraded the football program's status.
So can Oklahoma State look forward to one day playing for a national championship?
It won't be easy. The Cowboys still seek their first Big 12 title. And the current two-team playoff system doesn't favor an up-and-comer.
Consider this. OSU finished 11-2 in 2010; had the Cowboys reversed the results of those two losses, 51-41 to Nebraska and 47-41 to Oklahoma, and won the Big 12 title to go 13-0, OSU still wouldn't have cracked the BCS top two.
But clearly, outsiders like the Cowboys have more of a chance than in the past.
“I think it's become more accessible,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “Schools between 15 and 40 have narrowed the gap on the so-called top 10.”