STILLWATER — This day two years ago, I rolled into Stillwater, unpacked only my essentials (my full trunk for six months provided that evidence) and got tossed into covering the Oklahoma State 2011 football season less than two weeks before games started.
While on this beat, I've seen the best season in school history and a good-but-not-great season that was still handled pretty darn admirably given the quarterback carousel.
This season, OSU is picked to win the Big 12 for the first time in school history.
So, will this season end back at the Fiesta Bowl for the second time in three years, perhaps even in a rematch against Pac-12 power Stanford? Or will this season end more like 2012, with the Cowboys finishing in a logjam in the second tier of the conference, which, as we've seen, can cause them to slip to a postseason dud like the Heart of Dallas Bowl?
Let's look at what could cause each scenario:
Destination: Fiesta Bowl
Depth, depth, depth
The options at the skill positions, particularly at receiver, are aplenty. But coach Mike Gundy is legitimately pleased with his group of defensive tackles for the first time since he's been the head coach (think about this: Anthony Rogers and Nigel Nicholas and occasionally Christian Littlehead were starting at tackle in 2011). There's also solid depth and experience at linebacker and safety. And, of course, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh proved the Cowboys also have two solid quarterbacks.
Big 12 landscape
The conference is, obviously, wide open after six teams earned at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll. The mass exit of top-notch quarterbacks in such a pass-heavy league is much to blame for the uncertainty surrounding the league as we enter the season. But with the returners the Cowboys do have — plus the program's steady climb to national prominence under Gundy — OSU is as likely a champ as any. Additionally, the Cowboys have a very favorable schedule, getting Bedlam, TCU, Baylor and Kansas State at home.