STILLWATER — The USA Today Coaches Poll came out, and Oklahoma State didn’t make the cut for the Top 25.
Yet expanded out, considering the others receiving votes section, the Cowboys sat in what would equate to the No. 30 spot.
And to Mike Gundy, that was a statement on how the program had progressed.
“That would be on what would be a major turnover year for us,” Gundy said, referring to a roster feeling the impact of 28 lost seniors and now marked by freshmen and sophomores. “We’ve come a long ways.
“Turnover years for us in the past, we weren’t in the top 60.”
Continued winning — OSU ranks eighth nationally in most wins since 2008 — seems to have elevated the program’s brand. And that could prove vital as the Cowboys hope to factor into the College Football Playoff.
The rankings reflect the challenge ahead this season for a team in a retooling mode. Yet the Cowboys figure to be reloaded for 2015 — and into the foreseeable future.
And while the contender’s club has been expanded with the playoff, it’s still exclusively limited to four teams, with heavy competition for inclusion. So staying power and brand recognition remain a factor.
The winning, and the Cowboys are 59-19 spanning 2008-13, has become expected.
OSU is also a regular of bowl season, with an eight-year postseason streak ranking 13th nationally. The 2011 team, which nearly made the BCS Championship game and beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, did its part in enhancing the program’s image.
“It’s nice that we’re kind of on the map now,” said Brandon Weeden, the quarterback on that 2011 squad. “People aren’t saying, ‘Oh, it was a fluke deal.’ We’re still getting good recruits. We seem to be getting better players year in and year out.
“We’ve been one of the best teams in the Big 12 the last five, six years. It’s exciting, as a former player, to be a part of the process to help put Oklahoma State on the map.”
OSU — and all the Big 12 schools — may find themselves at a disadvantage as the only power conference without a league title game to apply a confirming stamp to the resume before the committee goes to vote. That’s where the Big 12’s “One True Champion” motto could be tested, especially if the champ carries a loss.
Strength of scheduling could also become an issue for Big 12 squads.
Teams like Oklahoma and Texas carry some long-standing street cred as proven commodities. But the others, like OSU, need to be positioned as prominently as possible.
The Cowboys are working on it.
Back to the coaches poll, the improved perception of the program is impressive even to Gundy, who has played and coached at OSU in far lesser times.
“I guess I dreamed and thought it could be in the situation we’re in now,” Gundy said. “But until last year, Oklahoma State had an all-time losing record in football. Now we’ve established ourselves as a legitimate contender from coast to coast. People recognize our brand. Players have worked hard to establish that.
“I’m not sure I was smart enough to realize that maybe we could get to this point. This will be an interesting year for us, just because of our youth. But I don’t think there’s any question that anybody that plays against Oklahoma State knows they’re going to be in for a game.”