SAN DIEGO — When Mike Gundy became Oklahoma State’s football coach on Jan. 3, 2005, he obtained what he calls his New York Yankees job. Trouble was, the Cowboys played more like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that first season. Much has changed since then for OSU, and for the newly named Rays, for that matter. The Cowboys went 4-7 overall four seasons ago, 1-7 in Big 12 play, and they resided in a place where the Baylor Bears routinely go to hibernate every winter — the South Division cellar. Today, OSU will seek the power of 10 with victory against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. The Cowboys are looking for their fourth 10-win season in 108 years of football, and their first since winning the 1988 Holiday Bowl. Tomorrow looks even brighter, with serious potential for the program’s first BCS bowl appearance and an 11-plus win season. Depending on who leaves early for the NFL throughout the rest of the league, OSU could be a preseason pick by some to win the Big 12 South next season with eight starters returning on one of the country’s most explosive offenses and six returning starters on defense. Win tonight, and this group qualifies as one of the top-5 squads in the program’s history. Are the Cowboys ahead of schedule in the Gundy era? "I thought we performed at a higher level than maybe our staff would have expected after the fourth year," said Gundy, who is seeking his third straight bowl victory. "We’ve tried to give them a chance to win every game. It just takes time in football. This sport is considerably different than basketball with so many different players involved on game day. We have a plan. It’s in place. We’ve stayed pretty close to schedule, but I’m not sure anybody thought that in our fourth year, after some of the dramatic changes we had to make our first year, that we would become a top 10-15 team (nationally) this year. "This has been a real enjoyable season. There are times it’s not as fun to coach guys who don’t get along as well and don’t enjoy being out there. These guys are fun to be around. There are a lot of headaches involved in what we do if you’re not around players who enjoy what they do." Sure, everyone is all grins and giggles now, but what about Gundy’s inaugural season? OSU seniors think back to Year One under Gundy and shake their heads. After opening with victories against Montana State, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State, the Cowboys lost seven of their last eight, the lone victory being a 24-17 upset over No. 13 Texas Tech in Stillwater. "That first year was tough," senior tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. "I had never experienced anything like that. It was just a phase that we went through and we’re developing a program that’s up and coming. But I believed in coach Gundy and everybody he’s brought to the table." In 2005, the OSU offense ranked 92nd nationally in total offense and 96th in scoring, a far cry from this year’s team that ranks No. 7 and No. 8 in those categories, respectively. "I didn’t know what would happen in the future," said senior center David Washington, who hails from Guthrie. "That was a rough, rough year. We were all young, bunch of redshirt freshmen. It was tough. You had to fight through a lot. "Everybody was frustrated. You tried to have a good attitude. There was improvement, but the results wouldn’t show it. It just never seemed like we would accomplish something like this. It seemed so far away." No longer are the Cowboys stalled. They move the ball, often whenever they please. OSU’s defense needs some tightening, but in the high-scoring world that college football has become, these Cowboys are among the elite. "We’re just taking this as having fun," Pettigrew said. "We’re bouncing around. We’re all just having fun. Nobody’s pressured. I look around and I see a swagger." From the South cellar to having a swagger. That’s how far the OSU program has come, and next year figures to be even better. John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.