TULSA — Don Garner was quite blunt when asked about his expectations for the upcoming Oklahoma State football season.
“I would be very, very disappointed if we didn't win the Big 12,” said Garner, a former Oklahoma A&M and OSU player from the 1950s. “It's foolish to think you might go undefeated, but I do think that we should not lose more than two ballgames this season.
“Quite high expectations for all of us, quite honestly.”
Why not? The preseason Big 12 media poll tabbed the Cowboys as the favorite to win the league. And as Mike Gundy's program has gained national notoriety, the fan base has raised its standards, as well.
“It feels like we're starting to get the recognition that we've deserved for a long time,” Garner said at the Tulsa Cowboy Caravan stop Monday night at the Tulsa Renaissance Hotel. “Now others are starting to see what the OSU football program is all about. And it's taken us all these years to get to this point.
“It's something that I think all the players will work even harder to maintain and to try to make it come true.”
Gundy said he didn't feel much different facing Monday night's eager group of orange-clad fans compared to the first time he got on a Caravan stage when he was about to enter his first season at OSU nine years ago.
Those supporters now share the same expectations he and the Cowboy coaching staff have had for the past four or five years. And he continued to harp on the fact that preseason predictions often don't match the postseason results, even joking when welcomed by a standing ovation that the fans should “hold (their) applause until December.”
But, like at Big 12 Media Days last week, Gundy acknowledged that the preseason ranking shows the progress the program has made.
“At times, tradition-rich schools will get the edge,” Gundy said, “Oklahoma State is, I think, just starting to build tradition … Obviously, people see us differently than they did four or five years ago.”
Gundy worked the crowd for nearly 45 minutes, breaking down the OSU players and coaching staff and answering questions from the crowd.
He didn't tip his hand on who would start at quarterback in the season opener against Mississippi State. He highlighted defensive end and kicker/punter as positions that really need newcomers step in and contribute. And he promised he had no idea what uniform combination the Cowboys will wear for the first game.
On a table near the entrance of the large ballroom sat the Big 12 championship trophy. Fans often came over to closely examine the intricate engravings of the crystal bowl or take photos of the prize that goes to the conference's best team.
One of those trophies already has a home in Stillwater. And now it's not silly for Garner to believe the Cowboys will add another in 2013.
“People would laugh at you (years ago),” he said. “But they won't laugh at you now.”