The reigning Big 12 football champion has been virtually written off, voted fourth in the preseason media poll without so much as a single first-place vote.
If it feels like old times, Cowboys fans, maybe it'll turn out like the last time your squad was projected to stumble back – 2010 – when it instead posted a school record for wins and threatened to win the Big 12 South entering the regular season's final weekend.
Before that 11-win breakout, Oklahoma State was pegged for the South cellar, and some even suggested Mike Gundy's seat to be simmering following a disastrous Cotton Bowl performance on the heels of a Bedlam bummer.
Seems the Cowboys, despite returning 16 players with at least five career starts and the best secondary in a league where the importance of defending the pass can't be overstated, still have some proving to do.
And let's be honest, with good reason.
Four other teams – Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU and Kansas State – picked up first-place nods. All return proven commodities and winners at quarterback, a must-have in this decade's Big 12.
Still, those teams face pressing issues, too, as does always-popular Texas, picked third in the Big 12 just behind the Sooners and Mountaineers and ahead of the Cowboys.
So is there room for the Cowboys to post a 2010-like run and make a bid for back-to-back conference championships?
Depends on how their pressing issues unfold.
Five to ponder:
5. Is there ample depth at cornerback?
In the event of an injury to either Brodrick Brown or Justin Gilbert, the Cowboys could be in a spot. Backups Jonovan Griffin, Larry Stephens and Miketavious Jones have hardly played.
Even those times when Brown and Gilbert need a blow could get sticky.
Barring injury, however, the Cowboys possess the best cornerback combination in the Big 12, perhaps the nation in Brown and Gilbert. Considering only those two, that's stout depth.
4. How much will the Cowboys miss Grant Garner, Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez on the offensive line?
By now, we should know that Joe Wickline will field an imposing group, something he's been doing since arriving as the underrated second half (along with Larry Fedora) of Gundy's combo hiring for his first staff. And Wickline and others have been touting the accruing talent on the offensive line, pointing to this rising crew as perhaps the best group yet.
Garner made all the line calls and will be missed, although Evan Epstein proved solid in the spring. Otherwise, there's enough stability returning with veterans Lane Taylor, Jonathan Rush and Michael Bowie to lead a next wave featuring Parker Graham, Daniel Koenig, Brandon Webb and others.
3. Will the Cowboys be good enough on the defensive front to take pressure off the linebackers and defensive backs?
For the first time in a long time, coaches are excited about not only their starters, but also the backups at tackle, a position where OSU has often been forced to make do with what was available.
Junior college transfer Calvin Barnett proved to be the real deal in the spring, giving the Cowboys a potential standout in the middle. And there's comfort ranging several players deep at both inside spots, with Davidell Collins, Anthony Rogers, Christian Littlehead, James Castleman and Mike Mustafa all offering promise.
OSU must replace Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones at the ends, leaving Cooper Bassett, Ryan Robinson, Nigel Nicholas, Tyler Johnson and Jimmy Bean to fill critical voids.
2. Are there enough quality wideouts, now that Justin Blackmon's not around to dominate?
Blackmon dictated game plans for both sides of the ball, dominating and defensive backs and creating opportunities for teammates. If the Cowboys have anything like him – and Blackmon didn't blossom out of nowhere until that 2010 year – he's not apparent yet.
The pressure's on Tracy Moore to finally produce on his teasing talent and by all accounts, he's ready. Josh Stewart should fill a major role from the slot and Charlie Moore was the talk of the spring. Isaiah Anderson offers steady production.
Watch for one of the true freshmen – C.J. Curry, Brandon Sheperd, Blake Webb, Jhajuan Seales, Austin Hays – to make a move.
1. Can true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt keep the Cowboys offense reasonably humming?
This is, after all, the issue, right?
Doubters lined up when Brandon Weeden replaced Zac Robinson in 2010, prompting the low expectations nationally. And we all know how that turned out.
Even then, Weeden was a confident, older quarterback with the benefit of a pro baseball background, not to mention mad skills. Lunt's been on campus 15 minutes, even with his early enrollment.
Clearly, Gundy and staff are impressed with the kid, who has added weight and passing zip through the summer. They believe he's got a chance to be great.
But so soon? Stories about true freshmen QBs leading championship charges are rare.