STILLWATER — The scene at Boone Pickens Stadium before Oklahoma State's Bedlam showdown against Oklahoma on Saturday night will mirror many pregame ceremonies that take place around college football this time of year.
The OSU seniors will be introduced individually as they run out of the tunnel. They will hug their families and coaches. The fans will show their thanks with loud cheers.
But this group of 16 seniors should be remembered differently. These Cowboys, the most successful class in school history, will go down as the group that spearheaded the rise of the OSU football program.
A four-year record of 39-11, with two more victories still possible. Four bowl games. A program-best 11 wins in 2010. And a historic 2011 season that could be capped with the school's first Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth with a victory over OU.
“That's pretty special in itself,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said.
Yes, Boone Pickens' lofty donation gave OSU the facilities it desperately needed. Yes, Gundy and his staff have built a program that has attracted and developed talent. But players ultimately win games and drive the success of a football program, and these Cowboys have delivered.
Brandon Weeden is the school's most prolific passer (8,644 yards, 72 touchdowns), an undisputed leader and the face and voice of the program.
Josh Cooper, always overshadowed by superstar receiver Justin Blackmon, will finish his career ranked in the top 5 in OSU history in catches and has an NFL future.
Grant Garner, Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez have anchored an offensive line that has allowed only 21 sacks over the past two seasons, and Garner and Adcock have performed at an All-Big 12 level.
Jamie Blatnick is a story of redemption. Richetti Jones is a story of emotional and spiritual leadership. Markelle Martin's story is filled with ferocious hits.
Colton Chelf and Casey LaBrue started as walk-ons and earned a scholarship for their final season. Wilson Youman was willing to become an old-school, two-way player if that was his best way to help the team.
But the impact of the seniors has gone even deeper, Gundy said.
“More importantly than anything, what we ask our players to do is to leave some sort of mark on the program and the players that are younger than them,” Gundy said. “And they've done that. You go down the list, they're class individuals.”
OSU is set up to win for years to come because of the talent returning. But these seniors are who helped build and sustain elite success, and there's no doubt the younger players learned plenty from the veterans.
The seniors will leave the OSU program in much better shape than when they arrived and are poised to finish their careers with the best season in school history.
Can't ask for much more than that.