Mike Holder admits to driving down summer roads, daydreaming. Imagine all kinds of football scenarios.
Victory over Oklahoma. Victory over Texas. Winning the Big 12 South. Winning the Big 12.
But not even OSU's Marlboro Man of an athletic director could have imagined this. All those glorious feats in such a transformational season.
The Cowboys in 2011 enter a bold new world. No divisions in the Big 12. A new frontier. A 10-team league that upon formation was accurately billed as an Oklahoma/Texas cartel.
What better way to enter than with a Big 12 trophy, or at least the South banner, or the Schooner's wagon wheels and Bevo's horns dangling from Bullet's rearview mirror?
All those carrots start with beating Texas on Saturday in Traffic City.
The Cowboys don't mathematically need to beat the Longhorns to win the South. But to walk into the new Big 12 with the broadest shoulders, beating the beleaguered 'Horns is mandatory. Beating them bad is even better.
â€œFor us to not say this is an important game would be crazy,â€ said Mike Gundy, who is 0-5 against both OU and Texas but who looks to be 1-5 against both by Thanksgiving Sunday.
â€œWe're starting to turn the corner. This would be good for our program.â€
Last summer, the future championship outlook for any school besides OU and Texas appeared dim. Beating both in the same year would seem to be required, but beating both in the same year was nigh impossible. No team has, since Mack Brown and Bob Stoops arrived on the Big 12 scene.
Suddenly, the Cowboys' program has accelerated. What appeared to be a rebuilding season now is in championship gear. OSU is favored by a virtual touchdown in Austin and figures to be a solid Bedlam favorite in two weeks in Stillwater.
â€œI wanted to go somewhere I could make a difference,â€ said State safety Markelle Martin. â€œIf I could beat Texas, it would be one of the great feelings in the world.â€
I've been writing for years that for the Big 12 to prosper, someone needed to challenge the Sooners and Longhorns. That someone needed to be Nebraska, and now that the Cornhuskers â€” titleless since the 1900s â€” are poised to do just that, off they're headed for the Big Ten.
Time for Missouri, we said. Where are you, A&M?
But into the void suddenly steps OSU. If the Cowboys win the Big 12, or at least knock off the OU/UT cartel, the league has a new look. It won't be King Kong, Godzilla and eight maids a milking.
â€œIt'd be huge, for recruiting and everything that goes into it,â€ said OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden. â€œObviously, Texas and Oklahoma have been staples. But we've liked our chances all along.â€
That's good solid optimism. That's how teams do stuff their predecessors never did. Belief.
But Holder, an athlete, coach or administrator at OSU since the 1960s, knows his history. He knows what an achievement it would be to win the South, to win the league, to sweep OU and Texas.
â€œI put all kinds of scenarios in my mind on how many games we can win,â€ Holder said. â€œBut games are a lot easier to win in the summertime.â€
Not so fast on that thinking. Not this transformational season, when Texas is gasping and OU looks vulnerable and Gundy's guys seem poised to proclaim their piece of the new-look Big 12.