Ever since Mike Gundy came back to be the offensive coordinator behind Les Miles at his alma mater in 2001, where he took over as head coach in 2005, he's been part of a revolution throughout the college football landscape.
His uptempo, spread offense is the new trend on Saturdays, and one that looks like it's here to stay. Since 2005, Gundy has won 77 games overall (8.5 wins per season) and 45 games in the Big 12. He's lived up to the standard that his predecessor, Miles, set at the school.
Gundy's success with the Cowboys was capitalized in 2011, when the school won the Big 12 outright then beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Had Oklahoma State not slipped up early last season to a 4-7 West Virginia team on the road, their season finale against Oklahoma State would've had national title implications.
A national championship is next on Gundy's to-do list in Stillwater. That's certainly a lofty goal, but in the new age of the College Football Playoff, it's more attainable. Especially since OSU plays in the Big 12, where there is no championship game that could knock off the conference's best team in the last week of the season, vis-a-vis Ohio State in 2013.
So for Oklahoma State, as it with any Big 12 team for that matter, the mission is simple. Win the Big 12 in emphatic fashion, and you should earn a bid to the College Football Playoff for a chance to play for a national title.
The problem for the Cowboys, one that has been for the past few years even when they've been one of the nation's elite, is their consistency.
Last season, they had a chance to seal up the Big 12 title with a win over Oklahoma. Instead, they got manhandled 33-24 at Boone Pickens Stadium. That opened the door for Baylor's conference title and subsequent Fiesta Bowl berth.
That wasn't the only slip up last year. As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys started the Big 12 season 0-1 after losing to a bad West Virginia team.
In 2011, the Cowboys went into Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. There was just a game against Iowa State and Oklahoma left between them and a bid to the BCS Championship.
Instead of making easy work of a 5-4 Cyclones squad, the Cowboys instead lost a heartbreaker in double overtime that all but ended Oklahoma State's bid for a national title.
Oklahoma State went on to thump rival Oklahoma in the Bedlam game that secured a Big 12 title and sent the students rushing the field. But that season is forever marred by that one loss to Iowa State.
The Cowboys slipped up next year, going just 8-5 and losing three of the four games they played against ranked teams by an average margin of over 12 points.
Gundy has to find a way to make the Cowboys play at a more consistent level if he wants to check off a national championship from his wish list.
And it starts with the signal-caller. After Brandon Weeden left, Gundy's relied on the shaky efforts of Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Gundy did sign South Carolina native Mason Rudolph, a 4-star pro-style quarterback, according to 247sports. But he'll have to dethrone Walsh to get the starting job this spring.
Next, Gundy needs to be able to field a more potent defense. The Cowboys ranked just 46th in total defense last season, and 48th the year prior. The Cowboys also lose Calvin Barnett, Shaun Lewis and Justin Gilbert from last year's squad, all of whom were big time players on the defensive side of the ball.
Oklahoma State will have to find a way to replace those guys if they want to compete for a Big 12 title and a berth into the inaugural CFB Playoff.
But Gundy knows how to make something out of seemingly nothing. His recruiting classes are littered with mostly 3-star guys, but he still routinely wins 10 or more games a year. 247sports lists Oklahoma State's 2014 class as just the 28th best in the nation, with no 5-star guys and only five 4-stars.
Expectations are always high in Stillwater. When you have an oil tycoon that donates millions to improve the state of the program, expecting to be among the elite teams in the nation is certainly justifiable.
But everything starts with Gundy. If he can find a high-quality quarterback, a suitable defense and a more consistent effort from his squad week in and week out, that goal of bringing home that crystal ball to Stillwater can become a reality.
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