August 24, 2010

Under the Radar?

Even though less than two weeks remain before the first game of the season, it doesn't feel like Oklahoma State football is just around the corner.

But it is. Just without all the pomp, circumstance and pre-season hype.

Only 11 days to go before the opener against Washington State, but there isn't a peep about the Cowboys nationally and maybe only three or four peeps within the walls of the 46th state. While the core fan base is excited about OSU football, outside of those loyal and true types, OSU largely seems to be an afterthought in the pre-season minds of pundits, media types and opposing fans.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. After some of the big-name losses, it's natural for outsiders to look at the returning roster sans big names and think "Eh, they'll be down this year."

Flash back to this time a year ago. Top 10 ranking. Sports Illustrated covers. ESPN talk. A darkhorse Big 12 title combatant. Lots of buzz around Stillwater and questions about just how far that bunch would go in 2009. The answer was nine wins, an embarrassing finish to the season in the Cotton Bowl and off-field distractions related to Dez Bryant.

Last year's Soup de Jour , Oklahoma State enters the 2010 campaign with little fanfare or recognition. Sure, the storylines of Kendall Hunter aiming for a comeback and old man "I remember the first President Bush" Brandon Weeden are nice, but nothing worthy of talking head promotion on the national TV outlets. This year, many of those types figure OSU is a 5- or 7-win club. And they might be right - but that's just going off preconceived, pre-season notions.

The fact is, the Pokes might only be a 5- or 7-win club in 2010. Installing a new offense and replacing an offensive line make it tough for anyone on the outside to predict accurately. To them, a bowl trip might seem like a giant accomplishment. And, who knows, it could very well be.

This season.

But on the whole, OSU football has grown above and beyond such hopes. Time was, shooting for 6-6 and a bowl bid was a big deal - and it wasn't all that long ago, either. But the program is on much more stable ground now - arguably more stable than it has ever been before. The massive leap in the facilities race, the big step up in overall player talent, the seasoning and improvement of the coaching staff - OSU seems to be on the verge of something very bright in the long-term.

Which is the entire point. If this year is a bit of a step back, it's not a big deal in the grand scheme, 30,000-foot view of things.

But here's the crazy thing: a "down" year for OSU might never be what past downs years were like. What if the new norm for down years is seven wins? This year's team could certain reach that win total in the regular season, so long as something zany doesn't happen, like Tulsa winning in Stillwater for the first time since 1951.

While OSU isn't on the radar of many right now, that's not entirely a bad thing. At the team's media day, many players responded with great anticipation to questions about how they felt about being basically ignored in the press this season. They seemed excited and un-bothered by the prospects. Some even relished the thought of being in the position of being unknowns and surprising folks. And hey, the team could have five wins right out of the gate, so the ability to build momentum early could translate to a surprising season by the end of November.

So the Cowboys don't have the pub coming into this season. So what? This can be a positive. There will be little early pressure and the team can acclimate to the new situation and allow time for new starters and the new offense to gel some.

Ultimately, this time of year is the most interesting, because the possibilities are endless - even if the pundits aren't talking about your squad.

Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be contacted via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.
Follow him on Twitter! @JWilOSI


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