November 30, 2007
Looking back at 2007
A year later, the same regular season mark.
Year three of the Mike Gundy era in Orange Country was up-and-down, with twists and turns that no one could have seen coming. Gundy a YouTube All-Star? Zac Robinson starting at quarterback? That same player killing all debate with his stellar on-field play? A couple of crazy wins? A couple of blown leads? Competing for the Big 12 South title deep into November? This season had just about everything you could imagine.
Aside from a winning record, of course. Mind you, the Cowboys had their chances at reaching that plateau. So, in that respect, the 6-6 finish was a disappointment because everyone in orange - from donors to normal fans, from the athletic department heads to the coaching staff - expected more than was produced on the field.
Even so, 2007 was still one of progress. Does that make this year's 6-6 better than last year's pre-bowl .500 record?
In short, I'll say yes.
To understand where I'm coming from on this, you have to step back and look at history and trends that OSU football has dealt with over the years. You also have to temper your enthusiasm and expectations for a program in the midst of a long-term construction project. Not only is the program trying to overcome the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, but it's also trying to exorcise the ghosts of the past and the decades of neglect it has endured.
In taking a close look at both the 2006 and 2007 outcomes, there is progress being made in Stillwater. The major difference? The schedule. It was just so much more difficult. In terms of winning percentage, OSU played the toughest schedule in the nation this year according to the NCAA. Think about it: The Pokes played four teams who have an argument to make it to a BCS game this bowl season. Oklahoma has a chance to make one if they win the Big 12 this weekend, while Texas was in prime position for an at-large bid before losing to Texas A&M. Kansas should be a lock for a BCS since it has only one loss and is done playing. And Georgia too looks to be a BCS game lock since the Bulldogs are No. 4 in the latest rankings. Factor that in and throw in a trap road game at Troy and other road jaunts at Texas A&M, Nebraska (tons of bad history to overcome there) and Oklahoma and you've got a much more difficult slate than in 2006.
Should OSU have won more than six games this season? Looking back, absolutely. The Texas Two-Step losses to the Aggies and Longhorns were sure-fire wins that melted down into losses and introduced the "Poke Choke" to a whole new generation of fans in orange. The loss to Troy shouldn't have happened and was a flat-out embarrassment. But the Trojans just wanted it more and the Cowboys weren't mentally ready for the game. So yeah, the Cowboys could/should have had a nine-win season, in retrospect.
But hindsight is always easy. Could you honestly look ahead then and try to find nine wins? Depending on just how thick the orange tint on your glasses are, I suppose so. Back in August, where exactly did you honestly look for the victories to come from? Before the season, the only games OSU was believed to be an absolute lock to win were Florida Atlantic, Sam Houston State, Kansas and Baylor. All the rest were pick'em games (Troy, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Kansas State) or contests where no one had high expectations of winning (Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma). Or shouldn't have, anyway. So, looking at it broken down that way, the Pokes were 3-1 in the "lock" games, 3-2 in the "pick" games and 0-3 in the "low expectations" games.
What's all that mean? In my opinion, OSU basically beat the teams they should have and lost to the teams they should have and split the 50-50 contests. If KU doesn't go all-world out of the blue, OSU likely has a winning record right now. But that's the beautiful thing about college football: you just never know what can happen sometimes.
The cold, honest truth is this: The Cowboys just aren't at the top of the mountain yet. The program is very average and has a long way to go. When you ignore a program for as long as OSU did, you can't expect to compete for the Big 12 South just yet. The fact that the Pokes got into that situation this year was half skill and half luck, as UT and OU did impressions of the Keystone Cops at times, keeping the South race competitive longer than it should have been. And, while this might sound like a chapter of the moral victory handbook, the Cowboys are losing games a lot better and a lot more competitively than they used to. While the Bedlam game this year got ugly at the end, OSU hung with the Sooners for three quarters before things got out of hand. As for the Troy game? Well, it was a debacle. But the fact that OSU has only been blown out thrice the past two seasons is a major sign of progress. That 2003 season everyone is so fond of remembering featured two blowouts in as many weeks.
It's not coming as quickly as most would like, but OSU is getting better. A six-win season isn't acceptable in Stillwater anymore - which is a good thing. But the higher expectations need to come with a giant dash of reality, as the OSU football program can't go from the outhouse to the penthouse in a few short years. Fans that have dealt with decades of horrible football should be willing to be patient and wait out the completion of some amazing facilities before wanting to run a coaching staff out of town for a second-straight bowl season - something which had only been accomplished 15 times in the 104 seasons before the current coaches arrived.
Feel free to fret about the near-misses this year. But remember the big blowouts and embarrassing losing seasons of the past and keep in mind the future looks to be bright and is almost here.
Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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