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How Does Oklahoma State Fare Historically After Milestone Years?

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Championship-Baylor vs Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State was a surprise player in the college football landscape in 2021. From narrowly escaping Missouri State and Tulsa in weeks one and two to being potentially one inch away from the College Football Playoff, the Cowboys eventually put together one of the best years in program history, finishing 12-2 on the season.

It was a milestone year for Mike Gundy’s squad, but as we inch closer to next fall where OSU will have a fair amount of preseason hype, what does history tell us about how the Pokes might fare in 2022 following such an impressive season that saw a plethora of key pieces leave?

 

The answer is actually quite promising. Oklahoma State has had ten total ten-plus-win seasons in its program’s history. In years following seasons that saw OSU win ten or more games, the Cowboys have had a combined record of 76-37. Only four times have they repeated ten-win seasons; 1987-1988, 2010-2011, 2015-2016 and then again in 2017.

The 1988 Cowboys followed up their 10-2, 1987 season with a record-setting Heisman campaign from Barry Sanders that saw the team win ten games consecutively for the first time ever. 1989 was a different story, however, as Oklahoma State finished 4-7 after posting a combined 20-4 the previous two seasons.

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The 1989 season kickstarted what would become a forgettable era of Oklahoma State football in the 90s. It wouldn’t be until the late 2000s that the program climbed back to the success found in the Sanders age.

After OSU completed its, at that point, best season in school history in 2010 going 11-2, Mike Gundy one-upped himself with a 12-1 campaign in 2011. The Cowboys peaked at No. 2 in the AP poll and capped off with a Fiesta Bowl win over third-ranked Stanford, undoubtedly improving upon the season prior.

 

A year removed from the new best season in school history saw Oklahoma State fail to reach the heights that the previous squad did, as the team went 8-5 in 2012 and only got as high as No. 18 in the polls. Not as drastic of a dropoff as the 1989 season, but still a dropoff nonetheless.

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It wouldn’t take the program long to get to their winning ways, as a year later in 2013, OSU won ten games again and made it as high as No. 6 in the polls before making it to the Cotton Bowl. Two New Year’s Six bowl games in three years was a major milestone for the program and would likely get you laughed at if you went back in time and told fans of the past.

Pokes fans were riding high and enjoying the best stretch of Cowboy football in the program’s existence. That was until 2014 showed us that reloading is not as easy as Alabama or Oklahoma make it seem. 

 

The Pokes were one Bob Stoops decision to punt out of bounds away from missing a bowl game entirely, with a Bedlam win and Cactus Bowl victory over Washington just getting them to seven wins by the skin of their teeth. Fortunately, similar to 2012, it would not take long for the team to start winning again.

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The final example stretches four seasons of consistent winning before a moderate decline. OSU got right back to winning ten games in 2015, posting a 10-3 record in Mason Rudolph’s first year starting at quarterback.

Only this time, the Cowboys didn’t fall off after winning games. They went 10-3 again in 2016, then again in 2017, going 30-9 through three seasons. 

Cowboys fans had truly never experienced a stretch like this. Six ten-win seasons in eight years?! Nothing could stop the program’s momentum now!

2018: 7-6. Another steep decline after years of consistency. A year commonly referred to as the “Corn Dog year,” OSU, similarly to 2014, barely snatched a bowl bid in a season that was anything but consistent.

It speaks to the work Mike Gundy has done with this program that a winning record of 7-6 is considered a bad year for the team, when any Pokes fans that witnessed anything prior to the 2000s regularly endured losing season after losing season that spanned the better part of a century. 

By today’s standards, a 7-6 dropoff would be looked at as a fireable offense for Mike Gundy, which is ironic given the fact that Gundy is the reason the standard has been raised so high for the program. 

All in all, I honestly can’t tell you what Oklahoma State will look like this fall. Based on history, the Pokes could either go 7-6 and barely make the postseason, or coast off of the success of last year and continue to win at an elite level. We’ll have to wait and see what Mike Gundy has up his sleeve in year 18.

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