The USA Today Coaches Poll just released its preseason Top 25 rankings for the 2021 football season, which were loaded with the most familiar names at the top: Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State.
While none of these four teams will raise any eyebrows as the ones that most pundits expect to advance to the College Football Playoff this at this point in the preseason, Oklahoma State football fans might take note of their team’s spot: No. 22 in the nation, sandwiched between the No. 21 Washington Huskies and the No. 23 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Oklahoma State football head coach Mike Gundy deserves the most credit for the Cowboys’ No. 22 preseason ranking in USA Today Coaches Poll.
Many national publications have shied away from naming the Cowboys as a Top 25 team entering this upcoming season. From Fox Sports and Athlon Sports to ESPN and CBS, most folks don’t seem to be too high on head coach Mike Gundy and OSU at this point.
On paper, it makes sense to have lower expectations from OSU this year. Its two biggest offensive playmakers, wideout Tylan Wallace and running back Chuba Hubbard, are gone to the NFL. Its offensive tackle was the Big 12’s first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, going early in the second round to the Chicago Bears.
In addition, a few mainstays from the improved defense departed, including defensive back Rodarius Williams and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga.
Other college football coaches from the around the nation, though, have a more optimistic view of what the Cowboys are capable this season.
Starting quarterback Spencer Sanders has had an improved spring practice, which will hopefully limit game-altering turnovers this fall. The offensive line is healthier than last year, too, which won’t force Sanders into as many uncomfortable throwing situations.
But, the biggest credit for this preseason Top 25 ranking goes to Gundy. He’s built a winning culture in Stillwater and maintained a stable program for more than a decade, including helping several assistant coaches and coordinators move on to other Division I head coaching spots.
He’s won 137 games, making him the winningest coach in school history. The Midwest City High School graduate was also just named to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame earlier this summer.
Gundy’s experience has shown, too, in his development of his players and how he represents the university when speaking to boosters, fans, and the media. He should still grow back the mullet, of course, even if it would contain some streaks of gray.
Gundy, however, might prefer that OSU be overlooked to begin the season.
OSU tends to wilt in the face of high expectations under its iconic head coach. A lofty preseason ranking means very little when you’ve lost a string of games in November or a close game to mediocre conference foe.
Last year’s Cowboys began at preseason No. 16 in the Coaches Poll and finished the season at No. 19, which isn’t too far off. In many other instances, such as 2012, 2013, 2017, and 2018, a ranked Cowboys squad according to the coaches finished the year ranked at a lower spot or outside of the Top 25 altogether.
On the flip side of that, Gundy and the Cowboys tend to perform at their best when they are doubted. It’s best for the Pokes to begin the year with a chip on their shoulder, despite what a compilation of 65 other FBS head coaches may think of this year’s bunch.