The Associated Press announced its 2021 preseason Top 25 rankings, resulting in Oklahoma State football beginning the season unranked for third time in the last four years.
The Cowboys received 107 votes, the most of any team that did not appear in the Top 25 rankings. OSU came in just behind two Pac-12 teams, No. 24 Utah (176 votes) and No. 25 Arizona State (125 votes).
Three Big 12 schools received a 2021 preseason Top 25 ranking: No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 7 Iowa State, and No. 21 Texas. TCU and West Virginia also received votes, though with fewer than OSU.
Despite beginning the season as an unranked team several times under Gundy, Oklahoma State football has appeared in the AP Top 25 for 13 years in a row.
Oklahoma State has appeared in the AP Top 25 poll at some point in the season for each of the past 13 years. In more than half those years, the Cowboys cracked the Top 10, including a brief appearance as the nation’s No. 6-ranked team last season following a 24-21 win against then-No. 17 Iowa State.
In the grand scheme of things, preseason rankings matter very little. Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy will be the first to point out that there’s little point in ranking teams in August based on the previous year’s results and what you may think is happening in spring practices.
Maybe some coaches will use the strategy of “look, the whole world doubts you” to fire up an underrated team and give everyone a chip on their shoulder. That doesn’t seem as likely in Stillwater right now, given that some major polls do actually include the Cowboys as a ranked team heading into the 2021 season.
OSU has finished as a ranked Top 25 squad after beginning the season unranked on three separate occasions under Gundy — in 2008, 2010, and 2015. Each of those Cowboys squads spent time in the Top 10 before finishing lower, at No. 16, No. 13, and No. 20, respectively.
The biggest reality for the Cowboys, though, is that this football program doesn’t tend to handle high preseason expectations well. For a team that does well surprising people and flying under the radar, Gundy and the Cowboys are just as fine beginning the season unranked.
The College Football Playoff Committee doesn’t bother convening until more than halfway through the fall, and they’ll have plenty of data and game action on which to base their results and determine the country’s four best teams by the end of the regular season.
It’s highly likely that someone above OSU will slip up in the first two weeks of the season, during which the Cowboys will be the heavily favored home team against two non-conference foes, Missouri State and Tulsa. True, the Golden Hurricane are greatly improved and return plenty of talent from last year’s 6-3 squad that played the Cowboys close, but Tulsa hasn’t beaten OSU in the teams’ last eight meetings.
OSU faces a somewhat daunting road trip to Boise before beginning Big 12 play, but Gundy and the Cowboys have a solid non-conference record, especially against non-power conference opponents.
Recent history says that OSU will ascend into the Top 25, and perhaps even into the Top 10 at some point this season. What seems unrealistic or downright preposterous in mid-August has a habit of quickly turning its head, as recent seasons can show us.
All signs point to OSU’s 14th season in a row of cracking the AP Top 25. After that, it’s anybody’s guess, but it’s not unthinkable for this Cowboys squad behind the improved play under center from third-year starter Spencer Sanders to become this year’s version of Iowa State.