Oklahoma State football: ESPN ranks Cowboys in early 2022 Top 10

ESPN released its way-too-early Top 25 rankings for the 2022 season, ranking Oklahoma State football at No. 9 overall.

The Cowboys are the highest ranked Big 12 team in the early preseason set of rankings, joined only by Baylor at No. 16 and Oklahoma at No. 17. Future Big 12 members, though, can be found throughout the list: Houston at No. 13, BYU at No. 18, and Cincinnati, fresh off its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance, at No. 19.

In an annual tradition following the conclusion of the national championship game, everyone began releasing their way-too-early rankings in the wake of Georgia’s first national title since 1980. The Bulldogs mounted a second-half comeback to defeat Alabama 33-18 in a rematch of the SEC championship a little more than a month before.

Oklahoma State football is the highest-ranked Big 12 team in ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25 rankings, coming in at No. 9 overall.

As of now, ESPN predicts that Alabama will defeat Ohio State to hoist the national championship trophy in January 2023.

For reference, the last time that the Cowboys were ranked this high in the preseason AP Top 25 was 2011, when OSU would go on to finish the season ranked No. 3 after a 12-1 season, a Big 12 title, and a Fiesta Bowl win against Stanford.

The only other time that OSU was ranked in the preseason AP Top 10 was just two years before that, before the 2009 season. Those Cowboys would go on to finish the season at 9-4, losing the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss. That 2009 squad was followed by two seasons in which the Cowboys won a combined 23 games, the most in a two-year span in school history.

Most issuing the way-too-early preseason rankings point to OSU’s strong defense (although facing a rebuild following the departures of several seniors and coordinator Jim Knowles) and Spencer Sanders, a veteran quarterback and the 2021 Big 12’s first-team quarterback, as the reasons to be bullish on the Cowboys in 2022.

In each the past three occasions in which a preseason AP poll has included the Cowboys in the Top 10, OSU has won at least 10 games. All three of these seasons have been under head coach Mike Gundy, who will enter his 18th season in charge in Stillwater.

In the past decade, the Cowboys have finished lower than their AP preseason ranking only twice — a preseason No. 10 ranking in 2017 ended with the No. 14 spot and a 10-3 record, while the No. 13 preseason ranking in 2013 ended also with a 10-3 record and the No. 17 position.

It’s hard to make what will happen at OU in the wake of former head coach Lincoln Riley’s sudden departure to USC (along with several highly touted recruits and perhaps star quarterback Caleb Williams). ESPN pegs the Trojans at No. 22 overall.

If the AP poll reflects this ESPN preseason poll, it will mark the second-lowest preseason ranking for OU in the last two decades. Since 2001, the Sooners have only been ranked lower than No. 17 once — in 2015, when OU finished 11-2 in Bob Stoops’ penultimate season in charge in Norman.