When Les Miles left Oklahoma State for LSU in 2005, Mike Gundy returned to Stillwater to take the reins. Gundy’s tenure at his alma mater has largely been a success. He’s appeared in nine bowl games, accumulated nine consecutive winning seasons and has won more games than any Oklahoma State head coach.
The Cowboys were college football’s youngest team in 2014, one of the reasons why they finished just 7-6. However, they also showed enough promise to give fans reason to be optimistic about this season. Oklahoma State took defending national champion Florida State down to wire before losing by six points in the season opener, defeated in-state rival Oklahoma and capped the season with a 30-22 Cactus Bowl win over Washington.
The road to the 2015 College Football Playoff for the Cowboys is littered with obstacles, as they will face Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU this season. But 11 returning starters on offense, and nine on defense, gives Oklahoma State a trove of depth as Gundy attempts to win his second Big 12 championship (2011).
Here now is a look at Oklahoma State’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup:
12. Sept. 12 vs. Central Arkansas
FCS member Central Arkansas travels to Stillwater in Week 2. Central Arkansas opened the 2014 season at Texas Tech and nearly pulled off the upset, losing 42-35. While Oklahoma State shouldn’t have any difficulty grabbing the win, this one could be closer than the Cowboys want it to be.
11. Sept. 19 vs. UTSA
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker’s UTSA squad traveled to Stillwater last September and suffered a 30-point loss. This time around shouldn’t be any different. Although this will be the third time UTSA faces Oklahoma State in as many years, it won’t be the charm as the Cowboys should easily notch their third win of the season.
10. Sept. 3 (Thursday) at Central Michigan
Central Michigan cut bait with head coach Dan Enos following a 7-6 season and hired alumnus John Bonamego in February. Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush – who tossed seven touchdowns in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl last December – returns, but won’t have much help as the Chippewas must replace a number of offensive starters. Oklahoma State, 67-41-5 in season openers, will play spoiler in Mount Pleasant and begin the season with a win.
9. Oct. 24 vs. Kansas
New year, new look for Kansas. This offseason, Kansas athletic director Dr. Sheahon Zenger brought in former Texas A&M wide receivers coach David Beaty to replace Charlie Weis and revive a sputtering Kansas program that has won just 12 games since 2010.
Kansas played Oklahoma State close in Lawrence last year before falling 27-20. Don’t expect the same results for this year’s contest, which happens to fall on Homecoming in Stillwater. The Pokes should win big and push their all-time Homecoming record to 51-36-7.
8. Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Depending on who you ask, this game could be a must-win for Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads by the time these teams meet. Gundy has gone 5-2 against Iowa State in his career, with one of the losses coming in double overtime in Ames in 2011. The loss knocked then-second-ranked Oklahoma State from national title contention. That game was played under somber circumstances, as a plane crash the night before claimed the lives of two Oklahoma State women’s basketball coaches and two others.
Iowa State, which failed to win a Big 12 game last year, will have its hands full. The Cowboys shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the win.
7. Oct. 31 at Texas Tech
Texas Tech came close to stealing a road win against Oklahoma State last season, but quarterback Daxx Garman’s (who transferred to Maryland this offseason) five-touchdown day proved too much to overcome as the Cowboys won 45-35.
Texas Tech, winners of four games last season, should be much improved as head coach Kliff Kingsbury enters year three of his tenure. If the Red Raiders are to beat the Cowboys, they’ll have to cut down on the number of penalties (16) and interceptions (3) they accumulated in last year’s game.
6. Sept. 26 at Texas
The Longhorns defeated the Cowboys 28-7 in Stillwater last season to snag Charlie Strong’s sixth win in his first season leading Texas. Oklahoma State found itself in a 19-0 hole, as Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes shelled the Cowboys' defense for 305 yards and two touchdowns while the offense could muster just 192 yards of its own.
Winning in Austin is never an easy task. This promises to be an enticing early-season matchup as Strong will look to go 2-0 against Gundy.
5. Oct. 10 at West Virginia
Many in Stillwater were sad to see former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen take his high-powered offense to West Virginia as its new offensive coordinator in December 2010. The Mountaineers named him head coach in June 2011 to replace Bill Stewart. Since then, Holgorsen has gone 2-1 against his former school, beating Oklahoma State 34-10 in Stillwater in 2014.
West Virginia was one of college football’s mysteries last season, as it handed Baylor its lone regular-season loss, yet dropped a game at Texas. Holgorsen’s squad could give Oklahoma State fits this go round in Morgantown.
4. Oct. 3 vs. Kansas State
In 2014, Oklahoma State scored on its opening possession against the Wildcats to take a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats answered with a kickoff return for a touchdown and never looked back, as Kansas State cruised to a 48-14 victory.
Kansas State must replace offensive sparkplug Jake Waters at quarterback, along with his favorite target, wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats return six defensive starters and the unit should be the strength of this year’s team. The Pokes under Gundy have won their last three home games against Kansas State.
3. Nov. 28 vs. Oklahoma
Oklahoma State welcomes bitter rival Oklahoma to the house that T. Boone Pickens built to close out the regular season. The Cowboys defeated the Sooners 38-35 in overtime last year. The win was Gundy’s first in Norman.
The Sooners get the Cowboys a week after traveling to Baylor and a week before TCU, which could play in Oklahoma State's favor. Oklahoma returns six starters on offense and six on defense, including sophomore sensation running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman. The Bedlam Series has gone into overtime in two of the last three years.
2. Nov. 7 vs. TCU
Simply put, the Horned Frogs will be a tough out. In 2014, TCU racked up 415 passing yards and 676 yards of total offense in a 42-9 rout of the Cowboys in Fort Worth. And with 10 returning starters on offense, this year’s TCU team is just as good and will play with a chip on its shoulder after being turned away from the inaugural College Football Playoff last season.
TCU has dropped its last three games in Stillwater, but that streak should end this year as Oklahoma State won’t be able to keep up with an uber-talented Horned Frogs team.
1. Nov. 21 vs. Baylor
Like TCU, Baylor will play this season with a Texas-sized chip on its shoulder, as the Bears also were excluded from the College Football Playoff. And like TCU, Baylor hung more than 40 points on the Cowboys last year. The good news for Cowboys’ fans is this: 1939 is the last time Baylor has won in Stillwater. While Oklahoma State has a slight edge in the series (19-14), Baylor is closing the gap.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell replaces Bryce Petty and he will have an arsenal of weapons to complement a defense that returns nine starters. Baylor should have little problem against the Cowboys in the next-to-last week of the regular season for Oklahoma State.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.