Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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College football odds, bets: Why Oklahoma State is undervalued as a Big 12 championship contender

There’s just something about playing underdog that Mike Gundy seems to love, no matter how much he wins. Oklahoma State was picked seventh in last season’s Big 12 preseason poll. Months later, the Pokes upset Oklahoma in the final Bedlam and played for a Big 12 championship. The Cowboys have reached double-digit wins eight times under Gundy’s watch. Half came after starting the year unranked in the preseason AP Top 25. 

But in 2024, the lack of attention is head-scratching. Oklahoma State has the seventh-best odds to win the Big 12 championship, behind teams like Iowa State and Texas Tech. The Cowboys are tied with UCF, which went 6-7 during a frustrating first season as a power conference team. Ironically, the only Knights win against a legacy Power Five team came against OSU. 

Granted, Oklahoma State was by no means dominant during its run to the Big 12 title game. Bizarre losses to UCF and South Alabama came by a combined 78-10. The Cowboys needed double overtime to survive a late charge from BYU. But still, Oklahoma State steadily held its ground. Heading into 2024, last season feels far more like an early arrival than a peak. 

For one, running back Ollie Gordon II is back after a Doak Walker Award-winning campaign. Gordon rushed for 1,732 yards and 21 touchdowns during a breakout sophomore season and will enter the 2024 season as the top returning rusher in the sport by a wide margin. 247Sports ranks his offensive line No. 1 in the nation, ahead of behemoths at LSU and Georgia. The unit boasts five starters, including tackles Dalton Cooper and Jake Springfield who combine for 89 starts. 

Overall, Oklahoma State ranks No. 3 in returning production nationally per ESPN, trailing only Iowa State and Stanford. An absurd 85% of production returns to college football with playmakers at almost every level. Defensive lineman Collin Oliver is a potential first-round draft pick to lead the unit. Quarterback Alan Bowman was able to wrangle yet another year of eligibility in 2024. The Pokes reached Big 12 contention only once Bowman fully took over under center. 

While returning production is no guarantee of success, it does set a baseline. Last season, Florida State, Kansas and Michigan were the three top Power Five teams in returning production. Those teams combined to go 37-5 and each put together their best seasons in at least a decade. 

By the way, the greatest stumbling block is gone. Gundy lost 15 games against Oklahoma, which represents nearly 20% of his career losses. Now, the Cowboys have eternal scoreboard and Gundy never has to worry about Oklahoma ever again. It should be a huge weight off his shoulders heading forward. 

It must be said, a non-Oklahoma team has ridden close-game luck to the Big 12 title game essentially every year since it returned in 2017. History is paved with horror stories of their follow-up seasons. There was 2023 TCU, which went from the national title game to missing a bowl game. One year earlier, Baylor went from a Sugar Bowl victory to a losing record. Iowa State also fell from a regular season first-place Big 12 finish in 2020 to a disappointing 7-6 campaign. 

However, there are a few pieces that help crack the code of a successful Mike Gundy team. For one, experience at quarterback helps. All eight of Gundy’s 10-win seasons came under multi-year starters. A superstar wide receiver helps too — and Brennan Presley is back to take that role. Defensively, the middle of the pack is good enough. That will take some improvement from Bryan Nardo’s unit but it is possible. 

Also, low expectations don’t hurt. Since 2009, Oklahoma State has been picked top 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 six times. Five times, the Pokes finished lower in the final poll, including two unranked finishes. The only exception was during the historic 2011 season. 

Simply put, all the pieces are in place for another Mike Gundy special, despite the shockingly long odds. Then again, I doubt Oklahoma State is too worried about getting overlooked. It’s how the Cowboys live best. 

10-win seasons under Mike Gundy

Year Record Preseason AP Rank Final AP Rank Quarterback (Year)

2023

10-4

Unranked

16

Alan Bowman (1st)

2021

12-2

Unranked

7

Spencer Sanders (3rd)

2017

10-3

10

14

Mason Rudolph (3rd)

2016

10-3

21

11

Mason Rudolph (2nd)

2015

10-3

Unranked

20

Mason Rudolph (1st)

2013

10-3

13

17

Clint Chelf (2nd)

2011

12-1

9

3

Brandon Weeden (2nd)

2010

11-2

Unranked

13

Brandon Weeden (1st)

 Oklahoma State when preseason ranked

Year Record Preseason AP Rank Final AP Rank

2022

7-6

12

Unranked

2020

8-3

15

20 (-5)

2017

10-3

10

14 (-4)

2016 10-3 21 11 (+10)

2013

10-3

13

17 (-4)

2012 8-5 19 Unranked

2011

12-1

9

3 (+6)

2009

9-4

9

Unranked

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