Is Oklahoma State the new Auburn?
Calm down, Cowboys fans. This is actually meant mostly as a compliment – Auburn in the mid-2000s, not as the mess it has devolved to since winning the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
The links are actually greater than some might think.
Over the last five years, the Cowboys have won 49 games. That number is higher than any other five-year period in program history. Even by winning percentage, the last five years for Oklahoma State have been about as good as any other period. (The period of 1984-88 featured a winning percentage hundredths of points greater than the one from 2008-12.)
Then-coach Tommy Tuberville lifted the Tigers to a level of consistent play toward the top of the SEC. From 2003-07, media members could simply pencil Auburn toward the top of the SEC. It disappointed in ’03, nearly leading to Tuberville’s dismissal, before going undefeated but getting shut out of the national championship game in 2004.
Much like Auburn in ’04, Oklahoma State thought it deserved a shot at the national championship game in 2011. The Cowboys went 11-1 that regular season, but the BCS preferred an LSU-Alabama rematch to a battle between arguably the sport’s best offense against a dominant LSU defense. Also like Auburn in 2004, Oklahoma State had to hold on to win a very competitive BCS game that year.
In moving toward the top of the league, Auburn took advantage of some traditional powers – Alabama and Florida to name a couple – being down. Florida didn’t really come all the way back until 2006. The Crimson Tide found itself frozen in mediocrity until 2008.
Similarly, Oklahoma State has enjoyed a rare, non-dominant few years from Oklahoma and Texas.
Then, of course, there is the natural comparison of Oklahoma and Alabama being the wildly popular in-state programs with Oklahoma State and Auburn holding steady as strong programs but missing on the greatest level of in-state prominence.
Similarities continue at the coaching position.
At the root of the Auburn program was a coach – Tuberville – who was rumored to go elsewhere seemingly every offseason. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has been in the same boat in recent years.
The last offseason saw Arkansas, Tennessee and, coincidentally, Auburn, express interest in Gundy.
“To a certain extent, at times I wish that my name wouldn’t have come up or I wish that it wouldn’t have been as much smoke or fire,” Gundy said. “At times I’m to blame for that.”
Gundy ultimately went on to say he is “very happy” at Oklahoma State, though he added that he intentionally doesn’t use “I” with the program to prevent it from being about one person. In other words, don’t expect the rumors to disappear just like that.
Oklahoma State’s turn at Big 12 Media Days came and went. Quietly, for the most part.
The media picked the Cowboys to win the Big 12.
“I know that it won’t have any effect on our season, but I do think it means a lot to Oklahoma State that people feel comfortable in saying that we’re good enough to have the opportunity to win a conference championship.”
Auburn had a similar situation in 2006, when the media picked the Tigers to win the SEC. They gave it a run, even beating a strong LSU program early in the season. However, home losses to Arkansas and Georgia ultimately derailed any realistic hopes of a championship (of any kind).
The Tigers watched their window to win a national championship close under Tuberville with only one conference title.
Now we find out if Oklahoma State can avoid a similar pitfall and break through before time runs out on what has been a prolonged period of winning.