All the pieces were in place. Zac Robinson was the senior franchise quarterback who would eventually leave as the program's all-time leader in total offense. Kendall Hunter was the running back coming off the All-American season and ready to run past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Receiver Dez Bryant was the playmaker like no other, one that would eventually leave as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
Best of all, they'd be operating behind an experienced offensive line headlined by a four-year starter protecting Robinson's blind side, Russell Okung, who eventually was selected sixth in the NFL Draft.
The next in a line of triplets at Oklahoma State that have included greats like Barry Sanders, Rashaun Woods and Mike Gundy looked ready to compete for a Big 12 title -- maybe more.
But Hunter suffered an ankle injury early on and didn't look like the same back until the season's final game. Bryant was suspended for the season after the third game for lying to NCAA officials about a visit with Deion Sanders. Robinson suffered a shoulder injury and wasn't himself in a shutout loss to Oklahoma to close the regular season, when a win would have sent the Cowboys to a BCS bowl.
They settled for 2nd in the South, the highest finish ever for the program, and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.
This year, a new group of unsuspecting triplets have emerged.
Brandon Weeden, a 27-year-old first-time starter, leads the Big 12 in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns (his 26 are tied for No. 1 nationally) and passer rating. Hunter is better than ever as a senior, leading the Big 12 in rushing and ranking third nationally.
And Justin Blackmon, a sophomore with 20 career catches that no one outside the Big 12 had ever heard of before the season, has emerged as the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award and a possible Heisman finalist. He leads the nation in receiving yards per game by a wide margin, and is tied for the most touchdowns with 15.
Together, they have the No. 10 Cowboys (8-1) on top of the Big 12 South and in position to reach the Big 12 title game for the first time ever. With a win at Texas on Saturday, Oklahoma State would come home from Austin as winners for the first time in 11 tries since 1944.
"This is what you play for. Every game gets bigger as you go and this one is a big one," Weeden said.
Even an offensive line with four new starters has become a strength.
"I thought we had a pretty good product to work with," said new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. "You never know how kids are going to develop, but that’s why you get out there and practice every day and put guys in a position to improve."
The hype surrounding the team wasn't there when the season began, but attention on the Cowboys -- picked fifth in the Big 12 South in the preseason -- has grown as the wins have piled up.
"It’s only a factor if you start to listen to it," Gundy said. "I’ve said this for four or five weeks now. If you start to think you’re a pretty good player and that your team is better than they really are, you just need to look around the country every Saturday and you will see teams get knocked off. I’m a firm believer in that. We have some good players who have made a lot of good plays this year. And we have a good football team. But we’re not beyond practicing well and keeping the right frame of mind in order to win our football game."