A long time ago, in a small Oklahoma town far, far away from Phoenix, a bunch of people told Oklahoma State it would finish fifth in something once known as the Big 12 South.
That was back in August 2010, 16 months ago.
Since then, Oklahoma State won a share of the Big 12 South with a whole lot of guys nobody outside Stillwater had ever heard of.
A three-star recruit with 20 career catches won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. A former walk-on won the nod as the Big 12's best quarterback. An offensive line with four new starters emerged as the Big 12's best.
That means this year, OSU won the Big 12 with a whole bunch of stars, including receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden and one of the nation's best position coaches, OSU offensive line coach Joe Wickline.
Before the season, OSU coach Mike Gundy reflected on that dream, 11-win season that served as a precursor to 2011, an even dreamier season capped by a win over Oklahoma, the first since 2002.
It happened, Gundy says, because of his system that had been in place for five years, with improvement each year serving as the proof that persuaded players to buy in.
"It allows us to perform better than we should when maybe we’re not as talented or we’re not as experienced," he said before beginning a year that ended with the school's first Big 12 title. "We didn’t have hardly any experience coming back last year, and we stuck with what we believed in, and I am somewhat convinced that that’s the reason we were able to start playing pretty good and have a productive year in somewhat of a rebuilding phase."
Well, guess what?
It's time to test that theory once again.
We know how 2011 will end: With 11 or 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win or loss. The Cowboys finish their season against Stanford on Monday night.
The bigger unknown?
... What will happen next year?
Weeden will be gone. Blackmon will be, too. The Cowboys' No. 2 target, Josh Cooper, will relinquish his title as one of the Big 12's most underrated players upon graduating. Three offensive linemen will end their college careers, too.
The defense will lose both defensive ends and its leader, safety Markelle Martin.
That system of Gundy's? It's time for another big test.
In his seventh season in Stillwater, Gundy has the rare distinction of equaling or improving on the previous year's win total in every single year.
Next season undoubtedly will be a rebuilding year, but so was 2010. What will it mean on the field?
The Cowboys will host a quarterback competition for the right to throw to a group of talented receivers nobody outside Stillwater, as in 2010, has ever heard of.
Recruiting has improved every year under Gundy, and we'll see how those new faces have fit into his burgeoning program.
This time next year, will Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or newcomer Wes Lunt be a household name and an All-Big 12 quarterback?
As in 2010, the Cowboys will have a solid running game to depend on. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns with a game still left to play. They'll both be back, as Kendall Hunter, a 2008 All-American, was in 2010.
This year, Oklahoma State proved it can get over the hump.
Next year, we'll find out whether the Cowboys are capable of staying on top.