Only a few months ago, Justin Blackmon was a rising sophomore with 20 career catches and some upside. Now, halfway through his second season of college football, he's the nation's leader in receiving yards (955) and touchdowns (12) who looks like a strong contender for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver.
"I don't think you ever predict a start like he's had," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "Six or eight months ago, after the Cotton Bowl, and then during spring, he had changed his work ethic, he bought in and really got an understanding of what it takes to have success at this level."
Blackmon -- whose starts have been full of highlight reel catches and scampers through the secondary -- has drawn comparisons to players like future Hall of Famer Randy Moss and former Oklahoma State star Dez Bryant.
He shrugs off those comparisons, insisting he's not at their level yet. He's not. But he's on the fast track to getting there.
"He's still hungry, which is a big concern when players have a lot of success early in the season."
Oklahoma State will need Blackmon's success to continue on Saturday, when the Cowboys take on the best pass defense in the country: No. 16 Nebraska. The Cowboys enter with an opportunity to pull the upset in a game most penciled in as a loss before the season began. The Huskers began the season in the top 10, while Oklahoma State, picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South, was supposedly bracing for a rebuilding year.
Replacing seven starters on offense, which Oklahoma State had to do after last season, is a lot easier when players like Blackmon are waiting for their turn.
"I just knew there was going to be an opportunity," Blackmon says of his renewed work ethic. "We really didn't have a solid, go-to receiver. It was just going to be open, and I knew there was going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays in this new offense we have."
Those chances don't look likely to slow. In new coordinator Dana Holgorsen's offense, the Cowboys lead the Big 12 in total offense, ranking second nationally. Only Arkansas and Hawaii have thrown for more yardage, and Blackmon's output is the biggest reason for the Cowboys' success through the air to date.
Add it all up, and the Cowboys sit 6-0 and rank No. 14.
"He has big play capability which can change a game," Gundy said. "And he has several times this year."
Blackmon's big play capability has earned the trust of quarterback Brandon Weeden, who's more than willing to toss a jump ball up to Blackmon, whether he's covered by one or two defenders. And more often than not, he's come down with it.
"That's something we've been working on throughout the spring and throughout the summer, and it's still building, and hopefully we can get more confidence throughout the season," Blackmon said.