Big 12: 120615 Rising Programs

If we're going to be technical about this, Oklahoma State broke through last season, winning its first Big 12 title and a bushel of respect in the process.

Just a few months later, the questions are out. The doubts are fresh.

"Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was too much."

"Welcome back to Earth, Cowboys."

"Their new quarterback is how old?"

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Joseph Randle
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtStar RB Joseph Randle has helped Oklahoma State earn national respect in recent seasons.
We've heard all three of those before and will again in 2012. The age jokes are back, but replace jokes about Weeden's AARP status with ones about 18-year-old Wes Lunt's acne and prom date. Then replace "Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon" with "Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant."

The 2011 team was better. It won more and went further, twice setting the school record for wins, racking up 23 in two seasons and bringing some new hardware to Stillwater that had never found a home at Boone Pickens Stadium.

That's just one breakthrough season. Oklahoma State, though? It's about to prove it's a breakthrough program ready to take its place among college football's elite.

The Cowboys have sustained success, winning at least nine games in four consecutive seasons. They'll do it again in 2012, because that's what elite teams do after they win a title. They keep winning, and Oklahoma State has stockpiled plenty of talent outside of Weeden and Blackmon, talent that's ready to shoulder the load and carry the Pokes to a solid season.

They're not built for a title in 2012, but they're built for a solid season. Expect 8-9 wins. Don't be surprised if a bowl win gives the Pokes their third consecutive 10-win season.

That's not a breakout season in the traditional sense, but its further validation that the Cowboys' arrival on the big stage last season didn't precede a humbling rebuilding season in 2012.

Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle will make life easier for Lunt. A solid, underrated receiving corps is ready to make a name for itself, highlighted by Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and newcomer Blake Jackson filling in for Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison.

The defense led the nation in turnovers last season -- a third consecutive season in the national top 11 -- and will be more experienced and talented in 2012. Linebackers Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis hold down the middle, while cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best duos on the outside.

Oklahoma State made a name for itself in the 2011 season, but the national audience is fickle. It may have forgotten.

The Cowboys will remind them this year.

And just wait until next year.

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