Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has been involved with the school in some capacity for most of the past half century.
Even he acknowledges he didn't expect the football team to be so good this soon. Not after losing 17 starters and 33 letterwinners from last year's team that went 10-3 and played in the Cotton Bowl. Yet, three weeks after nearly knocking off No. 1 Florida State, a team that was supposed to be rebuilding is ranked No. 24.
The Cowboys host Texas Tech on Thursday night in their Big 12 opener.
"From my perspective, I had some reservations about this season," Holder told The Associated Press. "A lot of youth, and you wonder where your leadership's going to come from. I knew we had some good athletes, but you really don't know how that translates into big-time football players."
It translated immediately. The Cowboys (2-1) went toe-to-toe with Florida State before losing 37-31 to the defending national champions and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Rarely has a loss done so much good for a program.
"You couldn't have put them on a bigger stage, in a better environment," Holder said. "And it kind of tests their mettle. And I think we passed every test with flying colors except the final score."
Perhaps the person least surprised was Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. He praised the Cowboys and coach Mike Gundy in the weeks leading up to the game, and did so again afterward.
"I told you Mike has a got a good football team, and he's a heck of a football coach," Fisher said. "He has done a great job for a long time."
The 2008 Cowboys needed four wins, all by at least 19 points, just to get into the rankings. Gundy said the Cowboys were on the wrong side of perception for years, but now, the program has earned the benefit of the doubt through consistency. Oklahoma State entered this season having won 59 games since the start of the 2008 season, the eighth-best total in the nation, all under Gundy. But with so much talent leaving, the Cowboys entered this season unranked for the first time since 2010.
They found themselves back in the poll after a 43-13 dismantling of Texas-San Antonio on Sept. 13. Daxx Garman will make his second start at quarterback following an idle week after filling in against the Roadrunners for J.W. Walsh, who underwent surgery on Sept. 10 to repair a right foot injury suffered in a 40-23 victory over Missouri State.
Garman was 16 of 30 for 315 yards and two TDs against San Antonio in his first start since he was a junior in high school.
"His accuracy seems to be improving. He's very inexperienced, but his demeanor in the last two games was good, not great. I think he gets a better feel for our offense every day," Gundy said. "Just like all the rest of them, he should improve each week."
The Red Raiders gave up 438 rushing yards to the Razorbacks and are surrendering a Big 12-worst 432.7 yards of offense per game.
Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt resigned Thursday for unspecified personal reasons, saying in a statement he was stepping aside "because I want the best for the Red Raider program and this will allow them to go in a different direction on offense."
Oklahoma State, which has amassed 957 yards in its wins, ran for 281 yards and five TDs in a 52-34 victory over then-No. 15 Texas Tech in Lubbock on Oct. 26, its fifth straight victory in the series. The Cowboys have averaged 59.0 points in the last three meetings.
Oklahoma State, which hasn't lost at home to the Red Raiders since 2001, has won 24 in a row in Stillwater against unranked opponents.