STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State opens the season with some serious questions on deck.
The football program is awaiting the results of an internal investigation launched after a Sports Illustrated report suggested the Cowboys had committed numerous NCAA rules violations dating back years. Oklahoma State also starts the season unranked for the first time since 2010 and will open Saturday night against top-ranked Florida State, the defending national champion.
Mike Gundy's Cowboys have been among the nation's best with 59 wins since 2008, but they will face Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the Seminoles after losing about half of last year's letter winners. A blowout loss in Arlington, Texas, in the glare of the national spotlight could deal a blow to the momentum of a program renowned for its breakneck offenses and NFL-level talent.
"We'll find out where we're at," Gundy said. "We've got good, young players in the program. They're just not very experienced."
Gundy said one sign that minds are changing about Oklahoma State is that in past years, when the Cowboys lost significant experience, little was expected the following season. Now, even with the loss of 17 starters, Oklahoma State is picked to finish in the middle of the Big 12 instead of at the bottom. Gundy believes the winning mentality from past years will carry over.
"These players expect to win and expect to play on a high level," he said. "Confidence builds success, and success brings more success. Our players have been around and have been in the locker room at bowl games and whatnot. Some of the guys haven't played at this level, but they were around teams that expected to win. I don't think there's any question that that helps."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Oklahoma State is already in a good place. Oklahoma State has won at least 10 games in three of the past four years and finished the 2011 season ranked No. 3 after winning the Fiesta Bowl. Last season, the Cowboys were ranked No. 6 before losing their final two games.
Gundy has a 77-38 record in nine seasons. He has been steadfastly backed by his bosses since the Sports Illustrated stories that included former Oklahoma State players making allegations of cash payments to players, academic misconduct, inconsistent enforcement of drug policies and some of the school's recruiting hostesses having sex with prospects from 2001-10.
"I think they've established themselves," Fisher said. "They've been to Cotton Bowls, they were third in the country a couple years ago and had a legitimate argument to be in the national championship game. They've established themselves."
Fisher, whose program has won just two more games than Oklahoma State since 2008, said Gundy has established himself, too.
"They're very well coached," Fisher said. "They call plays very well. They keep you off balance and are not scared to do things. And very aggressive with how they play. Get to the edges, but be physical inside. They've just been a very, very good offensive football team for a long period of time."
The Cowboys are facing a different animal on Saturday. Gundy said Florida State might be the best team he's coached against.
"There's a group of guys that play for them at the wide receiver position, running back position and the secondary position that are terrific, skilled athletes," he said. "When we break down opponents each week, we try to categorize what would be college players, somewhat-below college players that are playing at this level and then guys that have the capability of playing in the NFL. The majority of those guys at those positions have the capability of someday playing in the NFL."
Florida State enters Saturday's game as a heavy favorite, but Fisher said based on Oklahoma State's past, it could be competitive.
"History tells you they're going to be well coached, they're going to play hard, they're going play fundamentally sound, they're going to be a very good football team," he said. "So you better match that. And you have to play the best you can play. That's how you have to approach it."
Gundy said he has no doubts that scheduling the Seminoles was a good idea.
"I do want to clear one thing up," he said. "We've embraced this game. We've embraced this from the spring, from the fall, that we're playing the best team in the country with the best player in the country in a lot of people's opinion."
Oklahoma St site about SI report: http://response.okstate.edu/
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .