Oklahoma State has finished 16th or better in Off. F/+ in four of five seasons. They ranked seventh in 2010, posting a rare balance -- 16th in Rushing S&P+, eighth in Passing S&P+ -- and nearly unmatched efficiency. And in 2011, almost everybody returns on the offensive side of the ball. The main departure actually happened in the booth, where Holgorsen departed to become head-coach-in-waiting, then head coach, at West Virginia. If new offensive coordinator Todd Monken maintains an approximate level of dialed-in play-calling, and if Oklahoma State isn't struck by the injury bug the same way Holgorsen's last abandoned team was, then the Cowboys could continue building toward becoming the Oregon of the Midwest, the historically decent program looking to take a step up to the elite level on the coattails and coffers of an aggressive, ambitious donor (for Oregon, Phil Knight; for Oklahoma State, T. Boone Pickens). They would, however, probably prefer to do so without drawing the negative attention Oregon has recently drawn; been there, done that.
Balance is incredibly important in college football, but not in the way we're always told. "They averaged 170 yards rushing and 170 yards passing per game; they were very balanced!" Really, balance has nothing to do with the yards you gain and everything to do with the threat you can present. It doesn't matter whether you gain the exact same number of yards rushing and passing -- it just matters that you can both run and pass at a high level.
Of course, Oklahoma State has managed to fulfill both definitions in recent years. Their per-game yardage balance has been downright spooky at times -- they averaged 243 yards rushing and 243 yards passing in 2007, 246 and 242 in 2008 -- but more importantly, the Cowboys have simply proven that they can both run and pass at some of the highest levels in the country. And in the end, this kind of balance leads to wins, plan and simple.
Last year, Oklahoma State's per-game yardage was off-balance -- 174 rushing, 346 passing -- but they were more than capable on the ground, and that was what counted. They ranked 16th in Rushing S&P+ and eighth in Passing S&P+; on average, about eight teams per season rank in the Top 16 in both categories, and guess what: those teams win. A lot.
Of the 49 teams who have managed Top 16 rankings in both Rushing and Passing S&P+ in the last six seasons, 39 have won at least nine games in a season, 42 have won at least eight, and only three have not finished with winning records. If you play at this high a caliber both on the ground and in the air, you are going to win games no matter how poor your defense is. Unless your defensive coordinator is Greg Robinson or Kevin Cosgrove, anyway.
Oklahoma State has found incredible balance in four of the past five seasons, and though it has taken the defense a bit of time to catch up, the Cowboy Machine is clicking at quite a high level right now.