OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Now both of Barry Sanders’ former backfield mates have some bragging rights on the Heisman Trophy winner.

Even Sanders couldn’t propel the ‘Pokes to the lofty heights they’re experiencing today.

An upset of Missouri vaulted Oklahoma State (6-0, 2-0 Big 12) to the No. 8 ranking on Sunday, its highest point since holding the seventh spot in November 1985 — before Sanders stepped on campus.

“I’m really excited for the players. They’ve worked hard. I think they’ve had to earn everything that they’ve gotten,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who once shared a backfield with Sanders and Thurman Thomas.

“We continue to take steps, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The Cowboys have made it this far with another prolific offense led by quarterback Zac Robinson and tailback Kendall Hunter, the nation’s third-leading rusher (143.7 ypg), and an upstart defense that harassed Heisman contender Chase Daniel with defensive line stunts and picked off three of his passes.

“I’m not so sure it’s maybe not the best defensive plan that I’ve been around in a long time, in 19 years of coaching,” Gundy said, giving credit to defensive coordinator Tim Beckman.

The road to this point can be traced to billionaire booster Boone Pickens’ $165 million donation in January 2006 that transformed the school’s football stadium and training areas, and even beyond. Before that gift came Les Miles’ back-to-back upsets of top-5 Oklahoma teams in 2001 and 2002, giving Cowboys fans reason to dream big.

Miles jumped ship for LSU after the 2004 season, and Gundy — who had been the offensive coordinator — replaced him. His first season seemed to have the program headed backward as a new offensive scheme completely changed its philosophy, but consecutive 7-6 seasons followed and look where the Cowboys are now.

The only times the Cowboys have been ranked higher came during that 1985 season, when Thomas was a sophomore, and the season before.

Oklahoma State reached as high as No. 3 prior to the Bedlam game in 1984, when second-ranked Oklahoma dealt the Cowboys a 24-14 loss.

“My honest opinion is that it takes a while for the people across the country to buy in that they’re really developing and building a program in Stillwater, unless you’re really here watching it,” Gundy said. “And justifiably so. You have to earn everything you get.”

Nearly a quarter of a century later, they’re in the national championship picture again — even if Gundy said he doesn’t “think that’s even worth talking about.”

“Where we’re trying to get to from a facilities standpoint and an ability standpoint is something that’s been lacking in Stillwater for 50 years,” said Gundy, who expects the Cowboys to move into their new facilities in April or May.

“We’re just trying to break even. I’m not trying to make excuses because honestly I don’t really care.

“The point is we’re trying to get up there to where we can do that.”

Gundy said he got home about 2 a.m. Sunday to find his family sleeping and get greeted only by his dog, and he left again before they had woken up to go to staff meetings.

After he got to the office, he got a congratulatory phone call. He said he hadn’t stopped to see where Oklahoma State landed in the rankings.

“We’re very excited about where we’re at. We’re very excited to be ranked, and I’m not trying to push that to the side but I’m trying to keep our staff and the players focused to the best of my ability,” Gundy said.

“You never want to let a minute go by without working,” he added.

Gundy said he thinks there’s a fine line in dealing with the kind of success Oklahoma State is now experiencing, and there’s no way to deflect all the positive attention that’ll be heaped on players before Saturday’s homecoming game against Baylor.

“We just have to continue to try to keep them level-headed, but I’m not going to take anything away from the players. They have the right to be excited and they need to enjoy the opportunity,” Gundy said.

“What happened to them last night, they’ll never forget. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”

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