Against all historical odds, Oklahoma State, a program that hasn't won an outright conference title since 1948, is two wins away from playing for the national title.
If the Cowboys (10-0), second in this week's BCS rankings, finish unbeaten and get to New Orleans for the Jan. 9 title game, it will be the second straight season a relatively random team has risen from within the Bowl Championship Series power structure from seemingly out of nowhere. The Cowboys, proud winners of the Missouri Valley Conference 63 years ago, follow in the footsteps of Oregon, last year's BCS runner-up.
The ACC, meanwhile - a power conference with plenty of random teams, currently residing nowhere - can't seem to crack the BCS code, and it's not because the conference doesn't have any teams whose names start with the letter "O."
Beyond extremely generous benefactors, Nike CEO Phil Knight in the case of Oregon and energy magnate T. Boone Pickens in the case of Oklahoma State, the upstart programs share other common traits: relatively easy access to two of the most important recruiting areas in the country and an innovative offense.
Motivation and strategy matter, but talent ultimately wins in college football. In the BCS era, three recruiting areas have fueled the title-game participants: Florida, Texas and California.
Eighteen of the 26 teams who have played for the BCS title have had deep connections to those three areas, 21 if you count Ohio State's modest Florida pipeline.
The teams that have won without hammering those three key regions are Auburn (2010), Alabama (2009), LSU (2007 and 2004) and Tennessee (1998). You'll notice three things about those programs:
They all reside in the same conference (SEC).
They all have history on their side.
They all have established recruiting pipelines in their respective states.
Most importantly, those SEC schools don't lose as many in-state recruits to out-of-state programs, which is one of the biggest problems the ACC has.
There are nine Football Bowl Subdivision programs in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, with another half-dozen of the best Football Championship Series programs in the country also in those three states. That's a lot of mouths to feed, without the volume of recruits that is being produced in Florida, Texas or California.
Even with Florida State and Miami in the state of Florida, the ACC doesn't control the state. There are seven in-state programs in Florida, and every traditional power from outside the state is poaching its talent, especially SEC programs.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is following the same formula that led Texas and Oklahoma to the BCS promised land - recruit in Texas and recruit in-state. Eleven of the Cowboys' 22 starters are from Texas, 10 from Oklahoma.
There are only so many great players in any particular recruiting area - even Texas - but there are more good players there, as the BCS record shows (BCS titles for Texas in '05, Oklahoma in '00 and four other title game appearances between them), to build the foundation of a championship roster.
Oregon, with its Pac-12 affiliation and geographic proximity, gets its share of California talent, and the same recruiting-by-numbers premise applies in California as it does in Texas.
Eleven players from the Golden State started for the Ducks in the title game last year. And their two most important players, quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, are from, you guessed it, Texas.
Oregon's last five recruiting classes were rated better than Oklahoma State's but were not necessarily considered elite, other than its 2007 class.
ACC slow to spread
From 2006 to 2009, Oklahoma State went 7-6, 7-6, 9-4 and 9-4. Frankly, the Cowboys weren't much better than middle-of-the-road ACC teams such as Boston College, Maryland, Clemson, Georgia Tech or Miami.
Then before the 2010 season, Gundy hired offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who brought in a version of the spread offense from Houston, via Texas Tech. The wins picked up soon after.
The Cowboys went 11-2 last season, which they hadn't done since Barry Sanders was on campus more than 20 years ago. Holgorsen's up-tempo scheme, popularized by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, jump-started the Cowboys from 56th in scoring offense in 2009 to third in the country.
The No. 1 scoring offense last year? That would be Oregon, with a similar hurry-up scheme devised by Chip Kelly.
Holgorsen left for West Virginia before this season, but a variation of his scheme remains in Stillwater, Okla. The Cowboys rank second in the country in scoring this season (at 51.7 points per game), followed by Oregon (46.7), which is 9-1 and fourth in the BCS standings.
The ACC, which ushered in a wave of NFL coaching retreads and unproven defensive-minded assistants in the early 2000s, was slow to embrace the spread offense and still is, with the notable exception of Clemson.
Clemson hired coordinator Chad Morris from Tulsa before this season. Morris was a successful high school coach in the state of Texas. Under Morris, Clemson has seen its fortunes turn from 6-7 record a year ago, to 9-1 and No. 8 in the BCS standings.
The Tigers, 14th in scoring offense, are the only ACC team in the top 15 in that category (up from 86th last year). They're also the only ones in the ACC consistently playing at a high tempo in a spread offense.
Maybe if the Tigers change their name to "Olemson" next season ...