The 3-0 Cowboys are currently ranked 6th in the AP polls. Because they're only being two spots out from qualifying for the playoffs, hopes in Stillwater are very high prior to their matchup against 17th ranked Iowa State.
OSU could consider themselves fortunate to be ranked as high as they are, however, if they take care of their business, they could very well find themselves sitting in the top 4 at the end of the season.
Oklahoma State's fortunate placement
OSU has played, Tulsa, West Virginia, and their most recent win was Kansas. OSU was ranked 17th when they played Kansas, and they went up to 11th after the win.
The OSU Cowboys then had a bye-week, and with a series of teams in the top 10 losing, OSU found themselves at 7th. Then the next week, the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Baylor Bears, however that was postponed due to Baylor having multiple COVID-19 cases. Additionally, OSU got some help in back-to-back weeks from Tulsa, as they had beaten two highly ranked teams. These victories from Tulsa helped propel the Cowboys into their current 6th spot.
So despite not playing in two weeks, Oklahoma State has increased their ranking dramatically.
Obviously, the generosity of OSU's ranking has come from the fact that they are using a freshman back-up Quarterback, Shane Illingworth, who was originally the third-string at the beginning of the year. Likewise, they have still been able to win their games by controlling margins.
While being ranked highly in week doesn't guarantee anything, it surely puts them in a more than ideal situation at this stage of the season.
The return of QB1, Spencer Sanders
With an ankle injury week one, Spencer Sanders has been sidelined for basically every game this year. However, he has been working in practice since before their week two matchup versus West Virginia, so with the rest he has received in the last five weeks, he is said to be fully healthy and ready to play.
While there is some speculation of a quarterback battle, and we may still see Shane Illingworth, Sanders most likely will be the starter against Iowa State. With Spencer Sanders returning and a extremely talented offense surrounding him, such as running backs like Chuba Hubbard, LD Brown, and Wide Receivers, Tylan Wallace, Braydon Johnson, and Dylan Stoner, we should see full powered offense of the Cowboys on display soon.
The Big 12 dilemma
The Oklahoma State Cowboys play in the Big 12, which is a conference known for competitive games, no matter the team's record or ranking. This year, so far, The University of Oklahoma (OU) and The University of Texas (UT), are both already at two conference losses.
Texas and Oklahoma are typically two teams which are at the top of the Big 12, however they are not in a good position at this moment, and OSU could capitalize on that fact. That being said, both teams still pose a threat to the Cowboys as they are both still very good teams. And despite these two teams pose an issue to OSU, the dilemma from the Big 12 comes from the teams like Texas Christian University(TCU), Kansas State, and Iowa State. Teams such as those have a history of upsetting ranked Big 12 opponents. While OSU is in a great spot right now, that could all change if they fail to take care of business and overlook their conference opponents.
Could a Cowboys team with one loss make the playoffs?
While obviously OSU still has a shot at an undefeated season, like I discussed earlier, playing in the Big 12, it is very possible that OSU will lose a game that they shouldn't lose, or could face an upset during the Bedlam game.
Obviously, losing two games would almost definitely eliminate OSU from the playoffs. Losing one game during the regular season most likely wouldn't mean the end of playoff hopes. The Big 12 has a championship game between the two teams with the best conference record, and if a theoretical one-loss Oklahoma State team wins the Big 12 Title, they probably will be included in the College Football Playoffs.
With the shortened season, due to COVID-19, and also assuming that OSU is able to play out the remainder of the season, OSU's two possible records which would keep them in playoff contention are 10-0, or 9-1, and then adding the conference championship, 11-0 or 10-1.
It would most definitely not be traditional to see the OSU Cowboys as a top 4 team at the end of the year. However, with their current situation, they are definitely primed for a playoff spot if they take care of their business.