This year however, Gundy's team isn't going to surprise anybody, as it enters the season as the nation's ninth ranked team, according to the AP, following its 61-34 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in week one. The media has selected OSU as the Big 12's third best team behind Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but the Cowboys certainly have loftier goals than that for 2011.
Returning to an offense that ranked number one in the country in 2010 and broke school records in points, total offense, pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdown passes is quarterback Brandon Weeden, a Big-12 first team selection a season ago. In 2010, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound, 27-year old senior quarterback became the first player in program history to amass 4,000 total yards as he threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns in his first full season under center.
Instrumental to Weeden's success is the return of 2010 Biletnikoff Award winner and unanimous All-American Justin Blackmon, who decided to return to school instead of entering the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver had the best season in Oklahoma State history, setting new records for receptions (111), receiving yards (1,782), and touchdowns (20); all of this despite missing one game for suspension on a misdemeanor DUI charge. Blackmon currently has an active streak of 13 games of at least 100 yards receiving per outing, which is already an NCAA record.
Weeden and Blackmon had no problem hooking up in Oklahoma State's Alamo Bowl victory against Arizona on December 29, 2010, when the 2011 preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year caught nine passes for 117 yards and two scores. Overall, Weeden was 25 of 41 for 244 yards with the two touchdowns to Blackmon.
Defensively, the Cowboys have the tall task of replacing seven starters from last year's team, including middle linebacker Orie Lemon, who amassed 119 tackles as a senior in 2010. Sophomore Shaun Lewis is coming off a freshman year that earned him Freshman All-American honors and will help bring stability to a transitioning linebackers group.
Headlining the defense is safety Markelle Martin, who will be entering his third season as the team's starting strong safety as an All Big-12 Preseason selection. Arizona fans should have no problem remembering Martin, as the 6-foot-1, 198-pound then junior intercepted a Nick Foles pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown in last year's Alamo Bowl.
Of the front seven, only one player is a returning starter, so there is an opportunity for the Arizona offense to have success on the ground. The secondary however is a more experienced group, as it returns corner Brodrick Brown. The secondary for OSU is one that really plays well against the run as well, so it will be crucial for the Arizona offense to establish a balanced attack to keep the group off balance.
Players to watch:
#1- RB, Joseph Randle: In his first career start, Randle proved up to the task of replacing Kendall Hunter with 22 carries for 129 yards and two scores. At 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, Randle has shown the ability to bowl over defenders for tough yards and the ability to make them miss in the open field. If Randle continues his current pace, Oklahoma State could be in line to repeat as the nation's top offense in 2011-12.
#87- WR, Tracy Moore: Against Louisiana-Lafayette, Moore and Blackmon combined for 15 of the team's 28 receptions and 256 of the Cowboy's 458 passing yards. The 6-foot-1, 233-pound receiver proved in the opener with seven receptions, 112 yards and a touchdown that he may be emerging a viable option. If Arizona decides to focus solely on Blackmon, that emergence will only make the Oklahoma State offense all the more dangerous.
#25- WR, Josh Cooper: Especially on third downs, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound receiver is one of Weeden's favorite targets. He's not the deep threat that Blackmon or Moore is, but he is certainly a reliable pass catcher who hauled in 68 balls a season ago and will be counted on for the tough catches and first down conversions. Despite only recording one catch for a 15-yard touchdown in the season opener, Cooper is not a receiver that Arizona can afford to take lightly.
#37- MLB, Alex Elkins: The Blinn College transfer, who is entering just his third year of competitive football, will have to prove he's up to the task of stiffer competition against Arizona after recording six tackles against Louisiana-Lafayette. How well the 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior responds to the challenge will likely greatly affect the OSU defense, which desperately needs a consistent playmaker at linebacker to emerge.
#8, S, Daytawion Lowe: With the suspension of Johnny Thomas, Lowe steps into the starting role and is someone that the Oklahoma State coaching staff is optimistic will be able to contribute. The 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore recorded six tackles in his 2011 debut after redshirting in 2010, and despite losing a two-year starter; OSU may not miss a beat with Lowe in the fold.
#4- CB, Justin Gilbert: The lone non-returner in the secondary before the suspension of Thomas, Gilbert is a good athlete with excellent speed. In 2010, he amassed 672 yards as a kick returner; good for second in school history and recorded 18 tackles in backup and special teams duty. As the lone question mark in the OSU defense, look for Nick Foles to come after Gilbert early in order to force him to show he's up to the task of containing Arizona's receivers.
#89- DT, Nigel Nicholas: With just three career starts to his name, Nicholas will be asked to anchor a defensive line, as well as an interior, that is lacking experience. He has the quickness of a defensive end and combined with the power of his new position, Nicholas could prove to be a matchup problem for opponents as he continues to develop. Whether or not Oklahoma State will be able to shut down Arizona's running game and make it one-dimensional is dependent largely on the play of the 6-foot-3, 285-pound junior.
Keys to the game: Turnover battle: Arizona simply cannot afford to give Oklahoma State extra possessions and field position, as it will be difficult enough to slow down the Cowboy offense without the mistakes of the UA offense. Decision-making and precision will be key for Nick Foles, who will undoubtedly be asked to win the game for the Wildcats with his right arm.
Pressure Weeden: Unbothered and with plenty of time to throw, Weeden will likely pick apart the Arizona secondary with all of the weapons at his disposal. C.J. Parish and Mohammed Usman will have to be in the OSU backfield all-game long forcing the experienced quarterback into quick decisions and more importantly, prevent him from hitting Blackmon on the deep ball.
Get an early stop: While the Arizona defense did an admirable job all things considered of stopping the Oklahoma State offense in the Alamo Bowl last season, OSU was ultimately able to do much of what it wanted all game long. A stop on the first or second possession will help set the tone that this year's team is not one that is going to be intimidated or pushed around and will help boost the confidence of the entire UA team.
Ground game: The front seven for Oklahoma State is very inexperienced, so UA should look to exploit that by running the ball early. With some success on the ground, the passing game will likely have more room to operate, and would prevent Arizona from becoming one dimensional and predictable in its play calling. While UA will certainly air it out, some sort of ground success will only make things easier for Foles and his receivers.
Exact revenge: All offseason long, players and coaches alike have had to deal with innumerable questions regarding the Alamo Bowl debauchery. A victory on Oklahoma State's home field would certainly make answering all of those questions, as well as set the tone for the rest of the 2011 season.