Big 12 Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Nine wins and a victory over the eventual Big 12 champion sounds like a pretty good year. Last season in Stillwater, that meant third place in the Big 12 South for Oklahoma State. A year after knocking off Kansas State at home and earning bid in the Cotton Bowl, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys will be able to rise past that third place in the South in 2004.

It looks as though incumbent quarterback Josh Fields will not be back in Stillwater after signing a contract to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox. Replacing the drop-back passer will be one of two players with different styles than what Fields had when he threw for nearly 2,500 yards a season ago. Super-frosh Bobby Reid will miss the early season after shoulder surgery, so redshirt freshman Donovan Woods, a dual-threat quarterback, will have the inside track for starting duties.

He'll be throwing to one of the most talented young receivers in the conference in D'Juan Woods, his brother.

Look for junior running back Vernand Morency to try and replace graduated Tatum Bell. Morency rushed for 918 yards in 2003, averaging 6.8 yards a pop. It'll help that he's running behind an experienced offensive line, including all-conference guard Sam Mayes.

The ‘Pokes return two team leaders in the secondary in cornerback Darrent Williams and safety Vernon Grant. They'll lead a solid, maybe spectacular, group of defensive backs in OSU's 4-2-5 system.

Xavier Lawson-Kennedy and Marque Fountain could be coming into their own up the middle and on the end, respectively. The linebacker position has experience returning in Paul Duren and Lawrence Pinson.

The Cowboys' defense should be faster, and could be improved overall. But they still have to prove that on the field.

Player to watch
Cornerback/punt returner Williams is a burner who averaged nearly 20 yards a return last season. He also gave the young Oklahoma State quarterbacks fits during spring football, picking off several passes in scrimmage and practice situations. The senior is in line to repeat as an all-Big 12 honoree.

Key Games
As it did a year ago when it went into Lincoln and lost on the road in Game 1, Oklahoma State starts its season on the road, this time at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. The Cowboys' annual showdown with Oklahoma is Oct. 30 in Stillwater this year. But OSU will be tested on the road in conference in 2004, playing at Colorado, Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech.

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