Will 2011 Be Better Than 2010?

I know, many Oklahoma State fans are still savoring Wednesday's record-setting 11th victory of the season. But what happened 24 hours ago is old news in the world that we live in today, and it's all about what have you done for me lately. Thus, OSU football fans have plenty to look forward to in 2011, and here's one guess on how it will play out over the next 365 days (and a few more).

The website NationalChamps.net recently released its top 25 teams for the 2011 season. Oklahoma State was ranked No. 11 last week but has moved up to No. 10 as of Thursday morning (Dec. 30). The Cowboys, however, will play three other teams ranked in the website's top 10 during the 2011 regular season – No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 7 Missouri and No. 1 Oklahoma.

In addition, head coach Mike Gundy's team will face No. 25 Tulsa and No. 31 Texas. It's a tough schedule but not any tougher than the Cowboys have faced while winning 29 games the past three seasons.

Of course, who knows what's going to happen both on and off the field in the nine months leading up to the first games of 2011? After all, Mack Brown still doesn't even know who will make up nearly half of his coaching staff (at least it hasn't been made known publicly).

And who knows what players will declare for the NFL Draft? Will All-American receiver Justin Blackmon and record-setting quarterback Brandon Weeden return to Oklahoma State for the 2011 season or will they make the decision to apply for early entry into the NFL Draft? We'll find out by the Jan. 15 deadline.

In the meantime, here is how I see the Cowboys' 2011 season playing out. I'm basing my projections for 2011 on the current status of every player and every team as of today (Thursday, Dec. 30). Thus, my predictions are being made while both Blackmon and Weeden are still members of the Oklahoma State football program, and have yet to say otherwise. Thus, these projections include both of those players being on the field when the Cowboys open the season Sept. 3 against the University of Louisiana (also known as Louisiana-Lafayette).

Sept. 3: vs. Louisiana (3-9)
The Cowboys open the season against the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and new head coach Mark Hudspeth. It'll be a tough opener for the first-year head coach as his team makes the trip to Stillwater where they will face the Cowboys and associate head coach Joe DeForest, who was one of the finalists interviewed for the job before Hudspeth was selected. DeForest may want to show the Louisiana administration that it made a mistake in not hiring him.
Prediction: OSU 56, Louisiana 10

Sept. 10: vs. Arizona (7-6, lost 36-10 to OSU in Alamo Bowl)
When this game was scheduled it was thought it would be the first meeting between the two schools since 1942. But that changed when both were invited to participate in the Alamo Bowl, and now they will be facing each other for the second time in three games. The Wildcats finished the 2010 season with five consecutive losses, including the drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys, but should be 1-0 when they make the trip to Stillwater (as they open the 2011 season at home against Northern Arizona).
Prediction: OSU 48, Arizona 17

Sept. 17: at Tulsa (10-3, won 62-35 over Hawaii in Hawaii Bowl)
The Golden Hurricane will be looking to redeem itself after an embarrassing 65-28 loss to the Cowboys in Stillwater. But head coach Todd Graham's team won its final seven games of the season, including an impressive 62-35 victory over Hawaii on its home field in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. But half the crowd in Tulsa's 30,000-seat H.A. Chapman Stadium will be rooting for the Cowboys, and they will not go home disappointed.
Prediction: OSU 45, Tulsa 10

Sept. 24: at Texas A&M (9-3 entering Cotton Bowl vs. LSU, Jan. 7)
The Cowboys and Aggies will open Big 12 play facing each other for the fourth consecutive season. OSU has won the previous three to begin conference play 1-0. However, the Cowboys won those games with Jerrod Johnson at quarterback for the Aggies, but Ryan Tannehill will be returning for his senior season after replacing Johnson midway through the 2010 season (Johnson turned the ball over five times in OSU's 38-35 victory). This early-season game could go a long way in determining who wins the Big 12 title.
Prediction: OSU 42, Texas A&M 35

Oct. 8: vs. Kansas (3-9)
Turner Gill only won three games in his first season as head coach of the Jayhawks. It's not going to get any easier in the revamped Big 12 since now he'll have to face each season all six teams in what was previously known as the Big 12 South. OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young was part of KU's dream season in 2007 when the Jayhawks were 12-1 and went to a BCS bowl, beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Could he repeat that feat four years later?
Prediction: OSU 55, Kansas 17

Oct. 15: at Texas (5-7)
What will the Longhorns look like in 2011? That's a good question. As of the writing of this story, Mack Brown has yet to fill out his staff after some major upheaval following last season's disappointment. The Cowboys ended a 12-game losing streak to the Longhorns in 2010, and will get a chance to prove it was no fluke when they return to Austin in October.
Prediction: OSU 45, Texas 20

Oct. 22: at Missouri (10-3, lost 27-23 to Iowa in the Insight Bowl)
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert may not return to Missouri for his senior season but we're basing our predictions on his status as of today (like with Weeden and Blackmon), and thus we believe he'll lead the Tigers onto Faurot Field in 2011. Nine offensive starters will return for the Tigers, who have been to bowl games in each of the past six seasons under Gary Pinkel, as will All-Big 12 defensive ends Aldon Smith (first team) and Jacquies Smith (second team).
Prediction: OSU 42, Missouri 41

Oct. 29: vs. Baylor (7-6, lost 38-14 to Illinois in Texas Bowl)
The Bears laid an egg in their first bowl appearance since 1994, losing 38-14 to Illinois in the Texas Bowl. Quarterback Robert Griffin III was responsible for 30 touchdowns (22 passing, 8 rushing) this past season to break his own single-season record, but the Bears continue to struggle to break into the Big 12's upper echelon, and it's not going to happen until they get more playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: OSU 63, Baylor 31

Nov. 5: vs. Kansas State (7-5 entering Pinstripe Bowl vs. Syracuse, today)
Bill Snyder has the program heading in the right direction again but just like every other team that competed in the Big 12's North Division, it's going to become harder in 2011 because now they have to play all six of what were the South Division teams each year (instead of just three as they have been doing previously). The Wildcats couldn't defeat the Cowboys this past season after the distraction involving Justin Blackmon's suspension, so what makes anyone think they could defeat the Cowboys with him on the field ... and in Stillwater?
Prediction: OSU 42, Kansas State 7

Nov. 12: at Texas Tech (7-5 entering TicketCity Bowl vs. Northwestern, Saturday)
Oklahoma State has passed Texas Tech in the Big 12 hierarchy and proved it by winning in Lubbock this past season for the first time since 1944. The Cowboys must return to Lubbock for the second year in a row because of the new Big 12 schedule but Gundy's team isn't fazed by playing outside of Stillwater as they have won nine of their last 11 games not played in Boone Pickens Stadium, including a perfect 6-0 record this season following the Alamo Bowl victory in San Antonio.
Prediction: OSU 37, Texas Tech 28

Nov. 19: at Iowa State (5-7)
The Cyclones were one of only four Big 12 teams not to qualify for a postseason bowl this past season. Head coach Paul Rhodes loses his two best offensive players – senior running back Alexander Robinson (4,114 all-purpose yards) and senior Collin Franklin (a single-season school record for catches by a tight end with 54) – from a team that was poised to go bowling before losing its last three games.
Prediction: OSU 49, Iowa State 24

Nov 26: vs. Oklahoma (11-2 entering Fiesta Bowl vs. Connecticut, Saturday)
Wouldn't it be great if both teams entered this regular season finale with perfect 11-0 records and ranked in the nation's top five? It was wild in Stillwater this past year when the Cowboys were 10-1 and the Sooners came into the game with a 9-2 record. Can you imagine the excitement throughout the state leading up to a game of two undefeated teams?
Prediction: OSU 45, Oklahoma 31

Jan. 9, 2012: vs. LSU in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans
A dream season comes to an end with a dream matchup against LSU and former Cowboys head coach Les Miles ... and it couldn't get any sweeter than winning it in New Orleans, could it?
Prediction: OSU 34, LSU 28


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