The first scrimmage of the spring will be critical to a lot of positions including the highly celebrated three-way competition at quarterback between Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh, and new freshman Wes Lunt.
The players snapping the ball to them is also under some pressure as their are two top candidates to replace All-Big 12 and Sports Illustrated All-American center Grant Garner. Evan Epstein and Jake Jenkins are competing to earn the job.
Head coach Mike Gundy believes that no matter which player wins the job, Epstein or Jenkins, that along with returning starters at guard in Jonathan Rush and Lane Taylor, and two experienced tackles in Michael Bowie and Parker Graham that the offensive line will be better. That's right, better than last season.
"I think we'll be better on the offensive line than we were the last couple of years in this upcoming season," said Gundy with what many could consider a bold statement. "We are replacing some really good players. Levy (Adcock) is a good player for us and Grant was, obviously, the captain of the ship.
"But we have a few new players in there that we think will really battle for us. We've got a great offensive line coach that puts them in position to have success," said Gundy.
The two center candidates would certainly like to make that statement come true. They each have a healthy respect for Garner and even his predecessor in Sports Illustrated cover boy Andrew Lewis, who appeared on the magazine cover with Zac Robinson.
"You can't get a better center than Grant Garner, and before him Andrew Lewis. (They're) great guys, and I was just fortunate to play underneath them," said Epstein. "All I can do is come in here and play hard and try to make them proud. I learned so much playing behind Grant Garner and Andrew. Hopefully, I can take all that stuff and move forward."
"It's nothing easy because Grant was really good," added Jenkins. "He won a lot of awards and he led this team, and those are some big shoes to fill."
One of the two candidates to snap the ball next season is from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and bounced into Stillwater from a military academy, while the other is a classic farm hand that is from a Class 3A football powerhouse in East Texas.
Epstein is a 6-3, 291-pounder from Bishop Lynch High School in the Dallas area. Epstein originally went to the Air Force Academy but transferred to Oklahoma State after his freshman season, and promptly redshirted. He has fit in and seen action in each of the last two seasons and is very dedicated to earning the center job.
He entered the spring as the number one guy on the depth chart and is the front runner to win the job. His dad was a wrestler in college at Drake and his grandfather played nose tackle at Notre Dame. Epstein says winning and keeping the job is contingent on doing everything right from the snap to the block calls to the physical part of it.
"I would say it would be a good blend," said Epstein. "Obviously, you can't play on the offensive line for Joe Wickline without being physical, but the cerebral part of playing center at Oklahoma State is by far the largest aspect of it. There is a lot of things that people don't know about behind the scenes that (centers) do that is critical to how well the offense runs. There is really no room for error."
Jenkins is a third-year sophomore going who played for a state champion at powerhouse Gilmer High School. He is known in part because his family's cow dog bit Wickline on a recruiting visit. Jenkins is a hard-working young man who has a lot of talent and Wickline recruited him to Oklahoma State with center in mind. Jenkins is a 6-3, 287-pounder who says the competition is strong.
"It's all there and it's got it's ups and downs," said Jenkins. "We have some good snaps and some bad snaps, some good mental decisions and then some not so good decisions. That really kind of comes with it right now.
We keep it friendly, but at the same time we know it is competition and there's no physical or hatred toward each other. It's going to come down to Coach Wickline's decision and we both know he is going to play the better person."
This week will go a long way to helping to decide all the position battles. A scrimmage is expected on Wednesday and that is a practice where we will hear from Gundy afterwards. The Cowboys are close to halfway through with seven practices done and eight more to go.