Obviously, the opener against defending national champion Florida State is a major challenge, and that is putting it very lightly.
Looking ahead, Oklahoma State faces, in our opinion, the three top teams in the Big 12 -- Baylor, Oklahoma, and Kansas State -- but looking at where we are in our series the Cowboys have an opportunity to get a running start in the conference if they take care of business and play as well as capable in the first three games in the Big 12, all of which they should be favored.
We've already looked at Texas Tech and Iowa State, both at home, and now break down the first road conference game at Kansas.
Kansas has finished last in the Big 12 the past two seasons under Charlie Weis, but I really believe they might escape the cellar in 2014. If they do, the trigger, no pun intended, to the improvement may be the decision Weis made coming out of spring practice when he identified sophomore Montell Cozart as the starting quarterback.
Weis made the declaration and said it was not a trick to try and motivate anybody. His plan was for the offense to know and learn to follow Cozart starting through the summer workouts. That will send Jake Heaps on the go to transfer again after landing in Lawrence from BYU and lasting just a year as the starter. Cozart is multi-talented, but he made a decided improvement in throwing the football. He still needs work.
Brandon Bourbon edged out Darrian Miller as the running back to replace James Sims in the backfield. I'm a little surprised by that as I felt Miller was pretty talented. There are plenty of young backs in the program but it's hard to find a freshman that can be the "go to" guy in this league.
Former running back Tony Pierson is now totally acclimated to playing receiver and senior Nick Harwell is another reliable target. Justin McCay is at KU after transferring from OU. The former high school All-American is hoping to benefit from the change of scenery. Tight end Jimmay Mundine may be the best receiver and the playmaker that Cozart leans on this season.
The Kansas offensive line has three seniors, a junior and a sophomore listed on the top line of the depth chart. That would normally make a coach pretty confident about his blocking brigade, but the Jayhawks have turned offensive line play into a revolving door activity over the past two seasons struggling to settle on a group of five that they feel good about. The older crew still bodes well going into August.
All of that said with a first-year starting quarterback that tends to even up the young safeties that the Cowboys will have this season. The corners in Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin should win their battles and the front seven should fair well against the Jayhawks up front. Kansas has struggled moving the ball on Oklahoma State and that should not change this upcoming season.
Defensively, Kansas is much more experienced with Ben Goodman and Keon Stowers returning starters on the defensive line. All-Big 12 candidate Ben Heeney, Jake Love of Tonkawa, Okla., and senior Michael Reynolds at linebacker that is the strongest position group in the defense.
JaCorey Shepherd is a very solid cornerback and in the Jayhawks 4-2-5 nickel they use as their base defense the nickel back Kevin Short is becoming a big-play defender. He had a strong spring.
Where Kansas makes marked improvement is on defense, and frankly I've felt that former Dallas Cowboys head coach and KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo has schemed well and covered up some of the defensive warts for KU the last two seasons.
Oklahoma State on offense had better not overlook or be overconfident with Kansas. The Jayhawks can defend and they will be anxious to see how they measure up with the Cowboys offense.
I expect Oklahoma State to win. The Cowboys will allow few points, but they may find Kansas to be a little more difficult like it was two years ago during that crazy game with the thunder storm delay rather than some of the home games that have been all over except the playing of back-ups in the second half. Kansas will be better.