Ready For Cowboys Football: Part One

Welcome back to our three-part series on the start of the 2014 Oklahoma State football season. The Cowboys are preparing to take on their greatest challenge in the very successful Mike Gundy era of OSU football. I love numbers but they really can bog down a story that you are reading, so we will avoid numbers as much as possible in this series.

Here are some simple numbers, though. Florida State has won 16 games in a row including all 14 last season and they return 40 lettermen and 7 starters on offense and 6 starters on defense, plus their kicker, punter, and top return specialist.

Oklahoma State returns 38 lettermen with 7 starters or part-time starter on offense and 4 starters on defense, plus their kicker and punter.

Youth is the watchword most often used to associate with this 2014 version of the Cowboys. I know I said I would curtail the numbers, but one final numerical contribution. Of the players that I expect to be on the two deep (three in some places where appropriate), plus the kicker, punter, and long snapper added in, in other words the players I expect to play in Arlington against FSU, here is the rundown by class:
Seniors: 11
Juniors: 15
Sophomores: 16
Freshmen (both redshirts and true): 17

That is 33 underclassmen that are expected to be factor. Of course, Florida State will play a number of young players too including a sophomore Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.

"He’s a really good player that’s dangerous, in that he can make a play at any time," Gundy said of FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. "He’s got a strong arm, he’s hard to bring down, he’s mobile and he’s got a great supporting cast."

Gundy points out that he doesn't have to dwell on Winston or any of the other Seminoles. Social networking makes sure that the young Cowboys know all about the young and older Seminoles.

"I think it’s much easier now because they know everything before they actually get to us with the exposure," Gundy said of the process of educating your team on an opponent. "With social media, they know more about the guys than we do."

There is no need to point out how good or how hyped Winston, running back Karlos Williams, receiver Rashad Greene, the all-senior offensive line, monster defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (6-3, 300) or corners P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby are because the Cowboys have seen it on the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and all other forms of new communication.

"Jameis Winston. He is the control of that offense," Cowboys linebacker and defensive leader Ryan Simmons said of what stands out on the Florida State offense. "The offensive line is great. Everything works around Jameis and the o-line. That whole interior area is top of the line."

"They have the Heisman Trophy winner and great recruits," vastly underrated Cowboys cornerback Kevin Peterson added. "Also, they have some pretty good receivers, so it's going to be fun to show what we can do."

The real positive is that with the attitude of success and winning having permeated the Cowboys program for the past six or seven years that these players while knowing full well the differences in age and experience overall also firmly believe in themselves and absolutely believe they can win.

“We have heard that they have Olympic speed, but covering receivers like that is going to be fun," Peterson said as a fine example of the attitude going into next Saturday's challenge. "Conditioning is what it's going to come down to."

"I think that this team as a whole will probably be one of the better teams we will ever face," defensive tackle James Castleman said with respect. "I also think this team offensively, their o-line and receiver corps, will be probably the best we will face. This offensive line is probably the biggest all around. They average around 310 pounds, so that’s the biggest I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.

"I’m excited to play against them. I’m excited to play against the Heisman winner. I’m excited about all of it."

Notice Castleman was glowing about the Seminoles but he is also eager to take the test of playing the defending national champions and the top-rated team in the pre-season polls. Coaches, however, tend to be a bit more sobering.

"There’s a group of guys that play for them at the wide receiver position, running back position and the secondary position that are terrific, skilled athletes," Gundy said. "When we break down opponents each week, we try to categorize what would be college players, somewhat-below college players that are playing at this level and then guys that have the capability of playing in the NFL. The majority of those guys at those positions have the capability of someday playing in the NFL"

Taking stock of his team, the Cowboys head coach isn't playing the "poor me" or "poor we" card and neither is his staff, and neither is Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.

"(They are) a very well-coached team that knows how to win and knows how to play hard,” Fisher said. "They can create a lot of points on offense, plays very physical on defense. a lot of pressures and different looks, eight-man drops to come and pressure the quarterback, a variety of things. They won 41 games in four years, so they are a very well-coached, good football team."

“We have depth at the defensive line position, we’re young at linebacker and we’re young in the secondary," Gundy said in response to a question on his team. "We’re a little mature on the offensive line, but don’t have much depth. At the running back and wide receiver spot, we have the same guys, but should be a little better through experience."

I have said I would be pleased with a good effort, staying within 20 points, and getting out of the opener healthy. I've ben around long enough to know that is a defeatist attitude. Some of the players have called me on my lack of faith. I've told them I would love to be proved wrong in a case like this and can't wait on a Monday to apologize to each and every one of them and declare I won't lose the faith again this season.

Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer knows all too well the talent on both sides of the ball. He played his college ball in the south at Georgia Tech and has coached down in that neighborhood for many years. He's seen Florida State up close over the years. His job is to have a plan and be ready and have his players on defense ready.

"The first two or three drives, if we can physically match up with them, the guys are disciplined and our backs are secure, then some good things can happen," Spencer said plotting a course for success. "If we've got guys out there who don't know what they're doing, we're going to be playing down real quick."

In the end the players will decide what happens. That is why it's important that they have the attitude they have and it doesn't matter what you and I might think whether we go through this week as realist or dreamers in the highest order. The players will make it happen, physically and mentally.

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