Gundy, offensive coordinator Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have some guesses. However, the bottom line is that Missouri State was a 4-6 team a year ago. They were disappointing enough that the school let go of head coach Randy Ball and brought in former Kansas coach Terry Allen, who prior to his five seasons at Kansas was the ultra successful head coach at Northern Iowa in the Gateway Conference. Allen's Panther teams won the league or tied for the crown in seven of his eight seasons in Cedar Falls. Most recently he has served as assistant head coach for Dan McCarney at Iowa State.
Allen is a good coach and brought quality help with him including former Iowa State offensive coordinator Steve Brickey. Brickey and Allen will construct an offense around a veteran offensive line with four senior starters that averages 6-4, 287 pounds. They have a tight end that started at Arkansas, a junior college speedster at wide receiver, and a scatback in P.J. Ikner that rushed for 465 yards, three touchdowns and a 5.5-yards per carry average last season. What they don't have is an experienced quarterback with senior-to-be Scott Carroll giving up football for baseball. The quarterback race is down to redshirt freshman Matt Krapfl or junior college transfer sophomore Garrett Congdon.
"They are all young and they have a lot of potential, but we'll have to see," Allen said of his quarterbacks. "It will be a great opportunity for us to learn about them playing in an environment like the one in Stillwater, and that will help us evaluate the situation for further down the year."
As camp wore on it is Krapfl who has surfaced on the top line of the depth chart, but not in a total convincing fashion.
"You'll probably see both of them," said Allen, a former quarterback in the Gateway Conference at Northern Iowa. "I've always been a guy that believed you turn the keys of the offense over to the quarterback and let him run your offense. We still don't know which one to turn the keys over to and what better opportunity to learn from than that environment because we don't see that in this conference other than a couple of places."
The Bears were seventh on the league last season in scoring offense (27.3) and seventh in total offense (375.8 ypg). They do have some weapons to go with the elder statesmen on the offensive line.
"P.J. has the other stuff and we'll rely on P.J.," said Allen. "You hit it right on the head with Payne Hall. He is a good tight end and we want to rely on the tight end and the other name you want to look for is Tamarkus McElwane. He is a junior college player out of California that was here this spring and is probably our biggest playmaker on offense."
Defensively, Missouri State returns 10 starters and with new coordinator D.J. Vokolek, fresh from helping Northern Iowa to the Division I-AA championship game against Appalachian State, they will employ an aggressive 4-3 scheme expected to be similar to the Cowboys with more cover two and cover three zone schemes in the secondary than man to man.
"We're different than they were a year ago, there is no question about that," Allen said of his defense. "We're evolving with what is pretty typical in college football right now. I don't think we're going to fool Mike (Gundy) with how we line up because he probably expects what we are going to do. You have to defend so many personnel groups and the no huddle and all those different methods. Over in the offices there I'm sure they aren't too concerned with how we are going to line up. I'm pretty sure Larry (Fedora) has a pretty good idea of that."
The defensive personnel includes a standout defensive tackle in Keith Reed, a former Tulsa Washington and NEO product . Defensive end Sidney Rone is a former Oklahoma City Star Spencer player. Linebackers Derrick Byrd, Michael Evans and Jason Anthony all return. Corner Greg Lovely is a big hitter that started out his career at BYU, and free safety Mike Radon is an honors student that acts like anything but with his hitting on the field.
"I don't know how we're going to be on Saturday against Oklahoma State, but I think personnel wise we'll stand in there pretty well in the Gateway (Conference)," added Allen. "As long as we stay healthy and we give those guys who are hitters a few more aggressive tendencies."
The Cowboys are a heavy favorite and should be. Oklahoma State is the better team and could win big, but Allen knows this situation. He also has a team that while 4-6 a year ago, did knock off two ranked teams in the Gateway, including beating I-AA runner-up Northern Iowa 24-21. He also knows that the nervous butterflies may be bigger on the Cowboys sidelines.
"I've been on both sides of this coin and it is a heckuva lot more fun to be the I-AA head coach than the I-A," said Allen. "We have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Tell Mike we may even start the game with an onsides kick."
He sounded convincing and that will give Gundy and Co. plenty to think about before kickoff on Saturday.
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