After a hiatus for vacation, I'm back with previews of the other Big 12 teams. It's time to take a look at the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
It has been an offseason of transition, turmoil and tragedy at Oklahoma State.
First, Coach Les Miles spent his time at the Alamo Bowl negotiating with LSU for a new job, while Ohio State was pounding the Cowboys. Miles' quick departure left the door open for moneyman T. Boone Pickens to quickly install his choice, Mike Gundy, as the new head coach.
Gundy spent the offseason dealing with personnel issues, booting defensive tackle Brad Girtman and running backs Prentice Elliot and Seymore Shaw for violating team policies, along with three other players. Added to that was the early departure of running back Vernand Morency for the NFL draft, and tight end Billy Bajema, who was also drafted.
Tragedy also struck the program in early summer when cornerback Vernon Grant, an undisputed leader on defense, was killed in an auto accident.
Despite all the problems off the field, the mood is still positive in Stillwater, according to John Helsley of The Oklahoman, who covers the Cowboys.
"I still think expectations are fairly high, meaning six-to-eight wins and another bowl bid, " said Helsley. "Yes, the Grant ordeal will take a toll, as he was the emotional leader of the team and one of the better players on defense. And the schemes are new and demanding. But there's still some top talent on hand and the schedule is set up for a strong start, with non-conference games against Montana State, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State and then visits from two Big 12 North clubs they beat on the road a year ago."
OSU isn't settled on a quarterback heading into the fall, with incumbent Donovan Woods trying to hold off redshirt freshman Robert Reid, and with the easy non-conference schedule, they may not settle on a starter until October. Don't be surprised to see the quarterbacks share duties in the early going.
At running back, there is no proven commodity, and at wide receiver, only D'Juan Woods is established as a solid threat, so the Cowboys offense, expected to be more wide open under new offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, is still a question mark.
Junior Greg Gold (5-9, 200) and redshirt freshman Mike Hamilton (6-1, 215) appear to be the candidates at tailback, and at fullback, the Cowboys have a guard in the backfield in 6-1, 260 senior Sean Willis.
At receiver, OSU needs freshman Jeremy Broadway from Houston to play immediately, and they need sophomore Tommy Devereaux to become a consistent receiving threat.
Corey Hilliard (6-5, 310) is the leader of the Cowboys offensive line, which is adequate, but not spectacular. Former tight end Charley Johnson (6-4, 305) has bulked up to move to the interior line and is a quality blocker.
Defensively, the hopes up front are pinned on juco transfer Ryan McBean (6-5, 290), who was impressive in spring practice. He'll need help from Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, a former highly touted recruit who has thus far failed to live up to the hype.
New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford figures to be an improvement over the departed Bill Clay, and the strength of the defense should be at linebacker, where Lawrence Pinson and Paul Duren return. Daniel McLemore is a speedy, if undersized (5-7, 165) cornerback.
Sat, Sep 03 Montana State
Thur. Sep 08 at Florida Atlantic
Sat, Sep 17 Arkansas State
Sat, Oct 01 Colorado
Sat, Oct 08 Missouri
Sat, Oct 15 at Texas A&M
Sat, Oct 22 at Iowa State
Sat, Oct 29 Texas
Sat, Nov 12 Texas Tech
Sat, Nov 19 at Baylor
Sat, Nov 26 at Oklahoma
OFFENSE - Woods and Reid are both excellent athletes, but not established as passers in Fedora's spread offense. It's hard to believe that any of the running backs on hand can come close to replacing Morency, and the wide receivers will only be as good as the quarterbacks ability to get them the ball. Tight end is also a question mark, while the offensive line will be adequate if they can stay healthy.
GRADE - C
DEFENSE - As always, the problem at Oklahoma State is depth. They have been able to come up with a few good front line players, but quality backups are in short supply, so staying healthy is the No. 1 priority. The Cowboys can't afford any second half collapses like the ones that marked the latter part of the 2004 season. They should be better simply with the subtraction of former defensive coordinator Clay.
GRADE - C
SPECIAL TEAMS - Losing Elliot crippled the return game, but McLemore has the speed to be a threat. Jason Ricks was outstanding as a place kicker in his freshman year, and he'll likely get plenty of action again this season. The Pokes will be breaking in a new punter, so that part of their game is still in doubt.
GRADE – B-
OUTLOOK - Optimism may be running rampant in Stillwater, but it may be time for a reality check. It's hard to see OSU finishing any higher than fifth in the Big 12 South. Unless they can beat North opponents Colorado and Missouri in their first two conference games at home, it's also hard to see the Pokes in a bowl game this year.
Big XII Preview: Oklahoma State
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