Big 12 Football Media Day Notes: Oklahoma State

Can Oklahoma State head coach Les Miles rebuild the OSU program in the shadow of the National Champion Sooners? This is the seventh of IT's reports from Dallas covering every league team:

Oklahoma State's Les Miles, one of the league's two rookie coaches this fall along with Mizzou's Gary Pinkel, faces a far tougher rebuilding project in Stillwater than Pinkel faces in Columbia. The task the Cowboys' new head man faces not only involves turning around a program with limited success historically (aside from a nice run under Pat Jones in the 80s), it involves doing so in the oh-so-long shadow of National Champ OU an hour to the south of Stillwater. During Oklahoma's down time during the mid- to late-90s, OSU managed just one winning season (8-4 in '97). If a prolonged turnaround ever were going to happen, you'd think it would have been with John Blake at the Sooner helm. Not surprisingly, Miles doesn't buy into that theory, saying he doesn't judge the window of opportunity or the potential for success at Oklahoma State by the success of the Sooners. "We have a different schedule, we have different players and we have a different style of play," Miles said during Big 12 Media Days. "We're attempting to start the momentum of the '97 season anew and then keep it." Easier said than done, of course, with Oklahoma snagging the vast majority of the top in-state talent and Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor and, recently, A&M providing stiff competition for the second tier of talent in the state of Texas (the first tier is the realm of the UTs, OUs and other national powers of the college football world). But if anyone is qualified to resurrect the momentum of the '97 season, it's Miles. He served as the offensive coordinator for that season's squad that hung 50 on Missouri (in a two OT loss), 42 on Texas, 33 on Colorado and 30 on Oklahoma.

Miles, though, may have a new selling point -- or should I say, smelling point -- in his recruiting efforts. "It smells different in Stillwater," sophomore QB Aso Pogi said of the effect of the new coaching regime. I guess the former OSU staff had a serious hygiene problem. Or the stockyards moved downwind during the offseason. Actually, Pogi spoke metaphorical. I think. "I appreciate the intent," the new coach said of Pogi's comment. "I think what he was trying to say was we're just going to expect to win." Ah, the inevitable new coach-inspired attitude adjustment. We heard it from the Missouri players and we certainly heard it from the OSU players. "Anytime you get a new staff, you're going to get more effort," Pogi said. "And the attitude has changed. The great thing coach Miles has brought is maximum effort. We're going to get everything we can get out of every football player on this team." All-league candidate LB Dwayne Levels put it a little differently, but with the same theme. "There's a new sense of urgency and confidence," Levels said. "I'm happy and excited about the change after three losing seasons. There's no doubt we can have a big turnaround." A turnaround, yes. A big turnaround? Unlikely. The Cowboys open on the road with Southern Miss then host Louisiana Tech and Northern Arizona before the Big 12 slate of A&M in College Station, Missouri and Texas at home, Iowa State in Ames and Colorado and Tech at home before closing out with Baylor in Waco and Oklahoma in Norman. "We have enough on both sides of the ball to put a competitive football team in the Big 12 Conference on the field," Miles said. Regardless of Miles' optimism, I see six wins, max, for OSU with that schedule. Five or less is more likely.

Another result of the coaching change is a simplification on both sides of the ball. QB Pogi said his job will no longer include choosing from among 20 to 25 possible checks at the line of scrimmage. "He'll have the option to change the play at the line of scrimmage," Miles said, "but those decisions should be easily made." Miles stressed that the Cowboys will be a balanced team offensively. "I want you to know that we're going to run the football and pass the football about an equal percentage," the former Dallas TE coach (from '98-'00) said. "We'll start with that premise. We want to make the defense have to defend both the run and the pass on every down."

Along with the sophomore Pogi (139 of 247 for 1,550 yards last fall), who took over as the Cowboys' starting QB midway through last season when Tony Lindsay underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, OSU will rely on RB Tatum Bell for production out of the backfield after Reggie White left early for the NFL. "His best football is in front of him," Miles said of Bell, a sophomore out of DeSoto. "The question was would he strike it up in there, and the answer is he will. He runs very aggressively, lowers his shoulder and drives for yards." As a true freshman last fall, Bell totaled 251 yards on 49 attempts, a solid 5.1 yards per carry. He will take handoffs out of both one- and two-back sets. The OSU Media Guide bio says that the Cowboys "won the services of this highly recruited running back over Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma." I don't remember the Horns going after Bell in '99 (for the '00 recruiting class), but IT did rank him as the No. 17 overall prospect in the state and the fourth best RB behind Tyson Thompson (signed with TCU but went juco), Vontez Duff (Notre Dame) and Sneezy Beltran (Texas). Beltran was the only RB the Horns signed in '00.

Miles said on defense he likes his interior linemen (despite the fact that all of last year's D-line starters are gone) and his middle linebacker (Levels) and he believes the OSU secondary "will be better based on scheme (by not putting the corners on an island)." All four DB starters from last fall return but they will be shuffled a bit in the new coach's two-LB, five-DB system. On offense, aside from the guys mentioned above, the OL has a "chance to be solid," according to Miles because of returning starters LT Kyle Eaton, LG Jeff Machado and C Jon Vandrell.

Finally, Miles mentioned a $100-million stadium project that would upgrade OSU's high school-like (my term, not Miles') football facility. The official OSU website, though, has no information on the project.


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