The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 37 Oklahoma State.
Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense:
Uncertainty at quarterback has become a recent trend at Oklahoma State. J.W. Walsh, who has spent time on and off as the starter, used a strong spring to reestablish himself in the eyes of coaches. Always touted as a leader and a “winner,” he showed improved judgment and accuracy throwing the ball, offering hope that he’s growing into the role. Walsh’s mobility is also a plus behind an offensive line that is rebuilding and counting on the healthy return of its projected starting tackles, Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett.
So Walsh, who entered spring in competition with former Arizona transfer Daxx Garman and true freshman Mason Rudolph, makes sense on many levels. “He’s going to be our guy,” says senior Daniel Koenig, the Cowboys’ most veteran lineman. “He has to be.”
If Walsh and the guys up front develop, there are plenty of playmakers to keep OSU’s productive offense rolling.
Power back Desmond Roland emerged as a force a year ago, taking over the starting job midseason and finishing with 811 rushing yards, a 4.6 per-carry average and 13 rushing touchdowns.
Receiver may be the team’s greatest strength; it’s a position stacked with talented breakout candidates, including three — Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman — who started hinting at their upside as youngsters in critical roles a year ago. The Cowboys added a fascinating wild card in junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, who literally has world-class speed as a track standout and is being pegged as a combo running back and receiver.
Previewing Oklahoma State’s Defense:
The Cowboys made great strides on defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer, who successfully implemented an aggressive and attacking style that was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense.
Well, that was fun. Spencer now faces a massive overhaul, after losing seven senior starters and several other key backups. “The fun part about it is, I think this young group is really hungry,” Spencer says. “They’re hungry to show what they can do. They’re hungry to learn. And as a coaching staff, we can hammer in the core principles and values of what we believe in.”
There are valuable cornerstones, beginning up front with tackle James Castleman and end Jimmy Bean, two returning starters on a deep and promising line. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, two juniors, have already played a lot in their careers and project as all-conference candidates. So in the pass-happy Big 12, the Cowboys bring rushers and cover men — must-haves.
Still, inexperience at linebacker and safety is a major concern. Ryan Simmons fit in as this group’s pup a year ago, starting 13 games as a sophomore and finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles. Suddenly, he’s cast as the veteran and a leader. Kris Catlin and Seth Jacobs, who have worked up through the program, and junior college addition Devante Averette are in play for the other two starting jobs.
Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists:
The Cowboys uncharacteristically struggled in the kicking game a year ago, mostly because of the inconsistencies of kicker Ben Grogan and punter Kip Smith. Both are back, so the hope — and need — is that they’ve improved. New return men must be identified, although Hill and his dazzling speed have coaches excited his potential on kickoff returns.
Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.