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Justin Gilbert is one of the top kick returners in the Big 12.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys check in at No. 19 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Joseph Randle, RB
With quarterback Brandon Weeden moving onto the NFL, the focus of the offense will shift to the rushing attack. Randle was superb in his first season as the starter last year, rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 scores. He was also a major factor in the passing game, catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. Randle was a threat to score each time he touched the ball and will be expected to handle 220-240 carries in 2012.
Trap Game: Texas Tech (Nov. 17)
Oklahoma State has an interesting schedule, as it has off dates in Week 4 and 6, while playing eight consecutive games to end the 2012 season. The Cowboys have a loaded back half of the schedule, especially with dates against TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma starting in late October. Oklahoma State is a better team than Texas Tech, but the timing of the matchup could leave it vulnerable. The Cowboys host West Virginia one week before playing the Red Raiders and have a trip to Norman to take on Oklahoma on Nov. 24. If Oklahoma State is looking too far ahead, Texas Tech could sneak out of Stillwater with a victory.
Upset Alert: Louisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 15)
This will be the third consecutive season Oklahoma State has matched up against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cowboys won 54-28 in 2010 and won 61-34 last season in Stillwater. Although Oklahoma State was in control of last year’s game, the Ragin’ Cajuns picked off Brandon Weeden three times and returned two of those for scores. Louisiana-Lafayette should be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt this year and won’t be a pushover on Sept. 15. The Cowboys should win this one, but a sluggish start would allow the Ragin’ Cajuns to build some early confidence. It’s a longshot to suggest Louisiana-Lafayette will win, but this is not a team that should be overlooked.
Defensive MVP: Brodrick Brown, CB
It’s not easy being a cornerback in the Big 12. Five teams averaged at least 290 passing yards per game last year, and new conference members West Virginia and TCU will certainly throw the ball around in 2012. Brown has been a steady performer at cornerback and he enters 2012 with 28 consecutive starts. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last year and recorded 68 tackles with five interceptions and 15 passes broken up. In a conference dominated by offense, Brown will give up some plays. However, he’s also a reliable cornerback and should be one of the best in the Big 12 once again in 2012.
Breakout Player: Josh Stewart/Charlie Moore, WR
Justin Blackmon is gone to the NFL, leaving Oklahoma State with a void in the receiving corps. Stewart played well as a true freshman last season, catching 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. At 5-foot-10, the sophomore isn’t the biggest option for Oklahoma State quarterbacks, but he should thrive in one of the inside receiver roles. Charlie Moore has just seven receptions through the first two years, but turned in a monster performance in the spring game and will be a factor in the passing attack.
Unsung Hero: Lane Taylor, OL
Grant Garner and Levy Adcock garnered most of the attention on the offensive line over the last few years, but now it’s Taylor’s return in 2012. The senior has 36 career starts and will start at right guard this season. Taylor earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year, but is expected to challenge for first-team accolades in 2012.
Biggest Game: at Oklahoma (Nov. 24)
You could point to a number of games on Oklahoma State’s schedule to fill this category. However, the Sooners will likely begin the year as the preseason favorite in the Big 12. If Oklahoma State wants to repeat as Big 12 champions, it needs to go on the road and win in Norman. Beating Oklahoma away from Stillwater has been rare, as the Cowboys have just one win in Norman since 1998.
Revenge Game: Iowa State (Oct. 20)
The only blemish on Oklahoma State’s schedule last season was a costly one. The Cowboys were upset 37-31 at Iowa State, which likely cost them a shot to play for the national championship. The Cyclones won’t be a pushover, but Oklahoma State will be out for revenge.
Freshman to Watch: Wes Lunt, QB
Replacing Brandon Weeden is no easy task. During his Oklahoma State career, the former minor league baseball player threw for 9,260 yards and 75 scores. Although Weeden will be missed, coach Mike Gundy has done a good job of replacing successful starting quarterbacks in Stillwater. Lunt ranked as a four-star prospect by rivals.com and enrolled in time for spring practices. Although he was an underdog to win the starting nod, Lunt outplayed J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf to emerge as Oklahoma State’s No. 1 quarterback. There will certainly be some growing pains, but Lunt appears to be a future star in the Big 12.
Comeback Player: Jonathan Rush, OL
With three starters gone from the offensive line, Rush’s return will help ease the transition for new quarterback Wes Lunt. Rush was lost in the fourth game of last season due to a knee injury, but is expected to return at full strength in 2012. The senior had made 16 consecutive starters prior to his injury and is expected to start at left guard this year.
Newcomer of the Year: Blake Jackson, TE
At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Jackson isn’t exactly a receiver and he’s not exactly a prototypical tight end. However, he raised eyebrows with his performance in the spring and is expected to claim one of the four starting receiver spots. Jackson is a transfer from Scottsdale Community College and earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors last year.
Position Battle: Defensive Line
With Lunt taking an early lead in the quarterback derby, the focus turns to the defensive line for Oklahoma State in the fall. Coordinator Bill Young has moved some players around, shifting Nigel Nicholas from tackle to end. The Cowboys must replace ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, who combined for 12 sacks last year. Finding players who can keep the pass rush going is going to be critical for Young in fall camp.
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