COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 59-30 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Todd Monken | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer, Bill Young
With a true freshman at quarterback, the Pokes need a big year from running back Joseph Randle.
Throughout the spring, storylines in Stillwater were dwarfed by one prominent position battle — quarterback. Gone was Brandon Weeden, director of the two best seasons in Oklahoma State history. To fill the void, the Cowboys waged a three-way battle that involved veteran Clint Chelf, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh and true freshman Wes Lunt, just arrived as an early enrollee out of high school in January.
A long shot to begin with, Lunt surprisingly emerged from the competition with the job. As the best pure passer of the three, Lunt always figured to be the quarterback of the future. And the future arrived early.
“We like our system,” coach Mike Gundy says. “We like the ability to play fast. Wes gives us the best opportunity to stay consistent with our style of play.”
The Cowboys will continue to fling the ball around, although they will likely rely more on a stout running game, with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith forming one of the top backfield tandems in the Big 12. They combined for 1,862 yards and 33 touchdowns rushing a year ago, with Randle doubling as a reliable receiver on screens and short passing routes.
With Justin Blackmon, the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner also gone, the wide receiver competition offered much spring intrigue, too. Cowboys coaches seemed pleased with the developments, most notably Tracy Moore’s transition from inside to Blackmon’s spot outside. Isaiah Anderson returns, Charlie Moore emerged as a spring sensation, and inside receiver Josh Stewart and tight end Blake Jackson may be the best playmakers in the group.
The line, behind proven standouts Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush at guard, should again be a strong point.
As the Cowboys found themselves squeezed out of the 2011 national title picture by the slimmest of margins — 86-thousandths of a point — they were frequently pegged as flawed because of a defense that ranked No. 107 in total defense.
Never mind that OSU ranked No. 1 in turnover margin, finishing plus-21 in takeaways, which counts for a stop just the same as any three-and-out. And consider this: The Cowboys might be able to lean on their defense in 2012. That ball-hawking attitude, an improved defensive front and better overall team speed have Gundy considering his defense as a team strength.
“Everybody has fast guys that touch the ball now in these offenses,” Gundy says. “I think we’ll be so much faster this year than we’ve ever been.”
Junior college tackle Calvin Barnett delivers star power to a front four that was already brimming with young players on the verge of a breakout. The linebackers — Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey — are all worthy of all-conference consideration.
And with Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert locking down enemy receivers at cornerback, and Daytawion Lowe returning as the team’s leading tackler at free safety, the defense appears to be in good hands.
Joseph Randle, RB—A first-team All-Big 12 pick, Randle is a dual threat, after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns and catching 43 passes.
Brodrick Brown, CB—A lockdown corner, Brown led the Big 12 and ranked third nationally with 1.5 passes defended per game.
Justin Gilbert, CB—Tied Brown for the team lead with five interceptions and also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Alex Elkins, LB—The team’s second-leading tackler (90) in 2011, just his fourth year of playing organized football.
Tracy Moore, WRCaught 45 passes for 672 yards a year ago; can he double that in Blackmon’s old spot?
|Sept. 1st||Savannah State|
|Sept. 9th||at Arizona|
|Oct. 13th||at Kansas|
|Oct. 20th||Iowa State|
|Nov. 3rd||at Kansas State|
|Nov. 10th||West Virginia|
|Nov. 17th||Texas Tech|
|Nov. 24th||at Oklahoma|
|Dec. 1st||at Baylor|
The reigning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and first-team all-conference pick at both punter and kicker, Quinn Sharp is an impact player despite his limited role. Gilbert is a game-changer on kickoff returns, with four runbacks for touchdowns in two seasons.
Weeden and Blackmon will be missed. And Lunt faces sure ups and downs as a freshman starter at the game’s premier position.
Still, playmakers remain and the overall program has never been in better shape to handle a rebuilding year. The schedule is forgiving, too, with a soft opening and three Big 12 contenders — Texas, West Virginia and TCU — all due in Stillwater.
If the defense is indeed better, the Cowboys could contend again.