NCAA Football Preview - Oklahoma State Cowboys

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Updated: 8/20/2013 9:49 am

The Pokes blasted visiting Savannah State (84-0) in the season opener, but followed that up with a 59-38 loss at Arizona. OSU put up 65 points in a rout of Louisiana, then promptly dropped a 41-36 decision to Texas in the league lidlifter. A run of three straight wins followed, but a double-digit loss at Kansas State was the team's second in conference and that meant the Cowboys would face an uphill climb if they were to challenge for the conference crown.

A pair of wins over West Virginia and Texas Tech followed, but back-to-back losses at Oklahoma and Baylor reduced the club to lower-tier bowl status, and they used it as motivation to rout Purdue in the Heart of Texas Bowl, 58-14.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Head coach Mike Gundy utilized three quarterbacks last season, each of whom completed better than 60 percent of his passes, tallied almost 4,300 yards and combined for 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Not content to be part of that signal-caller carousel, Wes Lunt transferred to Illinois, leaving senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh to duke it out for reps this fall. Chelf appears to have the inside track, but Walsh will surely see his share of snaps as Gundy likes what both players bring to the table.

"We got two young men that we feel very comfortable with, and they've worked, and they're extremely dedicated to our program. They're great team players. They'll get equal reps."

Joseph Randle was one of the Big 12's best running backs during his time in Stillwater, rushing for 1,417 yards and 14 TDs last season, but his absence means the duo of Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland will see their workload increase after combining for 672 yards and 12 TDs in 2012.

The Pokes are fortunate to have leading receiver Josh Stewart back after he collected 101 grabs for 1,210 yards and seven TDs a year ago. Charlie Moore (35 rec., 542 yards, six TDs) and Blake Jackson (30 rec., 598 yards, three TDs) also return for another go, giving Chelf and Walsh even more weapons down the field.

The offensive line features only two returning starters in senior guard Parker Graham and junior tackle Daniel Koenig, but the guys expected to plug the other holes have the skill and confidence to make it one of the more stout units in the conference.

DEFENSE: The Cowboys' Achilles' heel last season was their inability to limit passing yards, as foes averaged 280 ypg through the air to saddle the unit with a national ranking of 110th. Glenn Spencer was promoted to defensive coordinator this past January, and he will have as many as seven players back with starting experience to implement what will surely be a more aggressive approach.

Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have the talent to be one of the best interior tandems in the conference, and they will be asked to up their production in a big way after combining for 15 TFL last season.

Senior linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey each had in excess of 50 tackles last year, while senior free safety Daytawion Lowe was the unit's co- leader in stops with 75, adding a pair of picks, one fumble recovery and a sack to his stat line. Senior Justin Gilbert has the ability to be one of the league's best corners, and he is a standout kick returner as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cowboys will likely rely on a freshman to handle all kicking duties, as Ben Grogan replaces former standout Quinn Sharp.

OUTLOOK: Oklahoma State kicks off the season against SEC foe Mississippi State in Houston, and that game is followed by a couple of lay-ups in UTSA and Lamar. The conference lidlifter at West Virginia won't be easy, and neither will be bouts against Kansas State and TCU, although both are at home.

The team will have to guard against a letdown during trips to Iowa State and Texas Tech, and a murderous stretch versus Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma to close the regular season will likely have a significant impact on the final Big 12 standings.

In addition to elevating Spencer, Gundy also brought in a new offensive coordinator in former Shippensburg (PA) OC Mike Yurich. The talent on the roster will likely override any potential speed bumps that may come as a result of learning new schemes, and the Cowboys will likely be in the thick of the Big 12 title chase until the very end.

While having faith in the guys he plans to go into battle with this season, Gundy approaches the season with guarded optimism.

"I think we'll know a lot more after the first month. Where we fall right now, I'm not sure. We have enough returning starters for the people across the country that vote to recognize that we have a chance to be a quality team."

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