by Frank Martin
Looking for which one of last season’s top teams will take the biggest step back? Consider Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Cowboys just experienced a season of dreams, a rout of Oklahoma, a first Big 12 championship and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. The offense was staggeringly good, averaging more points (48.69) than the Barry Sanders-led powerhouse in 1988. Oklahoma State scored at least 52 points in six games and at least 61 in three.
But record-setting quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon have moved on. Now the Cowboys are going from a 28-year-old quarterback to an 18-year-old quarterback in freshman Wes Lunt. He’s got to find a handful of new targets to come close to what Oklahoma State was used to with Weeden and Blackmon in 2010 and 2011. The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position of defending champs, but outside of the quarterback and pass-catching spots, this team is anything but rebuilding.
Lunt will be happy when he looks into the backfield and sees junior Joseph Randle (6-1, 194). As a sophomore, Randle ran for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns. He finished fourth in the nation in scoring with 26 total touchdowns. Randle has plenty of help, starting with junior Jeremy Smith (5-10, 204), who ran for 646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011.
As many points as the offense scored last year, the defense appeared to give away just as much. The unit was ranked 61st in nation in scoring defense (26.7 ppg) and 107th in total defense (456.7 ypg). The Cowboys return eight starters from that team including linebacker Alex Elkins but lose the team’s top defender in defensive end Jamie Blatnick (50 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, eight sacks). Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown should be terrific at cornerback, but they simply have to be great this season. The margin for error for the defense is nothing like it was last season.
The only way it gets better than in 2011 is if the Cowboys run the table and play for the national title. Given the major losses on offense and a new starter at quarterback that isn’t likely to happen. The schedule gives the offense another advantage. After opening against FCS school Savannah State (1-10 in 2011), Arizona (4-8) and Louisiana (9-4), the Cowboys get a week off. It should provide a great time for the coaches to evaluate the offense and make any necessary changes in personnel and/or scheme. The conference schedule is forgiving, too, with a soft opening and three Big 12 contenders — Texas, West Virginia and TCU — all due in Stillwater.
alex elkins - brandon weeden - brodrick brown - jamie blatnick - jeremy smith - joseph randle - justin blackmon - justin gilbert - oklahoma state cowboys - wes lunt