The Cowboys are the preseason favorite to win a conference for the first time ever. Never have the Pokes received the nod in the Big 8 or the Big 12.
Yes, Oklahoma State did win the Big 12 two years ago, the first conference win since splitting the Big 8 title with Oklahoma and Colorado in 1976.
How will the Pokes handle the pressure of having a target on their backs, especially with a coach who is undecided on his starting quarterback?
It’s hard to figure out Mike Gundy’s brain. The head coach will not decide on his starting quarterback until near kickoff time for the first game. He’s going to choose between Clint Chelf (6-1, 210, Sr.) and J.W. Walsh(6-2, 205, Soph.). Chelf started the final five games of 2012 and completed 99 of 162 pass attempts (61 percent) for 1,304 yards with 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He was 10 points from going 5-0 in that stretch.
Walsh put up fantastic numbers during his time on the field, too. He completed 67 percent of his throws for 1,564 yards with 13 TDs and 3 INTs. Look for Chelf to separate himself when August 31 draws closer.
Three starters from last year return to the line. Most notable is senior Brandon Webb (6-3, 326), who returns at left guard. He is the son of former Sooner All-American Terry Webb. The Cowboys will need to find replacements for right guard and center.
Wideout Josh Stewart (5-10, 178, Jr.) is a preseason All-Big 12 pick. He led the Pokes with 101 receptions for 1,210 yards and seven scores in ’12. Charlie Moore (6-2, 202, Sr.), Blake Jackson (6-3, 235, Sr.) and Austin Hays (6-2, 170, Soph.) finished second through fourth in receptions last year. They combined for 94 catches, 1,534 yards and 11 TDs.
The running game will miss Joseph Randle, who opted for an early exit to the NFL. He led the team with 1,417 yards and 14 scores a year ago. Senior Jeremy Smith (5-10, 208) and junior Desmond Roland (6-2, 203) will battle for the starting nod at tailback. They put up 672 yards and 12 TDs collectively in 2012. Fullback Kye Staley (5-10, 236, Sr.) also returns. He is the media’s pick for all-conference honors this year and he made the second team last year.
Oklahoma State Statistics, 2012
Offense (Nat'l. Rank)
Defense (Nat'l. Rank)
Senior Calvin Barnett (6-2, 299), last year’s defensive newcomer of the year in the Big 12, returns up front at tackle. He led the Pokes with 8.5 tackles for losses in 2012. James Castleman (6-2, 296, Jr.) joins him at the other tackle slot. He had 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage last year and an interception. Both had 30 tackles each. OSU will be looking for new defensive ends.
Two-thirds of the linebacking corps will return. Seniors Shaun Lewis (5-11, 225) and Caleb Lavey (6-3, 240) combined for 111 tackles with 14.5 behind the line a year ago.
Three-fourths of the secondary will be back on the field in 2013, and all are seasoned seniors. Free safety Daytawion Lowe (5-11, 205) led the Cowboys with 75 tackles and had 2 INTs last year. Justin Gilbert (6-0, 194) returns at one corner slot. He made 63 stops and broke up nine passes, but he didn’t have a pick in 2012. Shamiel Gary (6-0, 210) returns at strong safety, where he had 72 tackles and 2 INTs.
The specialty units should be solid for OSU this year, even with the loss of All-Big 12 punter/placekicker Quinn Sharp. He averaged 46.3 yards per punt in 2012, and he was perfect on all 72 extra points. He hit 82 percent (29 of 34) on field-goal tries.
Gilbert will again return kickoffs this year. He averaged 25.8 per return with 1 TD in ’12. Moore will be the punt return specialist again. He averaged 7.2 yards last year, but didn’t score.