2010 Oklahoma State Cowboys Football Preview
2009 Results: 9-4, Lost Cotton Bowl vs. Ole Miss
Head Coach: Mike Gundy (6th year@ Baylor, 36-27 Overall)
Home Venue: Boone Pickens Stadium (60,000), Stillwater, Oklahoma
No nine win team felt more disappointment at the end of the year in 2009 than the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Despite a down year from every South Division team outside of Texas, Oklahoma State couldn’t capitalize and lost to the ‘Horns, Oklahoma and Houston in the regular season. When the bowl loss to Ole Miss is factored in, the average margin of defeat for the Cowboys was 20 points in their four losses! If Oklahoma State was ever going to break through in the division, it was last season. That simply didn’t happen and the result was a very unfulfilling 2009 campaign.
Unfortunately for Okie State fans, that attitude will probably end up being regretted when their severely depleted team doesn’t remotely approach nine wins this season. Oklahoma State only has seven starters returning and there are even whispers about Mike Gundy’s job security! While I don’t buy into the ridiculous rumors that program benefactor T. Boone Pickens is infatuated with former Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach at Gundy’s expense, there is no doubt with the amount of money that Pickens has invested (his name is one their brand new stadium) that he some serious influence. Can Gundy prevent the vultures from circling by leading his team to their 5th consecutive bowl berth?
The Cowboy offense was significantly less effective in 2009, falling from more than 40 points per game in 2008 to 28 per outing last fall. They were simply far less effective than the previous season, racking up over 100 fewer total yards of offense per contest! The Cowboys were severely crippled by the season-long suspension of superstar WR Dez Bryant and his playmaking skills were missed. But perhaps the biggest reason that Okie State fell off was the loss of elite tailback Kendall Hunter (382 yards, 1 TD last year) to injury for the vast majority of the season. This changed their attack in a major manner because Hunter was a 1st Team All-American in 2008. The good news is that he is fully healthy this fall and will look to regain his exceptional form.
The problem is that Hunter is really the only proven player on this offense. While he is certainly a formidable talent, I find it tough to imagine him regaining his All-American production running behind an O-Line that only returns one starter! How inexperienced is this line? Sophomore guard Lane Taylor started eleven games last fall and the rest of the unit has never started a game in their entire career! This is one of the country’s most untested units and they have to replace 1st round draft pick Russell Okung and three other players who started for the last three seasons! This will be a massively diminished line in 2010.
The Cowboy passing attack is also going to get a makeover this fall. The new quarterback will be junior Brandon Weeden (248 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT), who has never started a game in his career. He has to step into the huge shoes of former QB Zac Robinson, who was drafted in April after three effective seasons under center. To complicate matters, Okie State will be running a new offense that relies much more heavily upon the passing game, so Weeden will have to learn a new scheme while breaking into the lineup. The only good news is that the receiving corps should be fairly deep as junior Hubert Anyiam (42 catches, 515 yards, 3 TDs) will join with three sophomores in the starting lineup and all of them saw the field last fall.
So what will the net result be from all of these changes? I think that Oklahoma State will definitely throw the ball more this season and that means that their passing numbers will increase, almost by default. While they won’t completely abandon the run with a stud like Hunter in the backfield, there is no way that he ends up getting enough carries to run for 1,500 yards like in 2008. To complicate matters, the Cowboys have to break in a new quarterback playing in a new system behind a completely rebuilt line that has virtually no experience. All of those factors lead me to believe that Oklahoma State’s offense will regress in a major manner this fall.
Things look just as diminished on the other side of the football, where Oklahoma State finished 4th in the Big XII in scoring defense in 2009. The Cowboys were excellent against the run, allowing less than 100 yards per contest. But with only one of the top seven tacklers returning from last season, I am very concerned that the Okies are in for trouble this fall.
The defensive front that was so successful on the ground in 2009 isn’t completely ravaged, as senior DE Ugo Chinasa (30 tackles, 6.5 sacks) is one of the better pass rushers in the league. This was a deep unit last season but the Cowboys have to replace both starting defensive tackles and that will hurt their performance against the run. Look for Chinasa to see a lot of double teams until someone else proves that they can get to the quarterback with any consistency and I don’t think this group will be on par with the 2009 edition.
Oklahoma State also has to replace every starting linebacker from last season, which is especially hurtful as their linebackers were the top three tacklers on the team in 2009! However, there is a silver lining: Senior Orie Lemon returns after missing last season with a torn ACL and he was one of the most productive defenders on the team in 2008. Lemon will be the centerpiece of a rebuilt unit at MLB and I think that the new outside linebackers should be fairly productive after playing a fair amount last season. So long as the D-Line can open up room to run to the football, this should be a good group of ‘backers.
My main worry is the pass defense, as the Cowboys have to replace seventeen interceptions from departed players! Most painful is the exodus of corner Parrish Cox, who had four picks last year en route becoming a 5th round NFL draft pick. The only returning starter among the defensive backs this year is junior safety Markele Martin (45 tackles), who was effective in 2009 in run support but didn’t pick off one pass! With a young supporting cast and no superstar on hand like with Cox, I think that this will be a weak pass defense.
Overall, I think that Oklahoma State is in for a tough season on defense. Their front seven is depleted after losing their top three tacklers at linebacker and both starting D-Tackles will also be missed. That is usually a combination that opposing teams exploit in the running game. On top of that, their secondary is extremely inexperienced and they will definitely give up a lot more yards through the air. I just don’t have a lot of confidence in this defense this fall and I think that their extreme youth will come back to bite them hard.
Playing in the Big XII South also doesn’t help Oklahoma State’s case, especially this season when Texas, Texas A&M and archrival Oklahoma all appear to be serious contenders for double digit wins. The draw from the North is also going to be tough, as they host Nebraska and have to travel to both Kansas and Kansas State. Things are more reasonable in the non-conference portion, as their only BCS opponent is weakling Washington State on Opening Day but home tilts against Tulsa and Troy won’t be cakewalks. Overall, the general ease of the non-conference portion could be the Cowboys’ saving grace in earning a bowl berth because they have one of the Big XII’s hardest lineups.
There is no question that this will be a rebuilding season for the Cowboys, at least in Big XII play. They return the fewest starters of any team in the entire conference and it isn’t like there are a ton of elite recruits waiting to get their chance since Stillwater isn’t exactly a 5 star Mecca. The Oklahoma State offense is going to struggle with a new passing scheme and their elite runner, Kendall Hunter, is going to find running room scarce behind one of the country’s least experienced lines. Furthermore, their defense is short on defensive backs and their front seven will be no better than average.
In all reality, the non-conference schedule is really this team’s only chance at a bowl game. Washington State is the most difficult opponent on paper but they’re downright terrible. I think that Okie State’s contests against Tulsa and Troy will prove to be sterner tests as both teams are likely to play in bowl games this year. Don’t scoff: The Trojans beat Oklahoma State in 2007! As both games are early in the schedule, there is a distinct possibility that the Cowboys won’t have adequately gelled on both sides of the football and I think that an upset in one of those first three games will cost Mike Gundy’s team in the postseason chase. The rebuilding Oklahoma State Cowboys are my choice to finish last in the Big XII South Division.
PREDICTED RESULT: 5-7 (2-6 Big XII)
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