Head Coach: Mike Gundy (36-27 at OSU)
Record: 9-4 (2009)
Oklahoma State is coming off one of the most successful two-year stretches in school history, in which they combined for an 18-8 record. Head Coach Mike Gundy has recruited well, and built the program up from a 1-7 conference record in 2005 to top-ten and high expectations in 2009.
Those expectations are tempered in 2010, as Oklahoma State graduated a lot of talent, including new Seahawks Left Tackle Russell Okung. The Cowboys are young, as their 2-deep shows 15 freshman. Over at Cowboys Ride for Free (the OSU SBN blog) they forecast this team in the 7-8 win range. Football Outsiders' 2010 Almanac projects OSU at eight wins. Considering what the program looked like when Gundy took over, that is not too shabby for a "rebuilding" year.
OFFENSE: PPG: 28.4 YPP: 5.4 OFEI Rank: 61
Note: Our loyal readers know that CougCenter loves efficiency ratings, and FEI is another one of those produced by Football Outsiders (a wonderful, fantasic, amazing site). For an explanation of the ratings, go here. In case you were wondering, 2009 WSU sucked by those measurements too.
26 year-old junior Brandon Weeden takes over at quarterback, having only thrown 27 in-game passes in his career. Those 27 passes have been impressive, as he has connected on 16 of them for four touchdowns. Brandon went to straight to baseball after high school, and spent several years in the minor leagues before deciding to come to college and be a quarterback for a BCS school (I for one, would take either of those options in a heartbeat). Brandon may not be as mobile as his predecessor Zac Robinson, but he throws bullets and is fully expected to excel as the full-time starter.
Weeden should have a lot of young, but experienced targets. The best of which may be sophomore Justin Blackmon. He had an impressive freshman year, catching 20 balls for 260 yards and a couple touchdowns. He is the leading returning receiver in the 2-deep. Next to him as a slot receiver is fellow sophomore Tracy Moore. He could be a matchup nightmare, sitting at 6-1 and 230 pounds. It looks like Coach Gundy uses that position as a defacto tight end spot, as Moore's backup, Justin Horton, is also tipping the scales at 238 pounds.
Leading rusher Keith Toston and 1218 yards are gone from last season, but don't expect to see a talent dropoff in the backfield. Senior running back Kendall Hunter is listed as one of Football Outsiders' top 2011 NFL prospects on the team and he missed most of last season due to injury. In his last full season he put up an impressive stat line, carrying the ball 241 times for 1555 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has big-time playmaking ability, possessing a sub 4.4 40 time.
The offensive line has only one returning starter in Lane Taylor, but that does not mean they are inexperienced. Outside of Taylor, the rest of the line are juniors and all are above 300 pounds.
DEFENSE: PPGA: 21.7 YPPA: 4.7 DFEI Rank: 15
While the offense had a lot of the nationally-recognized star power in 2009, the defense played an even bigger role in Oklahoma State's nine wins. Six of the seven leading tacklers from that team are gone, including the entire starting linebacking corps.
Most of the returning starters can be found on the defensive line, including defensive end Ugo Chinasa. Chinasa was the team's leader in tackles for loss last season, posting 9.0. The starting tackles, Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka, are both seniors and pushing 300 pounds. This unit helped limit opposing teams to just 3.00 yards per carry last season, so they should make it difficult for opposing teams to run between the tackles again.
Orie Lemon is the senior leader at middle linebacker. He missed last season due to injury, but was very impressive in 2008. Senior Justin Gent and junior James Thomas are on the oustide. Both have seen action as reserves, but this is their first chance at a starting role. CRFF has the scoop on Thomas.
On the Strongside, we’ll see 5-11, 209-pound junior James Thomas, a small but stout playmaker who works mostly on the more physical side of the field. You know, the strongside? A great special teamer, and more like a safety playing linebacker, last year he had 25 tackles with a broken up pass. With his speed he should do more as a pass rusher and be better when he’s dropped back in coverage.
In the secondary, senior cornerback Andrew McGee is the only returner who recorded an interception last season. There are big shoes to fill, as OSU was very solid in the passing game last year. Junior Markelle Martin saw lots of action last year, posting 46 tackles and 11 pass breakups. Junior FS Johnny Thomas (25 tackles, 1 pass breakup) and sophomore CB Brodrick Brown round out the unit.
The Cowboys are in trouble if...That new offensive line doesn't come together and the new back seven plays well below the level of 2009, allowing a couple of WSU's strengths (the defensive line and wide receivers) to have good days. There are a lot of new starting faces on this Cowboy squad, which means there are more than a few question marks. However, they do have a lot talent left over and most likely will be bowling again this season.