Spring superlatives: Oklahoma State

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
3:00
PM ET
The seventh in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Strongest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Nick Martinez, Levy Adcock, Jonathan Rush, Grant Garner, Lane Taylor

Key losses: None

Analysis: Guys like Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and last year, Kendall Hunter, get all the attention, but I really believe the five guys up front are the real strength for the Cowboys.

Yes, their skill position talent is on par with anyone's in the country, but the five guys up front got very little credit for Dana Holgorsen's offense last year.

Despite throwing the ball 532 times (third-most in the Big 12), the Cowboys gave up just 10 sacks, eight fewer than anyone else in the conference. Most games, quarterback Brandon Weeden's jersey barely caught a stain. Sure, part of that is playing on turf at Boone Pickens Stadium, but you get my point. Those 10 sacks were fewer than only seven teams in college football, and among that group were two teams with NFL quarterbacks (TCU, Stanford) and option offenses that rarely threw the ball (Army, Air Force, Navy) and another (Oregon) that played in the national championship. That's pretty good company.

The Cowboys also ran for more than 5 yards per carry last season, which ranked 20th nationally and third in the Big 12.

All five starters return, and to make things better, juco transfer Michael Bowie may crack the starting lineup at left tackle by midseason just because he's got a chance to be even better than Martinez, the starter. Four current starters are seniors and Taylor, the lone junior, has two years of starting experience where everyone else has just one.

There may be some hiccups in the transition from Holgorsen to new coordinator Todd Monken, but an offensive line like the Cowboys have will make those a lot easier to deal with.

Weakest position: Defensive tackle

Key returnees: Nigel Nicholas

Key losses: Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson

Analysis: The Cowboys have potential in Nicholas, a junior who played some last season and has drawn rave reviews this spring after notching 13 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks last year.

Beyond him, though, Oklahoma State may find it difficult to replace both starters on the interior of the defensive line, especially Jarka.

Christian Littlehead is set to start after the spring, but the freshman redshirted last year and will be trying to learn on the go, rather than be eased into a rotation like Nicholas. Additionally, the Cowboys have no one else on the roster with real experience.

Coach Mike Gundy signed five defensive tackles in his 2011 class, but it may be awhile before those players get a chance to really have an effect on the field.

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