2011 overall record: 12-1
2011 conference record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; P/K 2
QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, S Markelle Martin, DE Jamie Blatnick, C Grant Garner, RT Levy Adcock, WR Josh Cooper, WR Michael Harrison
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Joseph Randle* (1,216 yards)
Passing: Brandon Weeden (4,727 yards)
Receiving: Justin Blackmon (1,522 yards)
Tackles: Daytawion Lowe* (97)
Sacks: Jamie Blatnick (8)
Interceptions: Justin Gilbert*, Brodrick Brown* (5)
1. Handing the reins to the youngster: I had my doubts about whether OSU would actually pull the trigger and name a starting quarterback. For the Cowboys to name 18-year-old true freshman Wes Lunt is a big move, and proof of the staff's confidence that the Illinois native is the best man for the job. The summer will be about him establishing himself as the team's leader, but seeing how he handles the fall will be fascinating.
2. Rebooting the offensive line: You could say OSU must replace four starters on the offensive line, but sixth-year senior Jonathan Rush has plenty of experience while he returns from a knee injury, and Lane Taylor returns, too. Michael Bowie was a starter-quality contributor last year, and Parker Graham earned rave reviews for his work in the second unit last year, moving into a starter role for the final five games. Evan Epstein is the man at center, but replacing Grant Garner won't be easy. This is a unit hardly devoid of experience.
3. Emerging stars at receiver: OSU knew Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper would be gone this year, but Michael Harrison's exit from the team was a surprise. OSU needed talents to emerge in the spring, and they did. Josh Stewart was a big standout, as was juco newcomer Blake Jackson, in the mold of former Sooners star Jermaine Gresham. Charlie Moore exploded for 243 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
1. How far can Lunt take the Cowboys? Oklahoma State will carry the banner of defending Big 12 champs for the first time in school history next fall. They'll do so with a wide-eyed true freshman making his way through plenty of unfamiliar territory and playing plenty of new faces for the first time. His ceiling is high, but Oklahoma State will start in the top 25 and is good enough to be a factor in the Big 12 title race. How far will Lunt carry them?
2. Who's filling in for Markelle Martin? Martin was the leader of the defense in 2011, but defensive coordinator Bill Young says replacing him will be done by committee. Lavocheya Cooper, Zack Craig and Shamiel Gary will be in the mix, but how will that rotation work out in the fall?
3. Can the defense carry more of the load? OSU forced 44 turnovers last season, the most of any team in college football. It also finished 107th nationally in total defense. The Cowboys won't have the same awe-inspiring offense in 2011, but the defense returns a lot of experience and a lot of talent. Defensive ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones leave holes in the pass rush. The defense should be better, but it has to be. The margin for error will be much smaller.