Big 12: Maurice Gray
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Most observers are expecting a lot of points Saturday night at Faurot Field -- a game that could resemble an Arena Football League shootout considering the explosive offenses of Missouri and Oklahoma State.
It's understandable why, considering some of the numbers coming into the game. The Tigers rank second in scoring and the Cowboys are third. Missouri's defense is 83rd overall in total defense and 114th in pass defense. Oklahoma State's is 114th in sacks and 116th in tackles for losses.
Even with those daunting indicators, OSU linebacker Patrick Lavine says he doesn't care what dire defensive predictions are floating around days before the game.
"That doesn't bother us. The defense is going to go out there and play as hard as we can regardless of what is being said," Lavine said. "We've progressed so much from day 1 to where we are now. We're building some confidence and I think we'll show it when we get our chance."
The Cowboys' improved defensive work has been one of the biggest surprises in OSU's 5-0 start that's its best since 2004.
The OSU defense went into a feeding frenzy in its 56-28 victory over Texas A&M, providing five first-half turnovers and three three-and-outs to spark the early knockout.
"Our staff has really done a good job in the last nine months of building on the success we had in the bowl game and bringing the team together and really making [sure] they understood what we were trying to accomplish Xs and Os wise," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "The players have rallied together in running to the football."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki|
|The biggest challenge for the Cowboys? Keeping QB Zac Robinson healthy.|
Coach Mike Gundy's 2007 season was marked by a celebrated rant that came after one of his team's biggest victories over Texas Tech.
A more sedate Gundy returns this season facing some big challenges in order to improve on his team's 7-6 record. The Cowboys finished with a victory in the Insight.com Bowl -- their second-straight bowl triumph in as many years -- and will be challenged to match that production.
Talented QB Zac Robinson is one of the nation's most underrated players. And the Cowboys should improve defensively with the addition of six junior-college players. But it remains to be seen how much of a step forward can be made in the rugged Big 12 South Division.
Heading into the season, here are five pressing questions that are facing the Cowboys as they prepare for their Aug. 30 opener in Seattle against Washington State.
1. Can Robinson remain healthy? This will be the major concern for Gundy all season. It remains to be seen if the Cowboys will be able to protect their quarterback, which will be no easy task considering his sometimes reckless running abilities. If backups Brandon Weeden or Alex Cate are counted on to take extended snaps, it will be a long season for the Cowboys.
2. Who will emerge at running back? Dantrell Savage led the Big 12 in rushing in conference games and his contributions can't be dismissed. But the Cowboys might not drop off as much as expected with a three-pronged rotation involving Beau Johnson, Kendall "Spud" Hunter and Keith Toston.
3. How will the offense develop without Larry Fedora? The Cowboys were one of the nation's most balanced and productive attacks under Fedora, the Cowboys' former coordinator who left for the head-coaching job at Southern Mississippi. Gundy and new coordinator Gunter Brewer will be challenged to do the same.
4. Will the junior-college arrivals really boost defensive production? Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman has six junior-college players he hopes can crack the two-deep roster: tackles Swanson Miller and Chris Donaldson, end Jeremiah Price, defensive backs Lucien Antoine and Maurice Gray and linebacker Donald Booker. Their development will be one of the biggest factors shaping Oklahoma State's season.
5. Can the Cowboys improve their special teams? Oklahoma State has traditionally been one of the nation's strongest teams under special-teams coach Joe DeForest, although a couple of disturbing trends were seen last season that demand immediate attention. Sophomore walk-on Dan Bailey beat back the challenge of heralded freshman Quinn Sharp for the starting kicker position. Whoever plays has to do better than OSU did last season (1 for 8 in attempts longer than 30 yards). And Oklahoma State will be challenged for better production from its punt-return and punt-coverage teams after a minus 6.1 yard-per-return difference in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State will be the first team to begin fall practice as the Cowboys start work late this afternoon to improve on last season's 7-6 record.
Last season was highlighted by Mike Gundy's rant at an Oklahoma City newspaper columnist as much as anything the Cowboys achieved on the field. Even after finishing with an impressive 49-33 victory over Indiana in the Insight.com Bowl, the season was marked as much with close divisional losses against Texas and Texas A&M that ultimately kept them out of title contention.
Gundy has his work cut out this summer. Here are some of questions as the Cowboys start work.
1. How will the new combination of offensive coordinators replace Larry Fedora?
The Cowboys' former offensive coordinator left for the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi after last season. He will be replaced by Gunter Brewer and Trooper Taylor. Gundy promises no major changes in offensive philosophy. It will be interesting if the Cowboys can maintain their proficiency that enabled them to average 200 yards rushing and passing in each of the last two seasons.
2. Who will emerge as the featured running threat?
Dantrell Savage is gone, but Kendall Hunter is back as the leading returning rusher. Will Savage be able to withstand a charge from heralded junior-college transfer Beau Johnson for the starting job?
3. Can a backup quarterback be found? - Zac Robinson is one of the nation's most productive players, one of only tthree players along with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour to pass for more than 2,800 yards and rush for 800 yards last season. But the Cowboys are sunk if Robinson is injured, unless either Alex Cate or Brandon Weeden really emeges during training camp.
4. Can playmakers be found to replace Adarius Bowman and Savage? - The Cowboys will be missing their top rushing and receiving threats. It will be important for Dez Bryant to emerge as a go-to receiving threat without Bowman. And whoever emerges at running back will struggle to replace Savage, who led the Big 12 in rushing in conference games and finished with 1,272 rushing yards last season.
5. Will six junior-college transfers really make a difference on defense? DE Jeremiah Price, DT Swanson Miller, DT Chris Donaldson, LB Daniel Booker, FS Lucien Antoine and CB Maurice Gray are counted to crack the two-deep roster. All but Booker participated in spring drills. If some step up it will vindicate the gamble that Gundy made in the heavy infusion of junior-college players.