Dallas Colleges: Evan Epstein
2012 Big 12 record: 5-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0
Top returners: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart, CB Justin Gilbert, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, WR Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Tyler Johnson
Key losses: RB Joseph Randle, LB Alex Elkins, K/P/KOS Quinn Sharp, CB Brodrick Brown, DE Nigel Nicholas, WR Isaiah Anderson
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Clint Chelf* (1,588 yards)
Rushing: Joseph Randle (1,417 yards)
Receiving: Josh Stewart* (1,210 yards)
Tackles: Alex Elkins, Daytawion Lowe* (75)
Sacks: Tyler Johnson* (4)
Interceptions: Lyndell Johnson*, Daytawion Lowe*, Shamiel Gary* (2)
1. The defense's intentions are clear. Bill Young is out. Glenn Spencer is in, and he's all about playing aggressive. Tight coverage and blitzes are the name of the game, and we'll see if it pays off in a Big 12 lacking in quarterback experience. Last season, OSU's parade of turnovers came to an end, but Spencer seems intent on bringing it back. Nobody's stopping Big 12 offenses, but forcing turnover and holding teams to three in the red zone are how you succeed on defense in this league.
2. The offensive line is set ... for now. Center Evan Epstein and guard Lane Taylor are gone, but the Pokes are going with youth at left tackle in sophomore Devin Davis, moving last year's left tackle, Parker Graham, to left guard. Meanwhile, junior Jake Jenkins is sliding up to take Epstein's spot at center. That's how it ended in the spring, but OL coach Joe Wickline is kind of unpredictable, so those guys better continue to bring it in fall camp.
3. Athletic director Mike Holder is still running the show. Gundy and Holder had a disagreement on scheduling that nearly ended with Gundy packing his bags to succeed Derek Dooley in Knoxville. But Gundy's displeasure with Holder helping schedule Mississippi State this year and Florida State next year -- both on neutral fields -- hasn't changed much. OSU just announced a future home-and-home with Boise State. Who knows what Boise will look like then, but the intent is clear: Holder wants attention-grabbing, money-making games to start the season, not home games against patsies to help OSU run up an easy 3-0 mark before conference play begins.
1. Seriously, what's the deal at quarterback? Chelf is the safe bet at quarterback, but Gundy reneged on a statement midway through spring that he would hold onto his starting spot in Week 1 ahead of J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. Now, Gundy says the starter for Game 1 hasn't been decided, and quarterbacks are off limits to the media with no updates being given until after the season opener. We'll see if Gundy sticks to it, and if Chelf hangs onto the starting job he earned with strong play to close 2012.
2. Is Oklahoma State a new Big 12 power? The Pokes broke through and won a title in 2011, but one title doesn't mean anything in the big picture. OSU is in position to win another and just may be the league favorite to start the season. They are in my book for sure. Two Big 12 titles in three seasons? That's serious, and the Pokes have a chance to do some special things this season.
3. Is Mike Yurcich the next super coordinator at OSU? Mike Gundy's been a head coach less than a decade, but his coaching tree is already way underrated. He's churning out head coaches year after year, highlighted by guys like Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Larry Fedora at North Carolina and Tim Beckman at Illinois. Todd Monken just left for Southern Miss, and if Yurcich, who stepped into the new role from a Division II school, keeps the pace for this offense, I'm betting he may attract interest before too long, too. Watching how he handles Year 1 will be interesting. Monken came from being an NFL position coach and made parlaying that into a head coaching job look easy.
2011 conference record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; P/K 2
RB Joseph Randle, WR Tracy Moore, WR Isaiah Anderson, CB Brodrick Brown, LB Shaun Lewis, S Daytawion Lowe, LB Alex Elkins, CB/KR Justin Gilbert
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.
You can see the full chart here.
A few thoughts:
- Gundy made it official on the depth chart: It's a three-man race for the QB job, and right now, junior Clint Chelf doesn't have the advantage. Chelf and freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will compete for the job in the spring and are all separated by an "or" on the chart.
- Junior college All-America tight end Blake Jackson just signed with OSU and has already earned a bit of pre-spring hype, and he'll enter the spring as a starter. Not at tight end, though. He's starting opposite Josh Stewart at inside receiver. That's an interesting selection. Not many 6-foot-3, 238-pound inside receivers in the Big 12. Jackson was listed at 220 when he signed, too. Looks like he's packed on a lot of muscle.
- Grant Garner leaves a huge hole in the middle of OSU's offense at center, but Evan Epstein will start the spring as his replacement. Parker Graham played a lot in 2011, but he'll replace Levy Adcock at right tackle after playing left tackle last year. Senior Michael Bowie will move to left tackle after playing a reserve role in 2011.
- Cooper Bassett and Ryan Robinson slide up, as expected, to replace OSU's pair of departed defensive ends, but those jobs aren't settled. Nigel Nicholas and Tyler Johnson are newcomers to the position. Nicholas played DT last year and Johnson was a linebacker. Nicholas is a co-starter with Bassett and Johnson is No. 2 behind Robinson.
- Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing Markelle Martin at safety, but he's probably going to have a battle on his hands with Zack Craig for that spot. Cooper missed time with an injury last year, and Craig was the top reserve at the position.
- Sad to see Michael Harrison not on the depth chart. A personal issue prompted the NCAA suspension and his decision to leave the team, but I hate to see potential go unfulfilled. Harrison had a whole lot, and he was my pick to be the next big-time receiver in the program.
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