Dallas Colleges: Michael Harrison

Weak and Strong: Oklahoma State Cowboys

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
2:30
PM CT
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Oklahoma State.

Strongest position: Pass-catchers

I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.

Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.

Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.

Weakest position: Defensive end

I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.

More Weak and Strong.

Poll: WVU's Gibson biggest impact frosh

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
4:00
PM CT
Earlier this week, I asked you to vote for which incoming freshman you thought would have the biggest impact in 2013.

The fans spoke, and West Virginia receiver Shelton Gibson finished solidly in the No. 1 spot with 33 percent of the vote. He was well ahead of the No. 2 finisher, Baylor receiver Robbie Rhodes, who grabbed 23 percent of the vote.

I'd agree with those two having an immediate impact. I don't know if you can expect either to finish with 90 catches, but I'd be surprised if both Gibson and Rhodes didn't both make their presence known next fall. For freshmen, opportunity might be more important than skill itself. Both players obviously have the latter, but Baylor and West Virginia's offenses both provide opportunity. With a pair of receiving corps that are drained (more so West Virginia than Baylor), the pass-happy offenses will have to find targets. Rhodes is in the middle of the road when it comes to size, but Gibson's small and shifty frame could help him get open and get touches early in his career.

Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd will have an opportunity with a pair of lost safeties from last year's team, and he edged out Ra'Shaad Samples with 18 percent, compared to Samples' 17 percent. Samples is entering a situation similar to Rhodes and Gibson, but Oklahoma State has a few more established weapons like Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and the expected return of Michael Harrison, as well as the late emergence of Austin Hays.

Incoming TCU running back Kyle Hicks grabbed just 9 percent of the vote. It sound like the other 91 percent of voters didn't believe he could fight through Aaron Green, B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to earn some touches in TCU's offense.

These guys will be fun to watch over their careers, and it's not all about the first season on campus.

Fresh faces: Oklahoma State

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
2:30
PM CT
Today we continue our look across the league at few players from each team who had low profiles last year, but you'd better get to know before 2012. They just might be household names by season's end.

More fresh faces:

Next up: Oklahoma State.

Josh Stewart, WR: You probably remember a bit from Stewart last year, who broke out and caught 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but the time is now for Stewart to become a star. OSU needs him after losing Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison. He had a huge spring, and coach Mike Gundy predicted running back Joseph Randle would lead the team in receptions, though it might be Stewart, too. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Denton, Texas native is as shifty as you might expect, and could emerge as freshman Wes Lunt's favorite new target.

Parker Graham, OT: I knew OSU was going to be replacing starters along the offensive line this year, and at last year's Fiesta Bowl, asked around the Cowboys' line for the young guys who were the most impressive. The same name kept popping up over and over: Parker Graham. He started five games last year and became the team's starting right tackle by season's end after having almost no experience. Now, he's a junior loaded with potential. The 6-foot-7, 315-pounder is now the starter at left tackle and had 20 knockdowns last season, though he did give up two of the 12 sacks given up by OSU's line last season.

Shamiel Gary, S: Gary had no profile last year because he was sitting out after transferring in from Wyoming. Now, he's a co-starter alongside Lavocheya Cooper at strong safety, looking to replace Markelle Martin. Losing Johnny Thomas hurt this squad, but Gary has been a big reason why it won't be a huge issue this fall. He's got prototype safety size at 6-foot, 210 pounds and could challenge for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors by season's end.

Oklahoma State ready to join nation's elite

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
10:32
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If we're going to be technical about this, Oklahoma State broke through last season, winning its first Big 12 title and a bushel of respect in the process.

Just a few months later, the questions are out. The doubts are fresh.

"Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was too much."

"Welcome back to Earth, Cowboys."

"Their new quarterback is how old?"

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Joseph Randle
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtStar RB Joseph Randle has helped Oklahoma State earn national respect in recent seasons.
We've heard all three of those before and will again in 2012. The age jokes are back, but replace jokes about Weeden's AARP status with ones about 18-year-old Wes Lunt's acne and prom date. Then replace "Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon" with "Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant."

The 2011 team was better. It won more and went further, twice setting the school record for wins, racking up 23 in two seasons and bringing some new hardware to Stillwater that had never found a home at Boone Pickens Stadium.

That's just one breakthrough season. Oklahoma State, though? It's about to prove it's a breakthrough program ready to take its place among college football's elite.

The Cowboys have sustained success, winning at least nine games in four consecutive seasons. They'll do it again in 2012, because that's what elite teams do after they win a title. They keep winning, and Oklahoma State has stockpiled plenty of talent outside of Weeden and Blackmon, talent that's ready to shoulder the load and carry the Pokes to a solid season.

They're not built for a title in 2012, but they're built for a solid season. Expect 8-9 wins. Don't be surprised if a bowl win gives the Pokes their third consecutive 10-win season.

That's not a breakout season in the traditional sense, but its further validation that the Cowboys' arrival on the big stage last season didn't precede a humbling rebuilding season in 2012.

Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle will make life easier for Lunt. A solid, underrated receiving corps is ready to make a name for itself, highlighted by Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and newcomer Blake Jackson filling in for Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison.

The defense led the nation in turnovers last season -- a third consecutive season in the national top 11 -- and will be more experienced and talented in 2012. Linebackers Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis hold down the middle, while cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best duos on the outside.

Oklahoma State made a name for itself in the 2011 season, but the national audience is fickle. It may have forgotten.

The Cowboys will remind them this year.

And just wait until next year.

Spring camp breakdown: Oklahoma State

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
12:00
PM CT
Oklahoma State (aka the Big 12 champs) opens up spring practice later today. Here's a look at what to expect.

Schedule: Oklahoma State kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 21. Practices are closed to fans and media.

What's new: The major characters in the story of the Cowboys' 2011 Big 12 title run (and subsequent Fiesta Bowl win) are gone. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon hooked up for 232 completions and 38 touchdowns the past two seasons, carrying Oklahoma State to 23 wins in consecutive years that were each the best in school history. Replacing both is the primary issue in the spring.

New faces: Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left after 12 years in Stillwater and leaves a big void of his own. New assistant Van Malone will coach OSU's safeties, but coach Mike Gundy won't decide who fills the special teams role until after the spring. Malone comes to OSU via Tulsa. Oklahoma State also welcomes four early enrollees: QB Wes Lunt, TE Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett and LB Jeremiah Tshimanga.

Big shoes to fill: OSU's receiving corps. Blackmon is gone, but the search goes a lot deeper than just for OSU's No. 1. No. 2 receiver Josh Cooper graduated, as did No. 4 receiver Hubert Anyiam. The team's receiver with perhaps the most potential, Michael Harrison, also left the team after being suspended by the NCAA for the 2012 season. Last year, nine OSU players caught at least 19 passes for 200 yards. There's a lot of receptions to go around. Receivers have to step up this spring. Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson are the most likely candidates to grab 80-100 balls next year.

All eyes on: The quarterback battle, obviously. Gundy says junior Clint Chelf hasn't done enough to make the job his to lose. Freshman J.W. Walsh has a full year in the system under his belt, but can the dual-threat prove his mettle as a passer? Lunt enters this spring with what's likely the biggest arm of the three, but can he pick the system up fast enough to earn the job? Gundy says he wants to know his starter at the end of the spring, but all three will receive equal reps to begin practice today.

Breaking out: Jackson. We mentioned him earlier, and the early-enrolling tight end is already making a splash. He opens the spring at the top of OSU's depth chart at inside receiver. You don't see that every day. The 6-foot-3 juco transfer was an All-American last year and is already up to 238 pounds from 220 earlier this year. Don't be surprised if he makes major waves in the coming weeks.

Question mark: Markelle Martin wasn't the fastest safety in the league, but he provided valuable leadership, had tons of experience and was arguably the Big 12's biggest hitter. Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing him, but will he be good enough? In the pass-happy Big 12, there's no overstating the importance of safeties that get in receivers' heads and prevent the big play.

Thoughts on the Big 12 champs' depth chart

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
12:00
PM CT
Oklahoma State kicks off spring practice next week, but the Cowboys released their pre-spring depth chart on Thursday.

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.

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
11:36
AM CT


Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December, or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. They have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to a historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like the Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back ... but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that saw 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

Gundy's 'system' will be tested again in '12

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
11:30
AM CT
A long time ago, in a small Oklahoma town far, far away from Phoenix, a bunch of people told Oklahoma State it would finish fifth in something once known as the Big 12 South.

That was back in August 2010, 16 months ago.

Since then, Oklahoma State won a share of the Big 12 South with a whole lot of guys nobody outside Stillwater had ever heard of.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesIf you thought Mike Gundy and the Cowboys had high expectations for 2011, just wait 'til the 2012 season rolls around.
A three-star recruit with 20 career catches won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. A former walk-on won the nod as the Big 12's best quarterback. An offensive line with four new starters emerged as the Big 12's best.

That means this year, OSU won the Big 12 with a whole bunch of stars, including receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden and one of the nation's best position coaches, OSU offensive line coach Joe Wickline.

Before the season, OSU coach Mike Gundy reflected on that dream, 11-win season that served as a precursor to 2011, an even dreamier season capped by a win over Oklahoma, the first since 2002.

It happened, Gundy says, because of his system that had been in place for five years, with improvement each year serving as the proof that persuaded players to buy in.

"It allows us to perform better than we should when maybe we’re not as talented or we’re not as experienced," he said before beginning a year that ended with the school's first Big 12 title. "We didn’t have hardly any experience coming back last year, and we stuck with what we believed in, and I am somewhat convinced that that’s the reason we were able to start playing pretty good and have a productive year in somewhat of a rebuilding phase."

Well, guess what?

It's time to test that theory once again.

We know how 2011 will end: With 11 or 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win or loss. The Cowboys finish their season against Stanford on Monday night.

The bigger unknown?

... What will happen next year?

Weeden will be gone. Blackmon will be, too. The Cowboys' No. 2 target, Josh Cooper, will relinquish his title as one of the Big 12's most underrated players upon graduating. Three offensive linemen will end their college careers, too.

The defense will lose both defensive ends and its leader, safety Markelle Martin.

That system of Gundy's? It's time for another big test.

In his seventh season in Stillwater, Gundy has the rare distinction of equaling or improving on the previous year's win total in every single year.

Next season undoubtedly will be a rebuilding year, but so was 2010. What will it mean on the field?

The Cowboys will host a quarterback competition for the right to throw to a group of talented receivers nobody outside Stillwater, as in 2010, has ever heard of.

Recruiting has improved every year under Gundy, and we'll see how those new faces have fit into his burgeoning program.

This time next year, will Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or newcomer Wes Lunt be a household name and an All-Big 12 quarterback?

Will Michael Harrison, Isaiah Anderson, Tracy Moore or Josh Stewart be on the short list for the Biletnikoff?

As in 2010, the Cowboys will have a solid running game to depend on. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns with a game still left to play. They'll both be back, as Kendall Hunter, a 2008 All-American, was in 2010.

This year, Oklahoma State proved it can get over the hump.

Next year, we'll find out whether the Cowboys are capable of staying on top.
The Big 12 might be weak at the top of the running back heap, but it's definitely not at receiver. The conference has at least three of the top five receivers in the country, and the top two. They highlight a very strong group of receivers across the league, and I continue our position rankings with receivers today.

Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.

Other position rankings: 1. Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIRyan Broyles finished the 2010 season with 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Sooners have the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ryan Broyles, but found a handful of others to surround him in 2010 and should have a couple more in 2011. Sophomore Kenny Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record and looks like a budding star. Dejuan Miller came on strong before a season-ending knee injury, but he's back. The Sooners lose Cameron Kenney, but Trey Franks had a strong freshman campaign, and freshmen Justin McCay (redshirt) and Trey Metoyer could provide even more playmakers.

2. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.

4. Baylor

Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.

5. Missouri

Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.

6. Texas Tech

Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.

7. Texas

Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.

8. Kansas State

Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.

10. Kansas

Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.

Talking expansion, new stars, and future

February, 8, 2011
2/08/11
3:24
PM CT
Thanks for all the questions in the chat today. It was a good one. Here's the transcript if you missed it. And a few highlights:

Nick Thompson in Columbia, Mo., asked: How will Missouri transition from James Franklin to Blaine Gabbert? What impact will losing Gabbert have on the Missouri offense and what will Franklin have to do to step in effectively?

David Ubben: Well, that's assuming Franklin wins the job, which is absolutely not a given right now. I've said it a few times, but it's going to come down to accuracy and decision-making more than anything. I'm not sure Franklin's running ability will do much for him. In 2010, it allowed him to offer a change of pace to Missouri's offense and get some playing time, but the full-time starter has to be the guy who can deliver the ball to playmakers most often.


Ben in Las Vegas asked: You've mentioned that ideal targets for Big 12 expansion back to 12 teams are the Arizona teams. Is that even remotely possible or just the ideal? Any movement in that direction at all?

DU: I haven't heard many real conversations about it happening, and I don't think it will, but it's the only expansion move the Big 12 can make, should it choose to in the future, that would be a solid step forward, rather than just spinning its wheels. I should be clear, the Big 12 isn't looking to expand, but if you can convince the Arizona schools that they can make more money in the Big 12, which is possible, I could see them being talked into joining the league.


Martin in Dallas asked: Can you give your reasoning on why you think the Big 12 remains the same in 5 years, or just a wild guess?

DU: In short, Texas is getting exactly what it wants in the Big 12, money upon money and good scheduling/competition. Texas A&M and Oklahoma don't exactly have "open" invitations to the SEC. I don't see anyone actually leaving. What are the other schools without networks going to do? Leave? That's insane. Complain about Texas all you want, but schools like Iowa State and Kansas State can't do anything about it. Texas A&M would like to, but doesn't have the options it did this summer.


Gary in Syracuse asked: Care to offer a brief evaluation of Dan Beebe's job performance over the past twelve months?

DU: Not as bad as everyone thinks it was. He gets a bad rap. What, exactly, what he supposed to do to keep Nebraska or Missouri from leaving? He inherited a lot of problems, and it was a minor miracle that he convinced Texas and the rest of the Pac-16 crew to stay anyway. Worked hard to do it and succeeded.


Reece in Texas asked: With the new schedules in the Big 12 how hard will it be for the middle tier schools to win the Big 12?

DU: It was always hard for teams in the South, but a North team, in a clunker year, could slip into the Big 12 title game and get a shot at a South team. Now, you've got to outplay everybody, and nobody with fewer than 10 wins or so is winning this league. So, it's going to get a lot tougher.


Allan in Stillwater asked: If Hubert Anyiam comes back healthy and plays to his potential, does OSU have the best receiving core in the nation? Blackmon, Cooper, Anyiam, Tracy Moore, and Harrison... surely there isn't a better group out there.

DU: Oh yeah, it's up there. Anyiam gets overlooked, and he could be a quiet sleeper for an all-conference type season in 2011. If guys like Moore and Harrison keep developing, these guys could be incredible.

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