This is going to be a fascinating season in Stillwater, and the work (at least as a team, with coaches watching) begins today.
Let's have a closer look:
Schedule: Oklahoma State opens fall camp today after players reported on Thursday. They'll be working toward an afternoon opener on Aug. 31 in Houston at Reliant Stadium against Mississippi State.
Setting the scene: OSU won the Big 12 title back in 2011 and had a top-10 team preparing for a big-time opener back in 2009, but the hype around the Cowboys will be a lot different during this camp. They were an afterthought behind OU and Texas entering 2009 and were picked third in the league behind OU and Texas A&M in 2011. With a solid opponent waiting at the end of camp, the focus and urgency is always there during camp.
All eyes on: The coordinators. Mike Gundy brought in Mike Yurcich from the Division II ranks to run what's essentailly Dana Holgorsen's system. Linebackers coach Glenn Spencer was promoted to defensive coordinator after Gundy let Bill Young go at the end of a disappointing 2012 season defensively. Yurcich says he wants to go even faster than Holgorsen and 2012 coordinator Todd Monken, now the head coach at Southern Miss. Spencer balks at the suggestion that his defense will simply be more aggressive, but it'll be interesting to see what OSU preps in the next month ahead of that game against Mississippi State.
Key battle: Whatever you do, do not underestimate the impact of the guys whose feet touch the ball just a few times a game. Look no further than the 2011 upset loss to Iowa State for evidence of that. Quinn Sharp is gone, and now OSU is left to find a new punter, place kicker and kickoff specialist. Making matters tougher is Sharp was the best in the Big 12 at all three. Kip Smith is trying to win the punting and kicking jobs, but Michael Reichenstein (punter) and Bobby Stonebraker (kicker) will be competing as well. They've been Sharp's backups, and newcomer Ben Grogan joins the team for fall camp, too.
On the mend: Justin Gilbert's psyche. The cornerback looked like a rising star in his first year as a starter in 2011, but took big steps backward last season and got called out for his play by his head coach. He's as physically gifted as any corner in the league, even though his cover skills still leave a bit to be desired. The race for the Big 12's top cornerback by season's end will be interesting, but Gundy has expressed encouragement lately for Gilbert's progress since last year's rough go-around. He's got some good corners around him. Kevin Peterson is likely to win the starting job for the No. 2 corner, but Ashton Lampkin and Kansas transfer Tyler Patmon should provide some quality depth there.
Outlook: Oklahoma State brings back 14 starters from last season and for the first time in school history, has been picked to win the Big 12. "It's a tribute to a lot of players that have come before these guys that have worked hard," Gundy said. Expect OSU to be somewhere around No. 15 in the AP poll to start the season, but beginning the year with a target on their back is a brand new feeling for the Pokes.
Quotable: Gundy, on his approach of meddling "very little" in his coordinators' business. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaches on our staff and the decisions they make, and at the end of the day, they're the ones that have to instill it in the players in meetings and get it across to them on the practice field. They have to get them to perform on Saturday."