NCF Nation: Dez Bryant

Here's a look at five intriguing recruitments of Big 12 standouts who landed a spot on the Ultimate ESPN 300:

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The similarities? Well, they're almost too uncanny.

A record-setting quarterback? Gone.

The best receiver in school history? Gone.

And that was in the spring of 2010.

Dez Bryant took a trek south after being drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. Zac Robinson took his ball and left for the NFL, too.

In the fall, Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State squad was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in something called the Big 12 South.

Instead, the Cowboys won 11 games for the first time, coming a defensive stop or two away from knocking off Oklahoma and playing for the Big 12 title, which also would have been unprecedented for the program.

There are more new faces in the spring of 2012. Could Oklahoma State overachieve again?

"I feel like it’s kind of the same. Gundy said that spring we were so good because we were scared," said sixth-year offensive lineman Jonathan Rush. "I wouldn’t exactly agree that we were scared, but I feel that urgency."

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiMike Gundy's 2012 team has plenty of parallels to the 2010 unit that won a surprising 11 games.
How could he not? Two-time All-Big 12 first-team quarterback Brandon Weeden is headed to the NFL. Two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon is likely to hear his name called in the top 10 of tonight's first round of the NFL draft.

Oklahoma State's 23 victories in the past two years were the highest total of any two-year period in school history, and Weeden and Blackmon were the two biggest pieces of a team that captured the Cowboy's first Big 12 title.

"It’s real similar, except Weeden was an older guy. Weeden was 26 years old or however old he was back then," Gundy said.

Now, Oklahoma State is left to rely on three inexperienced quarterbacks without the minor league baseball experience that helped shape Weeden's even-tempered demeanor.

The similarities don't end at what's gone, either.

"We’ve got good running backs, good receivers and we’ll be as good on the offensive line as we’ve been," Gundy said.

All-American Kendall Hunter helped carry the 2010 team with a 1,500-yard season, the second of his career. In 2012, Joseph Randle is ready to carry the offense after rushing for 1,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims fill out the rest of the Pokes' deepest unit, which also features a fourth underrated, powerful runner in Desmond Roland.

"We’re further along on defense, because we recruited well the '09, '10, '11 and '12 seasons, so we’re further along athletically," Gundy said. "But offensively, it’s about the same."

Gundy is entering his eighth season in Stillwater this fall. In 2010, he credited a system that had been drilled into players for the surprising success. Knowing what was expected helped to soothe some of the growing pains new players would experience in a new system.

That's been drilled only deeper into this year's squad.

"They realize what they have to do personally. How to practice. They realize those things that are essential to be a good team. You have to work hard, show up on time. It’s not even so much a big thing," Rush said of the team's younger players. "They realize how essential little things are. Working hard, not quitting. Finishing."

Said receiver Isaiah Anderson: "I feel like we have a lot more leaders now than people know. It’s not just up to the seniors to lead. The young guys can step in and lead if they need to."

The biggest talents are gone. This year, OSU won't be picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Instead, it will be near the bottom of the top 25.

With the spotlight on teams above OSU, will 2012 be yet another Stillwater surprise for the Big 12?

"Be on the lookout, but they know we’re coming now," Anderson said. "We all know what it takes to get there and willing to do what it takes to get there again."
Nick FlorenceRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesNick Florence had three TDs in last season's win over Texas Tech -- but lost his redshirt in the process.

WACO, Texas -- Nick Florence didn't have to come to Baylor. He didn't have to stay.

If football has been his only reason for coming to Waco, it'd be easy to see why he might've gone elsewhere.

But Florence did.

He stepped in as a freshman when future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III tore his ACL, then stepped off the stage for the next two seasons while Griffin wrote his legacy.

Plenty of quarterbacks would have waved goodbye.

Florence didn't.

Here's why.


Florence didn't lose a game as a freshman at South Garland (Texas) High School. A year later, he took over the varsity squad in midseason and carried the team to a third-round loss in the state playoffs to Lufkin, led by Dez Bryant, now a receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.

"The QB that started the year as the starter, every opportunity Nick had, he would encourage him," said Mickey Moss, Florence's high school coach who now heads up a program in Rockwall, Texas. Throughout his career, Moss has put about 50 players into Division I programs like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri.

"When Nick took over, he'd lead the senior linemen and just encourage them and give them confidence and praise. I was like, 'I’ve never seen a kid like this who had such confidence and maturity.'"

Florence earned a reputation on and off the field. Before school began, he and teammates would walk through the school's hallways while praying for classmates who would congregate there during the school year, which began in a few weeks. When school began, he'd join his twin brother, Luke, and others to often pray for classmates before class during the week.

"That’s just who he was and he believed in making a difference in the lives of other people," Moss said. "His leadership? He’s just got it."

His youth pastor at Lake Highlands Church in Dallas eventually took a job at Antioch Community Church in Waco, and Florence wanted to join him.

Florence pestered Moss to make a few calls down to Baylor. Moss did so and asked coaches if they'd seen Florence on film.

Minutes later, he got a call back.

Baylor offered Florence his first major scholarship offer, and Florence made it his only one.

"Nick just felt like this was where God wanted him to be, and that’s Nick," Moss said. "He does so much based on faith."

The problem? The coach who called back with that offer was Guy Morriss, who was fired after the 2007 season. Enter Art Briles and a kid from Copperas Cove whom nobody thought could play quarterback.

Briles, then at Houston, brought Cougars commit Robert Griffin III to Baylor with him, the two having faith of their own that they could win in Waco, which hadn't seen a winning football season since 1995.

Briles had his man, but honored Morriss' offer to Florence, whose playing time looked like it would be sparse.

"If God wanted you to be here and that’s what you believe, he doesn’t change his mind," Moss says he remembers telling Florence. "Knowing Robert Griffin was going to be the quarterback didn’t faze him."

Along the way, Florence kept working. He earned the respect of teammates. In the meantime, he got his business degree, worked closely with his church and married his wife, Rachel, last May. The two plan to enter the ministry whenever Florence's football career is over.

"His pastor told me, in all the locker rooms he’s been in, he’s never let his eyes view another naked woman in his life in print on TV or anywhere else until his wedding day. That says a lot about who he is, but also how others respect him," Moss said. "He doesn’t throw his faith in your face. Not at all. He has a genuine care, concern and love for people, and he’s always looking to make a difference. ... He’s going to compete, but the biggest thing I always believed he was going to do was make an impact in the locker room with his character and integrity."

Florence had been on campus a couple of years but RG3 was proving his mettle as the man at Baylor. Briles met with Moss and gushed about his backup.

"That kid is a winner," Moss recalls Briles saying.

He's done it since he was a freshman in high school, and now that the starting job at Baylor is nearly Florence's officially, he doesn't plan on that changing.

[+] EnlargeNick Florence
Jerome Miron/US PresswireNick Florence is now tasked with replacing Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, right, at Baylor.
"You watch him play and it’s like, what’s special about him?" Moss said. "He wins. He leads. He makes plays. His throwing motion wasn’t the greatest. His speed wasn’t the greatest. His strength wasn’t the greatest. But the kid won, and then he influenced everyone around him."

When Griffin's knee injury meant Florence had to step in as a wide-eyed freshman, it also meant winning wasn't going to happen. It didn't. Baylor fell to 4-8 and won just one conference game, at Missouri when Florence set the school record for passing yards.

"He’s a different guy, just like I am since 2009 and like everybody. As you grow you mature, you learn to get better in everything you see act or do," Briles said. "He’s a guy that was thrown into a fire as a true freshman. Now, he’s had a chance to sit back and learn the system, understand what his strengths are, how to use them and what he needs to do to help this team grow."

Said Florence: "I'm not that 180-pound freshman anymore."

Baylor got a preview of its 205-pound senior in November when a concussion sidelined Griffin at Cowboys Stadium, near Florence's hometown.

Florence hopped off the bench just before halftime and completed 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to help Baylor keep its winning streak alive with a 66-42 victory over Texas Tech. That streak reached six games by season's end, the longest current string among AQ schools in college football.

Florence logged a memorable moment, but he also logged enough playing time to burn his redshirt and leave him with just one year of eligibility remaining entering 2012.

"He’s a guy who’ll do whatever and whatever happens in life, he’ll deal with it. If that means he has one year left to play, that means that’s what God’s will is. He’s obedient," Moss said. "If the team needed him to come in there and help win that game and burn his redshirt and then not play again the rest of the year, that’s OK with him."

Baylor needed Florence to come in and win that game. He did it. Now it's time to take over the full-time job of being the man who follows the man who did the unthinkable: winning a Heisman Trophy at Baylor.

"We don’t talk in terms of replacing. It’s just, what do we need to do now to do what we need to do at the end of July?" Briles said. "That’s the most important thing. We may not be able to do some of the same things we were able to do prior, so we’ve got to figure out different ways to do things and still have success."

Florence is no hurdler. He can't run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds and doesn't have an arm that will have NFL scouts drooling. For the time being, though, he does have the keys to Baylor's offense.

"It’s a great opportunity not everybody gets. I want to make the most of it and take advantage," Florence said.

That offense is going to look a little different now. Briles says time will show just how different it'll be.

"That’s the exciting part about it," Briles said. "We’ve got to expand and become better in all other areas scheme-wise, coaching-wise, player/individual technique-wise, and so that to me is the very exciting part, because we have to become a better football team."

Florence wants his chance to show he's the man to make Baylor a better team. Florence has proved his intangibles since high school, and as he's gotten older, they've only become more ingrained. Now is his chance to show them off to everyone outside of Baylor's practice field.

"When guys come in the huddle they have great confidence and respect in him. They know who he is. They know there’s not a selfish bone in his body, but at the same time, they know he’s a heck of a competitor," Moss said. "I’ve never been around a kid like Nick Florence, and I imagine I never will again."
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy built his program, now in its seventh year, on four principles.

Character, accountability, structure and discipline. Every year since he took over for Les Miles in 2005, the Cowboys' record has improved on or equaled the previous year's win total.

"You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to do the right thing, you’ve got to go to class," Gundy said. "I bit my lip and we held our breath a lot of times when we suspended players."

The stat Gundy might have been most proud of after Saturday's 52-45 win over Kansas State? The team had just one missed class reported all week.

Maybe Gundy's four building blocks are only a fourth of Bill Snyder's 16 Goals for Success, but it's paying off in Stillwater.

And those blocks aside, there's no doubting the factor that's aided the Cowboys along the way, too.

"We got a little bit lucky," Gundy said, later adding, "Anybody that says you don’t have to have a little luck? They’re crazy."

Recruiting these days is "easy to do," Gundy says, and the program's growing credibility is a huge reason why.

"We hit on a Dez Bryant, we hit on a Kendall Hunter, we hit on a Brandon Weeden. We hit on a Blackmon," Gundy said. "Nobody recruited [Justin] Blackmon.

"Weeden walked on,” Gundy said with a laugh. “So, we had a little luck.”

Blackmon blossomed from a modest recruit into the nation's best receiver and an early first-round draft pick.

What if Weeden had come to Oklahoma State instead of playing baseball? What if baseball had worked out? What if Weeden had come to Oklahoma State a year earlier? What if he'd come a year later?

"My Dad was just telling me the other day, 'Man, what a perfect time for you to decide to come back.'" Weeden said. "And it is, because I mean, who would have thought this in 2007 when we won seven games and we were excited to go to a bowl game? I’m telling you, the players get better every year and it gets more and more fun to come to the field and especially when you win big ones like this."

Oklahoma State's team will lose Weeden and almost certainly will lose Blackmon after this season, as well as most of its offensive line. Sound familiar? The Cowboys lost first-round pick Dez Bryant and one of the program's best quarterbacks ever, Zac Robinson, after the 2009 season.

They won 11 games the next season.

Is Oklahoma State building into a perennial power?

"We’ve got a lot of great guys in this program that are really young. We haven’t ever had kids like this around here," Gundy said. "I see a lot of things changing. It’s just different than it ever has been."

They're here and they know what's required of them. Gundy pounds it into them from Day 1. Run astray, and you don't play.

So sure, luck's played a big role in Oklahoma State's rise to the elite. But if it stays there, point to Gundy's building blocks as the biggest reason.

"The core values of this system are in place and the players know them," Gundy said. "That’s just the way it is. It’s the only way, because when you go to bed at night, if you don’t have that, you can’t sleep."

After wins like Oklahoma State enjoyed Saturday night, here's guessing Gundy slept pretty well.
For so long, it was so cruel. This "rivalry," if you could even call it that.

Colt McCoy and Vince Young tormented Oklahoma State, rescuing Texas from 28, 19 and 21-point deficits in a span of just four years.

OSU had beaten Texas just once in Big 12 history, back in 1997 in a harmless game in Stillwater between two teams that would combine for 12 wins that year, the last time Texas (4-8) saw a losing season.

The Cowboys program rose, winning as many or more games than the previous year in each season under Gundy. But no wins over Texas as Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant tried to help OSU climb among the nation's elite.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon and Oklahoma State
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas hopes the scene will be different after this year's game against Oklahoma State as the Longhorns look to avoid another loss to the Cowboys
Until last season, when OSU took its biggest leap into national relevance with 11 wins and Texas plummeted to its first losing season under Mack Brown.

Oklahoma State was the better team, by far. The Cowboys won easily, racing to an early 33-3 lead and beating Texas in Austin for the first time since 1944.

"When you have played at a high level like we had over the last few years, having so many close games and not being able to get over the hump. It made it a good win for our team and the university," Gundy told reporters this week. "For everyone involved it was very positive. I am sure it had some effects on our recruiting. It also changed the way we were perceived across the country. The win was another step in our goal, to hopefully win a championship."

A kink in switching 12-team Big 12 schedules to 10-team schedules means Oklahoma State travels to Texas again and hosts Oklahoma to close the season.

Once again, Oklahoma State is the better team.

This time, Oklahoma State stands in the way of Texas' attempts to re-join the nation's best. The Longhorns were embarrassed a week ago by No. 3 Oklahoma.

"Things are always better when you watch the video. It’s hard to make a 55-17 loss to a good team where you played poorly good, but what you do as a coaching staff is you go back and find the things that are good," Brown said. "They did try hard. They did a lot of things good, but we made so many mistakes, we never had a chance in the game. You can’t lose five turnovers to a great team."

That's the first goal. With an opponent like Oklahoma State -- the Cowboys are ranked No. 2 in total offense, even higher than Oklahoma -- the Longhorns will need more from their offense than a late touchdown if 45 points are separating the teams.

"You use caution when talking about Texas football and needing to get better. I think Oklahoma played very well. Once the game got rolling, the momentum changed," Gundy said. "I cannot speak for Texas, or their staff. I do know that there is some youth in key positions. That can factor in situations when things do not go well."

Texas' secondary will have to grow up fast.

So will quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash.

If not, another beating like last week is waiting, and a chance to country's top squads may prove to be another season away.

The Big 12's annual tease teams

August, 12, 2011
Today, we're taking a look at the tease teams across the Big 12, and the past three seasons, we've seen a good number of cases in the Big 12.

These three programs find themselves in the top 10 again this year, but here's what's happened lately. Is one of these squads simply a tease in 2011?

2010: Texas A&M

The Aggies, coming off a 6-7 season in 2009, weren't convincing enough to earn preseason top 25 honors, but the potential for a big year was there, and anyone paying attention knew it. The offense was loaded, led by the league's preseason offensive player of the year, Jerrod Johnson. Johnson, however, struggled early, throwing four interceptions in consecutive games against Florida International and Oklahoma State, turning the ball over five times in a loss to the Cowboys. The Aggies were embarrassed on their home field by Missouri to fall to 3-3, and despite a late-season rally, couldn't qualify for the Big 12 championship game.

2009: Oklahoma State

The offseason crescendo built to a pressure-packed season opener against SEC foe Georgia, but Dez Bryant and the Cowboys knocked off the Bulldogs to land in the top 5 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A week later, however, Case Keenum (and Dana Holgorsen, by the way) waltzed into Stillwater and gave the Cowboys a nasty buzzkill in the form of a 45-35 upset, officially derailing a championship season. OSU also suffered a pair of embarrassing 27-point losses to Big 12 South rivals Oklahoma and Texas, including a 27-0 shutout loss to Oklahoma. Kendall Hunter (ankle), Zac Robinson (shoulder) and Dez Bryant (NCAA suspension) were all forced off the field at times, but there's no doubt: That team was a tease.

2008: Missouri

The Tigers reached No. 1 heading into the Big 12 championship game in 2007, but a loss sent them to the Cotton Bowl and hoping for better luck next year. Chase Daniel and Co. opened the season at No. 6 and ran off a 5-0 start, including a 52-17 obliteration of Nebraska in Lincoln, the first win for the Tigers there since 1978. A week later, though? A program-defining win for Oklahoma State on Missouri's field, followed by an absolute undressing by Colt McCoy and Texas in Austin a week later, featuring a 35-3 halftime deficit. The Tigers were upset by Kansas before being rolled over 62-21 by Oklahoma and settling for an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Quite the tease, Tigers.

So, which of the Big 12 teams ranked this year looks like a tease?
The best players in football play with something to prove. But some have more to prove than others.

Tevin Elliot, DE, Baylor

Elliot is raw, but the versatile 6-foot-2, 245-pounder led the Bears in sacks as a freshman, with five. Baylor's defense held the team back from achieving much more than a bowl appearance last year, but Elliot could be a big piece of a defensive resurgence under Phil Bennett in 2011. A disruptive pass rush would be a huge help to a pass defense that struggled last season, and one player can make that happen. Can Elliot prove he's the guy to do it and help push the team further than the seven wins it reached in 2010?

Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas

Tharp showed tons of promise as a freshman, making 59 tackles and landing on a freshman All-America team. He looked like he'd be one of the leaders on Turner Gill's first defense at Kansas, but his season cruelly ended in fall camp with a leg injury. Can he prove in 2011 that he's that leader, and that there's still reason to believe the potential he showed in 2009 is there?

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Tigers need James Franklin to fill the void left at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert's departure.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri

The pressure is on for Franklin to continue Missouri's quarterback lineage after Tyler Gabbert transferred following the spring semester. Brad Smith started it, Chase Daniel took the Tigers to new heights and Blaine Gabbert looks like he'll make the biggest impact of the three in the NFL. Where is Franklin's place? This could be his team for the next three years, but he'll step into his new role with one of the Big 12's most complete teams surrounding him. He has sure-handed receivers, a solid running game, an experienced offensive line and one of the league's best defenses. Can he fill the void and help Missouri contend for a Big 12 title, proving that the bloodline will continue?

Hubert Anyiam, WR, Oklahoma State

Anyiam might be the guy who truly makes Oklahoma State's offense unstoppable. He led Oklahoma State in receptions during Dez Bryant's abbreviated 2009 season, catching 42 passes for 513 yards and three scores as a sophomore. Last year, though, he never got started and finished with 11 catches for 135 yards, thanks to an ankle injury similar to the one that ruined Kendall Hunter's 2009 season. The 6-foot, 198-pounder has the potential to be a second game-changing receiver in the Cowboys offense, but can he return to 2009 form and prove he's a dangerous complement to Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Tannehill was a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the regular season, but so was Cyrus Gray's emergence, a rapidly maturing offensive line and a defense that played its best football in the second half of the season. All the pieces are there for Tannehill to lead the Aggies to the BCS, but last year it was obvious: without good quarterback play, the Aggies were not a great team. Tannehill has been on the field for three seasons, but he still has just six career starts at quarterback. And there's that nagging Texas A&M senior quarterback curse that he'll surely be asked about at least a few times next season. Can he prove that his play late last season will continue into 2011, all the way to a possible Big 12 title?

We'll tab a few more later today.
Mike Gundy has been through this before.

After a 9-4 season in 2008, Oklahoma State brought back quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant, one of the nation's best. The team also had an All-America running back coming off a 1,500-yard season.

The Cowboys opened the season at No. 8 and rose to the top five after a season-opening victory over Georgia in one of the most anticipated season openers in school history.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Chuck Cook/US PresswireCoach Mike Gundy hopes the experiences from the 2009 season will help his players stay focused despite the hype around the program.
Oklahoma State's opener isn't quite as attractive this year, but the build-up to the season?

"Very similar," Gundy said.

Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games in 2010 and returns one of the nation's best quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden. Justin Blackmon exceeded anything Bryant ever did, leading the nation with 20 receiving touchdowns. He also had 1,782 yards on 111 catches to win the Biletnikoff Award.

Hunter is gone, but in his place, a capable duo with loads of potential in Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle.

In a recent preseason poll by "College Football Live," the Cowboys rolled in at No. 8.

"We’re so well-received across the country right now and hopefully, the experience we had in the summer prior to 2009 will help our players understand the importance of staying focused and getting ready for a good season," Gundy said.

But back in 2009, after the win over Georgia, the Cowboys' lofty hopes of a title crumbled with a series of setbacks. First, they suffered a loss to Houston the following week. An ankle injury slowed Hunter, and forced senior Keith Toston to fill his role. The NCAA suspended Bryant for the remainder of the season after three games for lying about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

Late in the year, a shoulder injury to Robinson contributed to the Cowboys getting shut out in a loss to Oklahoma and scoring just seven points in a Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss.

Two years later, they're trying to avoid the problems that arose during that 9-4 season in 2009, and apply the lessons learned.

"It takes a lot to maintain. They’ve worked extremely hard to raise the level to where they’re at now, but they have to stay focused and have a great offseason," Gundy said. "There’s so many distractions out there nowadays, and it’s important to avoid distractions and take care of everything that’s important off the field as well as on the field."

Last year, the Cowboys were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South after losing Robinson, Bryant and four offensive linemen, but with the hype of this offseason, things will be different this fall.

"We’re not going to have the opportunity to sneak up on anybody," Gundy said. "People are obviously aware of who we are, and so we have to go back and earn our stripes each summer and prepare for kicking it off in September."
STILLWATER, Okla. -- I hope you've all enjoyed our coverage from my visit to Oklahoma State this spring. We'll have some more from Oklahoma in the next week or so, but here's what you've missed from OSU if you're not my most faithful reader.
Of course, that's not all. Here's a few more things that didn't fit in any of our previous coverage.

Based on what we saw from him last year, I came to Stillwater with the tentative belief that sophomore cornerback Justin Gilbert could be the fastest player in the Big 12 next season.

He's close, but might not even be the fastest Cowboy, according to Justin Blackmon. Look out for Isaiah Anderson, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior receiver.

"Isaiah might be able to beat him. I’d put my money on Isaiah."

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Isaiah Anderson
AP Photo/Eric GayA race between Oklahoma State speedsters Isaiah Anderson, above, and Justin Gilbert, not pictured, would be worth watching.
As a sophomore in 2010, Anderson caught 12 passes for 216 yards, but he's impressed Blackmon this spring. A race between the two hasn't gone down, but hey, Cowboys: There's time after practice. Make it happen and get back to me.

A race has already happened at least once. Running back Jeremy Smith lined up for a sprint against receiver Hubert Anyiam this summer. No shocker here. Anyiam took it home.

"I think Hubert is pretty up there when he’s at full strength, but I’d like to see Isaiah and Gilbert race," Weeden said. "[Anderson] was the Texas state sprint champion."


"He’s definitely one of the quickest, he’s just so smooth," he said.

I'll eagerly await the results of that run-off. Gilbert's been one of the standouts of spring camp, impressing just about everyone. Blackmon was reserved about taking credit for that development in making Gilbert cover him every day, but it definitely can't hurt.

"I just go out there and compete. He does the same thing. I’ll let him know when he does something good and it’s just on and on," he said. "He’s probably the most improved, the guy to look out for most next year."

Weeden and the OC selection

I was curious as to how much say either of the two stars had in coach Mike Gundy selecting Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator. The short answer: Some, but not a ton. Weeden spoke with Monken for about 45 minutes during the interview process, and after the conversation, the quarterback hung up and called Gundy right away to offer his endorsement.

"He was pretty intense," Weeden said.

Monken did most of the talking, while Weeden soaked it up.

"He was excited about the opportunity and wanted to give me a feel for the type of person he was," Weeden said. "We talked a little bit X’s and O’s but more just shooting the bull. I felt good about it."

Blackmon and Monken didn't have any contact until Monken had been hired. They first met during an offseason workout.

Early in the process, Gundy showed Weeden a long list of a few candidates, providing some brief background on each.

"I met with him probably 6-7 times about the whole process," Weeden said. "He’d say, here’s the guys I’m thinking."

Eventually, Gundy narrowed it down to two or three candidates and told Weeden to research them and tell him what he thought.

"Not that my say would have had any matter; he was going to hire who he wanted, but I think he just wanted me to be sure that we weren’t going to change anything for one, and it was going to be a guy I was going to be dealing with," Weeden said. "He wanted to hire a quarterback coach, not a guy who would go and coach receivers. I think that had more to do with [why and how often we met] more than anything."

I don't entirely agree that Weeden's say had no impact, but it's got to feel nice to even have as much say as Weeden did. I highly, highly doubt that Gundy would have hired a coach that Weeden didn't feel comfortable with or didn't feel fit the culture of the program.

Granted, I also imagine Weeden and Gundy had a similar picture of what they wanted in a new hire as well.

On the lockout

Weeden and Blackmon had big decisions to make, but even as players needing information pretty badly, they didn't know much more than the rest of us did when it came to the NFL lockout looming over the end of the season.

"All I heard was that nobody knew what was going to happen," Blackmon said.

The lockout is well past the 30-day mark now, but neither player has spent much time tracking when it will end.

"I'm not following it at all," Weeden said. "Whatever is on SportsCenter, if they say anything."

Anyiam back on track

Anyiam led the team in receiving in 2009, when Dez Bryant missed the final 10 games of the season after lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

Anyiam looked poised for a big year last year, but tried to play through an ankle injury. His situation was similar to the one Kendall Hunter played through in 2009, and instead of Anyiam, Blackmon emerged as the go-to receiver for the Cowboys.

This spring, though, Anyiam is back on track. Blackmon agreed that Anyiam could be a player who hauls in 60-70 receptions next season.

"I think so," he said. "His confidence is back and I think he’s full speed."

Blackmon emerged early on

Oklahoma State's practices are almost entirely closed, but Missouri's spring and fall camps are both open. As such, it was obvious pretty early that T.J. Moe, who caught two passes as a freshman in 2009, would be a much bigger part of the offense in 2010. He led the team with 92 catches and 1,045 yards.

Was the same true for Blackmon, who had just 20 catches as a freshman but finished with 111 last year in his Biletnikoff Award-winning season?

"On certain days, probably," he said.

Weeden wasn't buying it.

"I disagree. Blackmon’s always been that guy that practices harder than any other guy, even now," he said. "I’m not saying the other guys don’t practice hard, but he’s always balls to the wall. Once we knew Dez wasn’t coming back, we knew somebody had to step up, and Hubert was hurt."

Blackmon and Weeden developed an early connection

Weeden seemed to trust Blackmon enough last year to throw the ball up in plenty of situations you don't see balls being thrown often.

We had a busted play one time [against Louisiana-Lafayette], and every other receiver was on a screen. I saw him throw his hand up and I was like, 'Well, let’s see what happens,' Weeden said. "I figured either he’s going to catch it or nobody’s going to catch it."

Blackmon hauled it on for a 37-yard touchdown in the middle of three defensive backs, his second score of the game.

Weeden said that play cemented his trust, but when did Blackmon know?

"For me, it was that play," Blackmon said.

"And every play on the goal line," Weeden added.

A few notes from Gundy's Monday speech

January, 11, 2011
DALLAS -- I'm roaming around at the AFCA Convention this week, a national convention for coaches at every level of football from high school all the way up to the FBS level. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was one of the featured speakers at the daily main gathering of the thousands of coaches on Monday afternoon, and spent an hour laying out how he runs his program and a few of his philosophies.

Other speakers this week doing what Gundy did on Monday: Wisconsin's Brett Bielema, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and, coincidentally, LSU's Les Miles.

A quick straw poll of a few coaches I was sitting around told me this: Gundy was impressive. I thought so, and about everyone I talked to did, too.

To summarize: Gundy basically got more than an hour to lay out what he's all about in front of a few thousand coaches, with probably half or more hailing from high schools. Don't think something like that will help recruiting?

It was an enjoyable listen, and here are some of the highlights from his 73-minute speech.
  • [+] EnlargeMike Gundy
    Matt Strasen/US Presswire Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy was a speaker at Monday's coaches conferences in Dallas.
    Self-deprecating humor looks good on just about anyone, and Gundy wore it well on Monday. Self-awareness is always good to see, and Gundy isn't ignorant about what most of the coaches in the room would know him from. On his relationship with the media and his former coach, Pat Jones: "He's changed stripes. He's a media guy now, which, you guys know, they're not one of my favorite people. ... There was some people outside from Sports Illustrated and CBS who were going to try to grab me for a couple quotes before I got in here, and one guy said, 'Do you have a card so I can get in touch with you later?' And I just said, 'Look, if you just look on YouTube, you'll get all the information you need about me and whether we want to do this media interview or not.'" He drew some solid laughs for that one.
  • Oklahoma State has 121 players. Sixty-eight are from Texas. When Gundy first took the job at Oklahoma State, he wanted to make a big splash in Texas. He wanted to "market Oklahoma State, market our coaches and toe the line on the rules." The Cowboys' answer: strategically placed billboards that adhered to NCAA rules. His best one: A billboard two blocks down from Perrish Cox's house in Waco, Texas, with a coach pointing his finger at Cox's home that read, "We want be a part of our team." Coaches also wore colorful NASCAR-looking shirts whenever they went to high schools or made other public appearances. "When we went to conventions, or in those schools, people saw us, recognized us and knew who we were."
  • Gundy says he and his coaches work hard when they're working, but don't overwork themselves or their players. Early in his career, Gundy said he would show up at 5:45 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m. pretty often. That, he said, turned out to be counterproductive, and he runs his program differently. "It was hard for me to finally look at the big picture and say, 'Enough. We work too much, and it's not going to help us.' So we backed off," Gundy said. "This season, we were as fresh as we've ever been in games 8 through the bowl game. Coaches and players were as fresh as we've ever been. We've had fewer injuries than we've ever had. Our stamina in the fourth quarter was better."
  • Gundy's effort to get donations from billionaire booster Boone Pickens to upgrade facilities was a concerted one bent on changing the attitude of people within the Oklahoma State program. The Cowboys won under former coach Les Miles, but Gundy didn't see an attitude change. That's what he wanted. Wins have followed for Gundy, who has won 29 games in his past three seasons at Oklahoma State after winning 18 in his first three.
  • Gundy tries to make an effort to reward his coaches who are loyal and may get passed up for other jobs because they're not out advertising themselves.
  • He trains and wants his current players to be his best recruiters when recruits come on campus. "We tell [recruits] up front, we're going to turn you loose with our team, and we want them to tell you what it's like to be a student and a football player at Oklahoma State," Gundy said. It got back to Gundy that a small number of current players told recruits they shouldn't come to the school. "That's a serious issue," he said.
  • Oklahoma State had no curfew problems during its week at the Alamo Bowl, and Gundy credits his hard-line stance with Perrish Cox last year at the Cotton Bowl. Cox missed curfew and Gundy held him out of the game. "I kind of backed myself into a corner a little bit, I wished I had said, 'Well, you won't play the first quarter," Gundy said with a laugh. "I got real bold and said, 'You miss curfew, you ain't playing!' Then he missed curfew and I thought, 'Shoot, that ain't very good." Gundy drew big laughs for the one. Two OSU coaches said Cox shouldn't play. The rest said they wanted to discuss hedging on the rule. "We stuck with it, and I'm convinced it was the right thing to do."
  • At OSU, a player committee of 10 players chosen by position, plus two true freshmen, decide the punishment for teammates who break team rules. "Players take it better when they know the punishment is coming from their peers," Gundy said.
  • Gundy told his fellow coaches, "Don't flinch in tough times." He recounted the team's situation with Dez Bryant in 2009, which resulted in Bryant being suspended for the final nine games of the season. "The NCAA, I was on the phone with them at 11:30 at night the night before we opened with Georgia at home. The biggest game ever in the history of Oklahoma State football in nonconference to open a season. ... At that point, you want to crumble. There was so much hype about this first game, and you're going to run out on the field and you may not have Dez Bryant." Gundy also talked about missing Kendall Hunter for eight games that year and missing linebacker Orie Lemon for the year after he blew out his knee days before the game. Donald Booker notched 100 tackles at linebacker for the Cowboys that year, and Keith Toston finished with a 1,000-yard season. "As a coach, you can't flinch. I don't care what's going on inside of you. I don't care if you want to drop and cry, you can never flinch, because your assistants and players are watching you," Gundy said. "Don't flinch. The kids will play better than you think."
  • Gundy says he tells his players that media attention only becomes an issue if you start to believe it. "I got real concerned this year after the fourth or fifth game about all the attention Justin Blackmon was getting and that Brandon Weeden was getting and Kendall Hunter was getting and Orie Lemon was getting," he said. "I worry about the other 100 guys or the other 35 guys that play seeing those guys as different and starting to divide the team a little bit. As a coach, if you let that go and don't deal with it. ... It's important that you talk to guys about that and be upfront about it."
All the pieces were in place. Zac Robinson was the senior franchise quarterback who would eventually leave as the program's all-time leader in total offense. Kendall Hunter was the running back coming off the All-American season and ready to run past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Receiver Dez Bryant was the playmaker like no other, one that would eventually leave as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

Best of all, they'd be operating behind an experienced offensive line headlined by a four-year starter protecting Robinson's blind side, Russell Okung, who eventually was selected sixth in the NFL Draft.

The next in a line of triplets at Oklahoma State that have included greats like Barry Sanders, Rashaun Woods and Mike Gundy looked ready to compete for a Big 12 title -- maybe more.

But Hunter suffered an ankle injury early on and didn't look like the same back until the season's final game. Bryant was suspended for the season after the third game for lying to NCAA officials about a visit with Deion Sanders. Robinson suffered a shoulder injury and wasn't himself in a shutout loss to Oklahoma to close the regular season, when a win would have sent the Cowboys to a BCS bowl.

They settled for 2nd in the South, the highest finish ever for the program, and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter
John Rieger/US PresswireBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter have given the Cowboys a shot at the Big 12 South title.
This year, a new group of unsuspecting triplets have emerged.

Brandon Weeden, a 27-year-old first-time starter, leads the Big 12 in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns (his 26 are tied for No. 1 nationally) and passer rating. Hunter is better than ever as a senior, leading the Big 12 in rushing and ranking third nationally.

And Justin Blackmon, a sophomore with 20 career catches that no one outside the Big 12 had ever heard of before the season, has emerged as the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award and a possible Heisman finalist. He leads the nation in receiving yards per game by a wide margin, and is tied for the most touchdowns with 15.

Together, they have the No. 10 Cowboys (8-1) on top of the Big 12 South and in position to reach the Big 12 title game for the first time ever. With a win at Texas on Saturday, Oklahoma State would come home from Austin as winners for the first time in 11 tries since 1944.

"This is what you play for. Every game gets bigger as you go and this one is a big one," Weeden said.

Even an offensive line with four new starters has become a strength.

"I thought we had a pretty good product to work with," said new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. "You never know how kids are going to develop, but that’s why you get out there and practice every day and put guys in a position to improve."

The hype surrounding the team wasn't there when the season began, but attention on the Cowboys -- picked fifth in the Big 12 South in the preseason -- has grown as the wins have piled up.

"It’s only a factor if you start to listen to it," Gundy said. "I’ve said this for four or five weeks now. If you start to think you’re a pretty good player and that your team is better than they really are, you just need to look around the country every Saturday and you will see teams get knocked off. I’m a firm believer in that. We have some good players who have made a lot of good plays this year. And we have a good football team. But we’re not beyond practicing well and keeping the right frame of mind in order to win our football game."
Just call this one the Disrespect Bowl.

No. 21 Baylor and No. 17 Oklahoma State have flipped the Big 12's preseason media poll upside down. First-place Baylor (4-1 in conference) was picked sixth in the preseason, and Oklahoma State, tied for second at 3-1, was picked fifth.

"The parity in college football and in our league play is increasing and I think it’s going to level itself out more over the years to come, with us being in a league where we all play each other," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Brett Davis/US PresswireRobert Griffin III and coach Art Briles have Baylor in contention for the Big 12 South title.
He coaches a team that lost the school's all-time leader in total offense, quarterback Zac Robinson, along with a first-round pick in receiver Dez Bryant. Four offensive linemen and seven defenders also didn't return.

Yet here they are.

While Texas' attempt to establish a power running game floundered, the Cowboys' shift to Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid has flourished. No proven receivers and a first-year quarterback? Receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden have emerged as two of the league's newest stars, both near the top of the nation statistically at their respective positions. Running back Kendall Hunter is even better than his All-American 2008 self, ranking third nationally in rushing yards and on track to speed past his 1,555 yards as a sophomore. Hunter has 1,174 yards through eight games as a senior.

"When you can use the length of the field the way teams do now, it allows players that may not be as big or as fast as other players, to have an opportunity to have success, to make plays with the ball in their hand and compared to years ago, when the game was played in between the hash marks. And so, the bigger and stronger opponent had an advantage," Gundy said. "Now, the game is played sideline to sideline, and so there are other teams that may have other players that may not be as athletic as the other schools, traditional schools, but they still have enough of an opportunity to make plays and score points and win games."

Baylor's 7-2 start overall is the product of a rebuilding (or, perhaps more accurately, building) project in its third year under Art Briles, centered around a transcendent talent in Robert Griffin III, who has reassumed his position as one of the league's premier stars after missing most of 2009 with a torn ACL. He's showcased a passing talent far surpassing what he had as a freshman in 2008, racking up 2,592 yards through the air, second-most nationally, though he's played nine games to others' eight.

"It’s just one of those deals, the old cliché: Any given Saturday. You used to have your tongue in your cheek when you said it. But now, it’s very much a reality," Briles said.

Baylor began the year with realistic bowl hopes that have blossomed into a realistic chance to win the division after clinching the program's first winning season in 15 years with a 30-22 victory over Texas in Austin.

Oklahoma State began 2010 as a season stamped "Rebuilding" by those on the outside. It appeared to be an imminent fall from a 9-3 season in 2009, when the Cowboys were a win over Oklahoma away from reaching a BCS bowl, and finished second in the South.

Both have reached the top with offenses that rank in the top 10 nationally, spurred by elite talents like Blackmon and Griffin. Neither defense ranks inside the top 75 nationally.

Oregon and Auburn (35th and 57th in total defense) sit atop the polls as the favorites to appear in the national title game.

Like the Ducks and Tigers, neither Baylor nor Oklahoma State would make the short list of traditional college football powers. For all the talk of defenses winning championships, offenses seem pretty good at taking programs to new levels.

"There’s just a number of players out there with spread offenses and people that can throw and make plays on offense and if you’re not prepared, you take a chance at getting beat on any given Saturday," Gundy said. "So, there’ll be more parity from this point on. I’m convinced that there’ll be teams that can beat schools that traditionally they wouldn’t have thought that they could beat."

Measuring up the Big 12's 'hot team'

August, 10, 2010
Every conference has at least one. Each year, fans and media crown a team outside the current powers with a chance to upset the order.

Last season, Oklahoma State earned the tag, entering the season with a remarkably talented trio in running back Kendall Hunter, quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.

Injuries and eligibility afflicted all three, but the Cowboys still managed a second-place finish in the South.

This year, a similarly talented set of triplets will be on display for the Big 12's 2010 "hot team" in College Station: Texas A&M.

By now, non-Aggies fans are at least a little tired of hearing all the reasons a team that's won 10 games in two seasons and never finished higher than fifth in its six-team division is going to challenge for a South title in 2010. Call Texas A&M a dark horse, but the shade of the Aggies' coat has lightened with an avalanche of coverage and expectations from the media over the offseason.

Seventeen starters return, including linebacker Von Miller and quarterback Jerrod Johnson, two of the Big 12's best talents. Joining them are a highlight-making corps of receivers and two of the conference's best running backs in Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. They'll get a chance to build some early steam with a back-loaded schedule that saves the Aggies' toughest tests for November. Before then, they'll face very winnable games against Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, and against Oklahoma State in Stillwater before hosting Missouri and Texas Tech.

But Texas A&M has clear weaknesses that must be overcome if it wants to play in its first Big 12 title game since 1998. Chief among those is a defense that gave up a Big 12-worst 33.5 points per game in 2009, twice giving up 60 points and 40 points on three more occasions.

Additionally, the Aggies must plug three holes in the offensive line if they want to maintain their status as the Big 12's second-best offensive team at over 465 yards per game.

In the offseason, they made moves to fix both problems. We won't know how well either fix works until the Aggies are tested. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter comes to College Station via Air Force, where he coordinated the nation's 10th-best defense. Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were among the best tackle prospects in the 2010 class. Both signed with coach Mike Sherman and could start when the opener against Stephen F. Austin arrives on Sept. 4.

The Big 12 championship game is exactly five months later. If Texas A&M keeps the heat on, it might be there, ending Texas' and Oklahoma's 11-year streak of representing the South on Championship Saturday.
IRVING, Texas -- Kansas State and Texas Tech were the only two schools so far to show up in suits and ties, rather than team polos. Big picture, I don't think it matters or influences much past the way players approach the day, but there's no doubt the Red Raiders carried themselves professionally, and coach Tommy Tuberville's answer to why they did it was impressive and indicative of the type of coach he is.

"You're representing not just you, but all your teammates and all the people that love Texas Tech that have either given money or spent a lot of time," Tuberville said. "We're not trying to impress anybody. It's just, hey, this is what's expected of us. The more that you expect, the more you usually get out of it."

Before coming to media days, he told his players if they didn't have a suit, they better get one.

Here's a few other thoughts, observations and notes from Day 2 at Big 12 media days:
  • Commissioner Dan Beebe remained pretty consistent in his Q&A on Tuesday afternoon. The three biggest points: The new Big 12 loves the idea of playing a round-robin schedule in both basketball and football, so there's no plans to expand in the future. I'll say what I've said before again on the issue: The only thing that's going to change that is Oklahoma or Texas being left out of the national title game based on the strength of the Big 12. Who knows if that will ever happen. There also almost surely won't be a title game, although the league is looking to move some games to December as a replacement -- just not Oklahoma vs. Texas.
  • Also, Colorado seems likely to leave in 2011, but the details of that -- as well as the withdrawal fees for Nebraska and the Buffaloes -- are still being finalized. Beebe has no plans to disclose any of the details of those ... details to the media until they're finished. Although, once camps start, my guess is the media's going to be too busy with actual football to try to hunt them down.
  • The Big 12 will assess raising withdrawal fees for any team attempting to leave the conference in the future.
  • Beebe attacked the idea that he and the Big 12 were reactive rather than proactive during this summer's realignment mess. "We got great information that was produced by outside consultants on a number of programs in case we had to repopulate the conference or if there was interest in expansion. I didn't sit there and just bury my head about expansion," he said. There will be a least a few people who won't believe that, but I heard from plenty who didn't think much of Beebe's secretive "process" to save the conference, either. And that worked out way better than anyone thought it would after hearing him refuse to explain it.
  • Tuberville admitted he was really surprised at how talented the running backs he inherited were, and expressed a hope that they'll allow the Red Raiders to run the ball more effectively than they have in the past. "I'm thinking we're going to have a couple of running backs that are probably 5-foot-8, 150 pounds because you don't think of a running game," he said. "We've got two running backs that can play. We've got Eric Stephens and Baron Batch. We're going to use those guys. Might be on screens. Might be draw plays. We're going to have some plays that are drawn up where we're going to be more physical. We'll take some snaps (Ed. note: Gasp!) under center, but we have to get those guys involved to run play-action, to keep them off the quarterback."
  • Kansas State officially joined Nebraska as a team who got little clarity in its quarterback situation after the spring. The Wildcats also have three guys competing, although coach Bill Snyder said Carson Coffman, who began last year as the starter, has a slight lead. "We just do not have a clear-cut No. 1 right now," Snyder said. "We'll make a selection as it's clear cut in our minds." Snyder expressed some faith that either Coffman, Collin Klein of Sammuel Lamur will emerge to help that occur, and he better hope he's right. I'm a firm believer -- as most are, I'm sure -- that quarterback controversies can't end too early. Although, it does give people like me something to write about.
  • Missouri's not shying away from the gravity of this season's matchup in Lincoln, the last game between Missouri and Nebraska for some time. Missouri running back Derrick Washington told reporters he wants that bell (the rivalry trophy) back in Columbia this year, and it could find a permanent home on the winner's campus after 2010.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy weighed in on the recent Dez Bryant controversy with some interesting comments. In regards to RoyWilliams'PadsAndDezBryant-gate, there's obviously a lot of room for debate between the anti-hazing folks and the people who think carrying some plastic pads 50 yards isn't pretty far behind the line of assault or harassment. "I don't think that's ever been a question with Dez Bryant -- his drive to have success when he crosses the white lines, there's no question about it. He is not going to be intimidated by anybody at any time, and whatever he has to do in order to have success on that field he's going to do it," Gundy said. "I don't know Roy Williams. I don't know what goes on. I don't really think it's important for me to comment on that. I think the only thing that's important or maybe what you're looking for is he is serious about football and he doesn't like distractions. Dez got caught up in a difficult situation, made a poor decision and paid a very dear price [ineligibility for the final nine games] for it. But, I don't think anybody's ever questioned his want to have success on the field and his willingness to pay the price in practice and do whatever it takes to give himself a chance to have success." Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips sided with Bryant on the issue on Tuesday, and his opinion is the one that counts in the matter, but that won't end the debate.
  • One final note: At least one player at media days I'll keep anonymous had some Gucci sunglasses out in plain view of the media for his interview session. I'm not at all suggesting any improprieties, but with all the talk of agents and improper benefits lately, flashing high-end, expensive sunglasses in front of the media is probably not a prudent decision.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State's new offense will be heavily reliant on playmakers. Identifying who those are could be simpler than its sounds.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Tim Heitman/US PresswireOklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is willing to give a wide range of players a chance to prove themselves on offense.
“Anybody that’s going to take the time to learn the system and can make a play with the ball in their hands will get a chance,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Added offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who’s busy installing his system this spring:

“We get the ball to people that make things happen. I don’t care what position they line up at. We try to get it to everybody,” said offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. “There’s five spots and we try to get it to all five, but the guys that make things happen after it’s in their hand are going to get it more than the other guys.”

Chief among those is shifty running back Kendall Hunter, who Gundy said could touch the ball 250 times as a senior. After leading the Big 12 in rushing as a sophomore, he struggled in 2009. His yards per carry averaged dropped by more than two yards and an ankle injury kept him out of five games. When he did play, he never topped 75 yards in a game.

“Last year was a tough year, because I wanted to be out there helping my team, just the injuries were kind of holding me back a little bit,” Hunter said.

He’s healthy now, and his coaches seem intent on getting him the ball.

“I think he’s very excited,” Gundy said. “For him to have the opportunity to have to touch the ball in space, I think is an advantage for our offense, but its also an advantage for him.”

If he doesn’t get the ball, Gundy said it won’t be for lack of opportunity. If Hunter doesn’t show himself as one of those playmakers, he’ll turn to backups Jeremy Smith or Travis Miller.

Cowboys receivers will get the ball in a different system with similar personnel. Dez Bryant lit up defenses in his first three games, but forced his teammates to grow up quickly after he was suspended for the final 10 games 2009 for lying to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

“Once the middle of the season up through the bowl game, they became primary receivers,” Gundy said. “That experience should help them a lot going into this season.”

Junior Hubert Anyiam caught 42 passes last season, 36 in the final eight games. Sophomore Justin Blackmon finished with 20 catches, as did junior Josh Cooper, who caught 10 of his 20 passes in the final four games of 2009.

“The thing I’m excited about is we’ve got some competition going on at each spot,” Holgorsen said, adding that both the receivers and running backs’ ball skills were better than he’d anticipated. “With competition, there’s a level of, ‘You’ve got to come every day ready to go.’ We got about eight guys right now competing for the top two spots, and the thing that I’m excited about even more than the competition is they’re all young.

“It’s going to be that way for a couple years.”