- David Ubben, College Football
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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."
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."