The Big 12 was won, the goalposts came down and the Tostitos were hoisted into the air. Oklahoma State had completed its greatest football season.
But the goalposts have been replaced and the records wiped clean for a new season. The goal remains the same—a Big 12 Championship. It also leads to the question……where does the program go from here?
The intention is to continue to move up, but with a conference title in the bag and a true freshman quarterback expected to throw up to 40 times a game, finishing in the top half of the conference would likely be an acceptable result in the eyes of the fans. A BCS game would not be unreasonable, yet contending for the national championship would be a stretch after losing the greatest quarterback and receiver Stillwater has seen.
Although this team may no longer have a Justin Blackmon or Kendall Hunter type of player to take over games on offense (though Joseph Randle may prove this sentiment wrong) the goal of achieving nine wins for a fifth consecutive season is a burden this year’s team uses to push ever more this summer.
“I think our team has changed because they’ve won so many games that they kind of expect to win,” Gundy said. “Their disappointment with not winning is much greater than it use to be.”
The biggest question has been and will continue to evolve around Wes Lunt, the true freshman quarterback who could well be a Weeden prototype. He has the big arm, the height, the poise in the pocket.
Yet doubts will remain until he makes it through his first season. Will he flinch when 6-foot-5 defensive tackles are sprinting directly at him on third down? Will the pressure of being the big man on campus in front of 60,000 cause a mental breakdown? Will he have the patience and poise to rally the Cowboys late in games in places such as Norman and Manhattan?
The receivers, albeit nowhere near the level of Blackmon, will make Saturday’s more accommodating for Lunt. Blake Jackson, Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson are players who can easily get 100 yards receiving in a game.
Lunt’s best friend will be Randle and Lane Taylor, the team’s offensive MVPs. Randle proved himself as a versatile back last season who can pose a serious threat running and receiving, while Taylor is a four-year starter who has always been consistently solid in protecting the quarterback.
Least we forget about the defense, where the linebackers are one of the best groups in the country. Expect to see lots of Alex Elkins, for he will be involved in almost every play. The defensive line, a position known to be the thinnest on the depth chart the past three seasons, could now be the deepest. Nigel Nicholas will be a force off the edge after moving to defensive end to complement Cooper Bassett, and Anthony Rogers and Calvin Barnett will occupy opposing offensive linemen inside.
The issue of depth now moves to the secondary, but it won’t be a problem if the starters can stay healthy. Daytawion Lowe proved himself as a starting safety last season, and Justin Gilbert, Brodrick Brown and Devin Hedgepeth are quite the trio to cover receivers in what is known as a pass-happy league.
Kicking is never a concern with Quinn Sharp almost always booting kickoffs out of the back of the end zone and pinning his punts deep in opposing territory. Kickoff returns (Gilbert, Stewart), are another strength, but punt return has continued to be an adventure the past two years with OSU ranking as one of the worst in return yards the past two years.
There’s your sparknote version of this year’s Cowboys. The first true test, assuming all goes to plan on the road at Arizona, will be Texas. The outcome will determine whether this team is another building block to a national contender or a struggle to retain relevancy in 2012.