From the Bird’s Nest: Oklahoma State is Locked and Loaded
(This is the first in a twelve-part series profiling Louisiana's football opponents for 2012. Today: Oklahoma State)
Location: Stillwater, OK
Stadium: Boone Pickens Stadium (60, 218)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Career Record at OSU 47-29 (six seasons)
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2010 (OSU 54, Louisiana 28)
Last season was supposed to be a season of transition for Oklahoma State.
Instead, the Cowboys set a school record with eleven wins, won their fifth straight bowl game, took a piece of the Big XII South title, and now have won 29 games in the last three seasons.
Last year wasn't supposed to be a breakout season for the Cowboys.
It was supposed to be 2011.
And, that should make OSU opponents a little nervous as the season gets ready to begin.
Last year the Cowboys were third in the nation in scoring. They averaged over 500 yards per game. And, most of the weapons on offense are back.
Start with quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden threw for nearly 4300 yards last season to go with 34 touchdowns. And the scary part is he did it while nursing a torn thumb tendon on his throwing hand. He's healthy now. And, Weeden had a streak of having at least one completion of 38 or more yards in all thirteen games for the Cowboys last season.
It doesn't hurt that Weeden has the best receiver in college football as his prime target. Justin Blackmon had at least 105 yards receiving and at least one touchdown in each of the Cowboys' games a year ago. He scored 20 touchdowns in all and had over 1700 yards receiving. Look for Isaiah Anderson to have a breakout year opposite Blackmon. He caught only twelve balls a year ago but averaged more than 18 yards per catch. He's the fastest player on the team. The rest of the receiver corps doesn't have a lot of experience, but they do have plenty of talent, including two true freshman who will both see some action this year.
Kendall Hunter, the prime running back for OSU last year, is gone to the San Francisco 49ers after rushing for 119 yards per game and 16 touchdowns. His two replacements both have experience. Sophomore Joseph Randle rushed for 452 yards and caught 37 passes a year ago. Another sophomore, Jeremy Smith, was used as a short-yardage specialist and scored seven touchdowns. Both will see plenty of action this season.
Last year's offensive line stayed intact and all five starters were in the lineup for each of the Cowboys' thirteen games. And, all five starters return. This group allowed only ten sacks all season, which ranked seventh in the nation. All-Big XII first team selection Levi Adcock leads the group, which features four seniors.
The question for OSU's offense will be adjusting to a new co-ordinator. Todd Monken, who coached under Les Miles at both Oklahoma State and LSU, comes over from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He replaces Dana Holgorsen, who is now the head coach at West Virginia. There's always a learning curve when new coordinators come in, but with the experience that OSU returns, the transition should be a relatively easy one.
Defensively, OSU led the Big XII with 34 takeaways, including 19 interceptions. They lose all-Big XII corner Andrew McGee, but the rest of the secondary returns intact. The biggest strength of the defense will be at the safety position, where strong safety Markelle Martin and free safety Johnny Thomas return.
But there are some questions in the front seven. OSU will be relatively inexperienced in the front seven. There will be plenty of experience at the defensive end position and OSU did a good job last year getting to opposing quarterbacks. But there's a void of experience at defensive tackle. Sophomore Anthony Rogers (6-3, 284) and redshirt freshman Christian Littlehead (6-3, 332) lead a group of candidates heading into fall practice.
The linebacker spot, while perhaps not as crucial as the defensive tackles, still has some questions as well. There is plenty of experience at strong side linebacker, but the weak side and the middle have question marks. The candidates are all sophomores.
While there are some questions, the coaching staff believes that this will be a very physical unit that can match up in Big-XII play.
Quinn Sharp might be the best punter in college football. He'll vie for first team All-America honors and will be one of the favorites to win the Ray Guy award. he is the leader to take over placement duties as well.
The biggest question on special teams is the kick return coverage team. OSU allowed three kick returns for touchdowns and that was with Sharp leading the nation with 53 touchbacks.
The schedule for OSU has them hosting Louisiana and Arizona and traveling to Tulsa for non-conference games. The big challenge comes in Big XII play where OSU has to travel to Texas A&M, Texas, Missouri and Texas Tech. None of those games will be easy. The Cowboys open conference play in College Station. The winner of that game will be considered a serious contender for the Big XII title and a BCS berth.
The ideal situation, of course, would be for OSU to go into their finale at 11-0. Hosting Oklahoma in the finale would mean "Bedlam" would live up to its name more than ever before. But regardless, this is a team that is a legit top-15, perhaps even top-10. They'll give up some points this year, but that offense will cause nightmares for everyone they play.
GAME ONE OUTLOOK: This is one helluva way for Mark Hudspeth to begin his head coaching career at Louisiana. OSU won't have much worthwhile film on the Cajuns and I won't be surprised if UL has success moving the football, at least early in the game. But that OSU offense is downright frightening.