Big 12

Oklahoma State low on stars, high on hopes

For the first time in years, Oklahoma State is low on star power.

Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Dez Bryant and Wichitan Joseph Randle are all in the NFL. Those former standouts leave behind quite a legacy for the less-touted members of the current roster. The Cowboys don’t have a Heisman Trophy contender or surefire future first-round draft pick.

But that doesn’t mean Oklahoma State is in rebuilding mode, far from it. The Cowboys were the media’s preseason pick to win the Big 12.

What they lack in star power, they make up for with depth.

Quarterbacks Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh all have the talent to start and succeed. How many other teams have three strong options at that position?

Receivers Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart have the skills to lead the Big 12 in receiving yards. Jhajuan Seates and Brandon Sheperd provide valuable second-tier options. Blake Jackson and David Glidden could start in most programs. How many teams are that versatile in the passing game?

Six seniors return on a defense filled with upperclassmen. How many teams can match that experience?

Very few.

“There’s been some growth in the program at Oklahoma State,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “I think it’s a tribute to the players that have been before this group, the young men that are on our team now, and the ones in the future. They’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

Stewart, a junior who caught 101 passes for 1,210 yards last season, might be the closest thing Oklahoma State has to a star player.

He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

“Josh is a great example of what we really strive for at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said. “He came in and had some class misses, and he always loved to play football, he’s very competitive. Guys will ask about a Josh or a Joe Randle or other players that we’ve had, and our comment is they really love to play the game. They would play it for free, and Josh loves to play football. He’s very competitive.

“He plays through pain, plays through injury. Cold weather, hot weather, doesn’t affect him. And he’s really developed. We’ve been very fortunate to have a number of great receivers at Oklahoma State over the last few years, and each year, as one moves on, as a coaching staff, we see young talent, but you’re always concerned about whether that guy’s going to step up. Josh really stepped up for us last year in a big way.”

Oklahoma State is coming off an eight-win season in which it pummeled Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Cowboys are hoping to build on that momentum.

It won’t be easy, though. Jeremy Smith won’t be as good as Randle. And the Cowboys have a difficult opener against Mississippi State in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Gundy has been critical of Oklahoma State’s choice to schedule such a difficult opening game, especially when he isn’t sure who will start at quarterback, but the payoff could be big. If OSU defeats Mississippi State, it will receive an early bump in the national rankings before moving on to a favorable conference schedule.

Oklahoma State gets the benefit of playing Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State at home.

Gundy thinks a strong start could lead to a strong finish.

“You have to play well in the first game to win. I think we would all agree on that,” Gundy said. “So it changes our approach as a coaching staff and what we do in preseason practice.

“… My concern is whether that affects us in November, because we really need to be strong in the last week of October and up through November to make that run. We’ve had a formula at Oklahoma State over the last really five, six, seven years that we feel like gives us the best chance to be strong, be in great shape, and be fresh at the end of the season so our teams can perform at the highest level. We have to alter that.”

Oklahoma State has altered its roster, as well.

It might not have star power. But it has strength in numbers. That could end up working to OSU’s advantage.