by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Something might happen this year at Oklahoma State that rarely, if ever, has happened before in college football. Its starting QB for the current season might end up being ten years younger than the QB who finished the previous season. That’s an enormous one-year drop in experience at the most important position on their field. No true freshman has ever started a season opener for OSU. But 18-year-old 6-4 true frosh passer Wes Lunt goes into August practices in Stillwater as the No. 1 QB. And that’s why coach Mike Gundy (left) is planning on a renewed emphasis of the Cowboy running game, at least early in 2012 the season.

Not that Gundy (in his 8th season at OSU) doesn’t have faith in the strong-armed freshman. He does, or he wouldn’t have tabbed Lunt No. 1 coming out of spring practice. With 28-year-old Brandon Weeden throwing and All-America WR Justin Blackmon (back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards) making big play after big play, Oklahoma State finished No. 3 in total offense last season, No. 2 in passing, and No. 2 in scoring (48.7 ppg). The Cowboys won the Big 12 and finished a sterling 12-1, with their only loss by a 37-31 score in double overtime at Iowa State in a game that took place just a few hours after the plane crash that took the lives of OSU women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna. Gundy contends his team would have had a good chance to defeat either BCS title game participants Alabama & LSU because the Cowboys would have spread out the opposing defenses, passing the ball 60 times, and would have had those two rugged SEC stop units leg-weary at the end. Yes, Gundy is biased in the support of his team. But it wouldn’t have taken much for the OSU attack to eclipse the title-game attack of the QB-challenged Bayou Bengals, who failed to score a point vs. Alabama in the championship game, won 21-0 by the Crimson Tide, who themselves reached the end zone only once (in the fourth quarter).

Frosh QB Lunt led his Rochester team to two state titles in Illinois. And Gundy, a former QB himself, says the lanky Lunt—like the 6-4 Weeden before him—has what it takes to be the next orchestrator of the OSU spread offense. Says Gundy, “We like our system. We like our ability to play fast. We like the ability to throw the ball down the field effectively, but also to run the football. Wes gives us the best opportunity to stay consistent with our style of play.” Lunt edged out 6-1 junior 2010-11 backup Clint Chelf (34 of 49, 5 TDs, 1 int. in mostly mop-up duty the last two years) and 6-2 RS frosh J.W. Walsh, who has exhibited a tendency to take off from the pocket. Molding his attack to the talent, Gundy has resurrected some of the zone-read schemes used so effectively a few years ago by Zac Robinson.

But, in order to allow Lunt some growing pains before Game Four vs. the talent-rich defense of Texas, Gundy will feature more of his ground offense early, making liberal use of RBs Joseph Randle (right) and Jeremy Smith, who dashed for a combined 1862 yards on 6.4 ypc, with a total of 33 TD runs last year. The Cowboys must replace three starters in their OL. But last year’s backups saw plenty of action, and this year’s unit is likely to start four seniors and a junior. As for the loss of receivers Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Hubert Anyiam, Gundy expects this year’s group to be nearly as productive.

Eight starters return on defense, but only a fool would predict that the 2012 OSU stop unit will match last season’s 24 interceptions, nation-leading 44 takeaways, and top turnover margin of +21. With far less experience at QB, the Cowboy offense is less likely to score as many points, to jump out to as many early leads, and to have as many teams playing catch-up in the late going. Ergo, fewer OSU takeaways and a smaller turnover margin. Last year’s Cowboy defense finished 107th in total yards. And anyone who saw OSU ripped for 276 yards on the ground by Kansas State and for 243 by Stanford would hardly have described last year’s platoon as a powerful unit. Quick and opportunistic, yes. Powerful, no.

The strength will be in the back seven, with the starting LB crew of sr. Alex Elkins and jrs. Shaun Lewis & Caleb Levy back. CBs Justin Gilbert & Brodrick Brown (left) each picked off 5 aerials last year, while FS Daytawion Lowe led the team in tackles with 97. The big question mark is the front four, where returnees Nigel Nicholas (moving to DE) and Anthony Rogers (DT) combined for only three sacks last season. The addition of JCAA DT Calvin Barnett (originally signed with Arkansas) will help, but more vs. the run than in the pass rush.

The kicking game is a big plus, thanks singly to the fairly amazing P/K Quinn Sharp, who nailed 22 of 25 FGs, averaged 46.3 on his punts, collected 61 touchbacks on 119 kickoffs, and who scored a pair of TDs to boot!

Summary...It’s probably not a good idea to underestimate the development of the Cowboys under Gundy. After all, previous outstanding QB Zac Robinson was succeeded by Brandon Weeden. Previous outstanding WR Dez Bryant by Justin Blackmon. And previous outstanding RB Kendall Hunter by Joseph Randle/Jeremy Smith. Indeed, Gundy has things “going on” in Stillwater, where Boone Pickens’ millions have funded upgraded facilities and where Gundy has improved recruiting in quantity, quality and breadth. In the last three years, rival Oklahoma has won 30 games; OSU 32! This year’s Bedlam clash is at Owen Field in Norman, where the Cowboys haven’t won since 2001. With a new QB, a repeat of last year’s 12-1 record is out of the question. Likely the 11-2 mark of 2010 as well. In fact, if Gundy can get this year’s semi-rebuilding team to the 9-4 mark of 2009, it would be a worthy accomplishment. But even that might be a stretch if Gundy’s QBing doesn’t pan out.

Note that in the two Brandon Weeden years, OSU was 23-3 straight up, 19-7 vs. the spread, and 15-11 “over” the total. No surprise this year if there’s a regression.


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