Oklahoma State may be coming off its best season in school history, but that momentum will not be enough to keep the Cowboys' depleted squad from struggling in 2012.
The Cowboys lost an abundance of talent from last year's team, including star quarterback Brandon Weeden and the ultra-talented Justin Blackmon. And in addition to those two studs, Oklahoma State will be without three-fifths of last season's starting offensive line and a number of other key starters.
The Cowboys have established an expectation of success in Stillwater and head coach Mike Gundy has had success on the recruiting trail, so there will be a number of talented players ready to step in to fill these roles.
However, not even a major influx of talent will be able to save the Cowboys from having a down year in the loaded Big 12.
No matter the level, quarterback is the most important position on the field, and experience is paramount to the success of a QB.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they will have none of that in 2012.
At the end of April, head coach Mike Gundy named true freshman Wes Lunt the starter at quarterback.
We had to make a decision based on what we thought was best for our offense to score points and then give us the best chance to win football games. All three players (Lunt, junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh) had good springs, but at some point, the decision is made on the field.
Wes performed better than the other two quarterbacks in the spring.
Lunt, a 4-star prospect from Illinois, is said to have impressive arm strength and poise for someone his age. He also is a pro-style QB built in the same mold as Weeden.
However, no matter how talented he is, it's almost impossible for a signal-caller that young to perform at a high enough level to carry a team to a conference championship.
Weeden was the catalyst for the offense in 2012, leading the second most potent passing attack in college football.
Lunt will try to pick back up where Weeden left off, but it's not that easy. Weeden was 10 years his senior when he put up those numbers. It will take Lunt some time on the college level to catch up.
Blackmon was a two-time All-American and a two-time recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in college football each season.
However, even those honors don't put into perspective the impact that Blackmon had on the game. He drew double coverages, made game-changing plays and garnered so much attention from opponents that it opened up holes for the rest of the offense.
The Cowboys will be without all of that in 2012.
Sure, they have some talented pass-catchers left on the roster and they will attempt to replace Blackmon by committee.
It won't matter, though, as no combination of these players will have the impact that Blackmon did.
He won't be there to draw double coverages. He won't be there to make the much-needed third-down catch. Most importantly, he won't be there at the end of games to bail out the Cowboys when the game's on the line and they have to make a play.
His significance can't be measured, but Oklahoma State will certainly feel his absence in the win column in 2012.
While the talented skill players dominated the spotlight for Oklahoma State in 2011, the impressive play by the offensive line was overlooked.
This season, the O-line won't be so fortunate.
Because as the new-look line goes through an adjustment period, it will have to deal with an abundance of criticism.
The Cowboys will be missing three starters on the line from last season, including All-American left tackle Levy Adcock and first-team All-Big 12 center Grant Garner.
Oklahoma State is always adept at producing effective offensive lines, but it will still take time to incorporate new starters. This is bad news for Lunt. It could be even worse for the running game.
With the Cowboys' relative inexperience behind center and on the outside, the rushing attack is expected to carry the team. After all, star tailback Joseph Randle is returning after a stellar sophomore campaign, as does his backup Jeremy Smith, who had a solid season himself with 646 yards and nine touchdowns.
However, the lack of cohesion up front could hold the Cowboys' running game back. Plus the running game will be the new focal point of defenses, so the halfbacks will have a major challenge.
Some teams can compensate for a lack of offensive firepower with a dominating defense. You don’t need to look further than Alabama's last two national championship teams to see that.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their defense is not on that level.
Actually, it's not even close.
Last season the defense was decent, allowing 26.8 points a game—good for 68th overall in college football. That doesn't sound great, but it was OK because it was backed up by a prolific offense.
In 2012 the Cowboys won't have that luxury. The defense will need to step up, but the thing is—it's not equipped to do so.
The losses of All-American safety Markelle Martin and first-team All-Big 12 defensive end Jamie Blatnick will hurt considerably because cornerstones like those two are hard to replace.
The Cowboys defense must be stout this season. Last year it utilized a bend-but-don't-break philosophy, but that will need to become a thing of the past for the team to compete with the Oklahoma's and Texas' of the world.
With the added pressure and loss of talent, it will be difficult for Oklahoma State's D to perform at the needed level.
The Cowboys may be the defending Big 12 champions, but they will face a much tougher conference in 2012. The additions West Virginia and TCU add a pair of perennial BCS contenders—both the Horned Frogs and the Mountaineers have won a BCS bowl game in the last two years—to the mix.
Oklahoma, as always, will contend, as will a much-improved Texas team that sports a suffocating defense and a scary ground game.
Oklahoma State won’t be able to gloss over a talented Kansas State squad ,either, and Baylor, despite the loss of RG3, is still an up-and-coming program.
Kansas and Iowa State shouldn't present much of a challenge, even to a young team like the Cowboys, but the Texas Tech game is always interesting.
With all of these challenging contests week to week, it will be difficult for a rebuilding squad to string together long winning streaks.
They will still be good enough to earn a bowl berth, but at least in 2012, the Cowboys' Big 12 hopes will have to be put on the back burner.