College Football Predictions: Why Oklahoma State Will Sputter Out in 2012
Fair or not, expectations are high in Stillwater going into the 2012 season for the Oklahoma State Cowboys and head football coach Mike Gundy.
The Cowboys finished the 2011 season with an incredible 12-1 record, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford in OT to close out the season.
Led by the dynamic combination of 28-year-old QB Brandon Weeden and freak wideout Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State averaged an amazing 48.7 points per game last year, and many believed they should have been included in the BCS National Championship game instead of the eventual champions, Alabama.
Naturally, fans will be expecting similar success in the upcoming season.
However, it seems extremely unlikely that the Cowboys will be able to repeat their run as Big 12 champions.
Here are some of the reasons why Oklahoma State will sputter out in 2012.
Replacing Weeden with Lunt
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In a surprising move, coach Gundy has opted to go with 18-year-old freshman Wes Lunt as the team's starter going into next season after he played well in the team's spring game.
Junior Clint Chelf seemed like a shoe-in to replace Weeden, after serving as the back-up last season. In limited time, Chelf went 20-30 for 307 yards and 3 TD's in 2011.
If he opted not to go with Chelf, many assumed that Gundy would select redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh to be the starter.
Instead, it will be Lunt, who enrolled with the school in January. In high school, Lunt led Rochester (Ill.) to two state championships, but many questions remain about his readiness to play at the college level.
Lunt certainly will have some pretty big shoes to fill.
In his two years as a starter, Brandon Weeden led the Cowboys to a 23-3 record, threw for over 8,500 yards and had 71 Touchdown passes.
In the 2012 NFL draft, despite already being 28, Weeden was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns and is in the mix to be their starter.
It will be nearly impossible for Lunt—or Clef and Walsh for that matter—to maintain the high level of quarterbacking that Stillwater has gotten used to over the last several years under Brandon Weeden and Zac Robinson before him.
Although he has four years to improve his game, Lunt's lack of experience could make for a long 2012 season for the Cowboys.
Missing Blackmon and Cooper
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Every few years in College Football, there is that one receiver who comes along and dominates at the college level before moving on to the pros.
Recently, guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Michael Crabtree have filled that role, and last year it was occupied by Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.
Blackmon left OK State to go to the NFL, where he was selected fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2012 Draft.
It would be difficult enough for Oklahoma State to replace just Blackmon, a two-time All-American, but they must also replace Josh Cooper, the team's second-leading receiver from last year.
Combined, Blackmon and Cooper caught nearly 200 balls for the Cowboys in 2011, and notched well over 2,000 receiving yards.
Oklahoma State will also have to deal with the loss of wideouts Hubert Anyiam and Michael Harrison.
If Lunt still had Blackmon or Cooper to throw to, it may make his job much easier. Instead, he will rely on senior Tracy Cooper and junior Isiah Anderson to pick up the slack, which is much easier said than done.
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Although the Big 12 may have dropped off in recent years, it is still one of the most formidable conferences in the country, and it will prove tough to navigate in 2012.
Oklahoma and West Virginia are two of the top teams in the country going into next year, and TCU, Kansas State, and Texas are also teams that could make a run in the Top 25 throughout the year.
If Oklahoma State is going to repeat as Big 12 Champions in 2012, they will need to win at least 10 games, and doing that would mean they could only afford one or two losses during the season.
That may prove difficult with games against Texas, TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech at home, and road meetings with Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor.
Oklahoma State will have opportunities for easy wins over Savannah State, Arizona, Louisiana-Lafayette, and maybe even Kansas and Iowa State, but they will be lucky to go 3-4 in their other seven games because of the strength of the Big 12.
Loss of a Stellar Offensive Line
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While most of the credit went to Weeden and Blackmon, there was another key reason why the Cowboys' offense was so successful the last two seasons:
Their offensive line.
Oklahoma State must replace three full-time starters from last years Offensive Line, including Big 12 Lineman of the Year Grant Garner and All-American Levy Adcock.
The team's most experienced lineman returning is Lane Taylor who has made 36 career starts. He will likely be accompanied by Parker Graham, Michael Bowie, Jonathan Rush, Evan Epstein, and Brandon Webb.
While some still have high expectations that the Oklahoma State line will continue to be among the conference's best, if they struggle to protect Lunt and create holes for RB Joseph Randle, the Cowboys will have no chance to come anywhere near their offensive output from last year.
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Up to this point, our focus has been on the Oklahoma State offense and what it will be missing going into next season, but it is also reasonable to expect them to struggle defensively once again.
Oklahoma State's defense ranked just 107th in the country last season, but they were still able to win 11 games, thanks to their dynamic offense and their defense's ability to come up with timely turnovers.
Oklahoma State led the nation in takeaways last year with 42, which was just four short of an NCAA record.
However, relying on your defense to force turnovers instead of shutting them down is risky to say the least.
Expecting Oklahoma State to duplicate that total from last year is asking a lot, even if the team does feature two of the top corners in the Big 12, with Broderick Brown and Justin Gilbert.
Still, Oklahoma State loses three of its top defensive players from last year, safety Markelle Martin, and defensive ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones.
With little talent coming in on defense, and with a team that gave up over 456 yards per game last year, they may simply give up too many points to be competitive in the offensively loaded Big 12.