Losing Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden was supposed to be devastating for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. How would the team recover, especially with a true freshman at the reins?
As Yahoo! Sports pointed out, Mike Gundy has a lot of big holes to fill after his team's first Big 12 title in 2011. While aware of the task in front of him, Gundy is ready for the new season. Gundy told Yahoo! Sports:
I'm excited about everything. Our defense is more athletic than it's been. I thought they were better than people gave them credit for last year, and we have a lot of those guys coming back. We've got more depth, and if we can keep the train going with turnovers, it will certainly give us a chance to win football games.
Wes Lunt is arguably the biggest question mark for Oklahoma State going into 2012. The 18-year-old is nine years younger than his predecessor. Those nine years can be extremely pivotal for someone like Lunt, who has never stepped foot in a collegiate football game.
However, Lunt has a lot of talent around him. Both Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will provide Lunt the opportunity to hand the ball off. From the sounds of Gundy's current plans, the ball will be put in the air less with Lunt, and the running backs will be used much more.
While opposing teams will play into this strategy, both Randle and Smith tout an impressive 1,862 yards from 2011. That strength should carry into 2012 nicely.
Missing Blackmon will obviously be a big gap to fill, but the Cowboys are not destitute at the receivers position. Tracy Moore is an early favorite, along with Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson, according to Athlon Sports. Additionally, Blake Jackson, a junior college recruit, will also bring some interesting talent to the offense. What was once a one-man show in 2012, Oklahoma State now has a few options to spread the ball around.
If the Cowboys truly wish to replicate 2011 and bring home the Big 12 title once again, the defense will need to step up. Leading the nation in turnovers last season, Oklahoma State is returning eight starters on defense. Gundy will use the defense to really control early games as his offense finds its rhythm. With the returning talent, the Cowboys should have a lot to work with on the defensive side of the ball.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge for Gundy and his team will be mentally moving forward from Weeden and Blackmon. Star players come and go, but Gundy has been adamant about building a solid team that lasts beyond one season. Who is to say the next star player hasn't been sitting at Oklahoma State waiting for the chance to shine once Weeden and Blackmon left?
The 2012 season will be less of a "rebuilding" one for the Cowboys and more of a testament to the type of program they wish to build. It may not be easy, but it won't be a train wreck. In fact, the Oklahoma State Cowboys may just have it in them to find their way back to the Big 12 title.