The Oklahoma State Cowboys won the Big 12 last season, but they will have difficulty repeating this season. A big part of that will be the star players they will have to face in conference play this season.
The Big 12 has been known for its quarterback play for a long time, but it will not just be quarterbacks that give the Cowboys fits this season. There are skill position players on both sides of the ball that the Oklahoma State coaching staff will have to prepare for. How well the players react to these opposing star could determine how many wins this team actually has.
Either way, every team has one player that is a difference maker above all others. However, not all of them will significantly challenge the Cowboys. Some will be easily handled thanks to the increased athleticism of this Cowboys team. There will be many who do present a big challenge, though.
Cowboys quarterback Wes Lunt will clearly have a target on his back next season as a true freshman. Texas will have the best defense in the conference, and junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will be a big part of that unit.
The 6'5", 245-pound defensive star will likely be a high pick in the NFL draft in April and will be key in putting pressure on Lunt in the Longhorns' and Cowboys' first conference game of the year. He tallied 71 tackles and eight sacks last season in 13 games.
The Cowboys will have difficult time keeping Jeffcoat off of Lunt, especially because he is surrounded by other athletic talents on that defense. However, it is vital if Oklahoma State has any shot of defeating Texas.
TCU may be in a new conference this season, but their quarterback will certainly fit right in. Casey Pachall is a big-time quarterback and could be a dark horse for All-Conference honors at the position. Last season, he completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Those are not the gaudy stats of the top quarterbacks in this league, but he will improve and be better in his second year as the starter.
The Cowboys' defense was underrated last season, but it did give up a lot of yards through the air. They are based on keeping the ball in front of them and forcing turnovers. That may not be enough against Pachall, who has shown himself to be a good game manager and solid quarterback.
Cowboys fans should remember all too well just how scary Collin Klein can be. Last season, the Cowboys squeaked out a 52-45 win at home over Klein and his Kansas State wildcats. The quarterback led his team all the way down the field in the final minutes, with time expiring as his pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
This season, the matchup between the Wildcats and Cowboys will be in Manhattan, which is enough to make it difficult all on its own. The ability of Klein as the best dual threat quarterback in the game makes it a very difficult game to win for the Cowboys.
It did not seem to take Geno Smith long to get a good grasp of Dana Holgorsen's offense. The former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator left for West Virginia after one season with the Cowboys. So, the system that Smith has flourished in will be one that the Cowboys are familiar with.
However, Holgorsen knows this. He will have something special planned for this game, and Smith will be a key part of that attack. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns while limiting his turnovers to just seven. He is a prolific passer who is smart enough not to fall into the traps laid by the opportunistic Cowboy defense.
Last season in Stillwater, the Cowboys were able to frustrate and bother Landry Jones en route to a win over the rival Oklahoma Sooners. This season, Jones will lead the Sooners in their quest for revenge.
Unlike last year, the Cowboys will have to face Jones in Norman and without their two graduated defensive ends that were so integral in disrupting his rhythm last season.
Jones is an incredibly talented quarterback. He has been very unfairly maligned throughout much of his career at Oklahoma, but he can throw the rock. Twenty-nine touchdowns and nearly 4,500 yards last season is proof of that. He will be tough for the Cowboys to stop. He has a dangerous mix of talent, experience and a want for revenge.