Not that Florida State needed any advantages heading into its season opener under the bright lights in Arlington, Texas, but Jameis Winston and Co. get an opponent in Oklahoma State with little experience under its belt.
College football's cyclical nature has the Cowboys in a precarious, vulnerable position now that a wealth of talent from past years has moved on, mostly thanks to eligibility's expiration date.
The Seminoles are not without their issues, but they happen to be on the opposite end of the spectrum in that regard, which, on paper, should do much to silence one of the nation's perennial offensive powerhouses.
Below, let's take a closer look at one of the marquee matches that headlines the return of collegiate football.
When: Saturday, August 30, 8 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 63.5
- Spread: Florida State (-17.5)
Team Injury Reports
|Ukeme Eligwe||LB||08/15/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||foot|
|Isaiah Jones||WR||08/16/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||academics|
|Matthew Thomas||LB||08/26/2014||is doubtful for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State||Doubtful||ankle|
|Jesus Wilson||WR||08/04/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Kris Catlin||LB||08/23/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||academics|
Injury reports via USA Today.
The (In)Experience Factor
If the Cowboys are to emerge victorious against the No. 1 team in the land at the Cowboys Classic, Mike Gundy, now in his 10th year as coach, will need to pull off a minor miracle.
Oklahoma State is pretty much an entirely new team this season after losing 28 seniors and 13 starters in the offseason. Names that range from the recognizable (Justin Gilbert) right on down to the criminally underrated (Calvin Barnett) are gone, which means the team is more ill-equipped than ever to handle last year's Heisman winner.
Chris Nee of 247Sports puts into perspective the holes in the ship Gundy must patch: "According to research done by Phil Steele, Oklahoma State has the lowest percentage of returning letterwinners from 2013 of any team in the country. The Cowboys have 38 returning, lost 32, for a percentage of 54.29 percent."
It means that those left behind, of which there are very few, must pick up the pieces in one of the most brutal trial-by-fire scenarios possible.
One such name is defensive tackle James Castleman, who tallied 33 tackles and a sack last season. He has already spoken about taking down Winston, too.
“Of course I’d like to sack him,” Castleman said, per Kyle Fredrickson of NewsOK.com. “He’s a Heisman winner.”
Castleman is joined in the returnee department by junior quarterback J.W. Walsh. In limited action the past two seasons, Walsh has helped keep Oklahoma State's reputation as an offensive juggernaut relatively intact:
As ESPN CollegeFootball illustrates, Walsh was solid under center last season when given the opportunity, but that pales in comparison to what the Florida State defense did:
It helps that Walsh has been around Gundy's schemes for so long, but to truly influence the outcome in a positive manner, he's going to need some serious contributions from a very green defense.
The Experience Factor
Major departures, such as Kelvin Benjamin and James Wilder Jr., make it seem as if the Seminoles are in a bit of a rebuild mode around a Heisman winner, but that's simply not the case—six of the offensive starters alone have 10 or more starts on their resumes, and four of the five linemen in front of Winston a year ago are back.
Karlos Williams (730 yards and 11 touchdowns last season), Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender will surely support Winston effectively through sound contributions on the ground behind that elite line.
A line Winston is not shy about, either.
"Well, our offensive line is the best offensive line in the country," he said, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat. "And I repeat that Florida State's offensive line is the best offensive line in the country."
There are issues, believe it or not. No. 1 wideout Jesus Wilson is still suspended thanks to an arrest earlier this summer, and linebacker Matthew Thomas is out with an ankle injury. But those are minor problems given the recruiting classes Jimbo Fisher reels in annually and the wealth of experience back for a repeat attempt.
Winston gets the headlines, and rightfully so, but it is the depth around him that puts the Seminoles over the top.
Which team wins?
There was an outside chance when this game was scheduled that the two teams would be highly ranked and give fans a can't-miss affair. The game still falls into that category, but only because Florida State has lived up to its end of the bargain.
The Cowboys will be explosive in 2014, and history points out that they have won their past six openers and are 11-2 in the state of Texas.
But this year is a unique situation, both in opponent and talent leakage. Winston will be able to exploit Oklahoma State's defense routinely, and when he does not, three backs will bully their way up and down the field to make the Cowboys' former offensive potency a moot point.
Prediction: Florida State 48, Oklahoma State 20
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.