Saturday, August 29, 2009

CFI Countdown: #12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys

2008 Record: 9-4 (Big XII 5-3)
Bowl Game: Lost Holiday Bowl to Oregon 42-31
Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Stadium: Boone Pickens Stadium (48,000)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Overall: 27-23 (5th season)
@ Oklahoma St.: 27-23 (5th season)
Link to OSU Football Page

Mike Gundy won four games as a rookie head coach in 2005, and increased that total to seven wins in 2006 and 2007 before winning nine games last year. That was the most by the Pokes since they won ten games in 1988…when some guy named Barry Sanders was running the football and Gundy—not yet a man (couldn’t resist)—was throwing it. This team has a chance to be as good, if not better, than that group of Cowboys.

When the Cowboys Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Gunter Brewer (2nd season)
Scheme: Spread Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: TE Brandon Pettigrew, WR Damian Davis, C David Washington, OG Steve Denning

The well-balanced Cowboys’ attack is led by one of the most balanced quarterbacks in the nation, senior Zac Robinson. He was always dangerous as a runner and has continued to improve as a passer each season in Stillwater. Robinson doesn’t have the strongest arm, but it is strong enough to stretch the field. He excels with the ball in his hands and is the unquestioned leader in the huddle. It doesn’t hurt that he has two explosive weapons in tailback Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant—a pair of exciting juniors. Bryant in particular is a quarterback’s dream, with size, speed, wingspan, and tremendous hands. Throw it up anywhere in Bryant’s zip code and he’s coming down with the football. Bryant can go deep, make plays after the catch, and is nearly unstoppable in the red zone. The one weakness the Pokes have on offense is the lack of depth behind Bryant, which was evident when the Biletnikoff finalist was injured in their bowl loss. It’s unclear who it will be, but somebody needs to step up and take advantage of all the attention Bryant receives. Making that even more important is the loss of tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The running game is unquestioned. Hunter is explosive and has impressive shiftiness and footwork, making tacklers miss, not only in the open field, but in tight spaces as well. He is also stronger than he looks. Providing depth are seniors Keith Toston, who could start for a lot of teams, and Beau Johnson. The line should be solid with both tackles returning, including All-American candidate Russell Okung. Andrew Lewis will move over to take over at center, while both guards will be first-time starters.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) WR Dez Bryant (JR), 2) OT Russell Okung (SR), 3) RB Kendall Hunter (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Bill Young (1st season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: DT Tonga Tea, CB Jacob Lacey, S Ricky Price

In Derek Burton, Swanson Miller, and Shane Jarka the Cowboys have tackles who should be able to hold down the front and maybe even make some plays from the inside of the defensive line. Moving from end, Burton has excellent athleticism and could be a real force. The player with the most upside, who can be a real difference maker along the defensive line, is junior end Ugo Chinasa. He is a speed pass rusher off the edge who can make his teammates better football players. A big reason for the Cowboys’ defensive struggles in 2008 was their lack of a pass rush—Chinasa has the ability to change that. The Pokes are happy in general with their depth along the line; sophomore Jamie Blatnick is yet another player who could make strides this season. They are solid at the second line of defense with a trio of senior starters—Andre Sexton, Orie Lemon, and Patrick Lavine—returning in 2009. Lemon has good size in the middle, while Sexton, a former safety, makes plays using his speed. Their top defender likely resides in the secondary, as there are high expectations for senior cornerback Perrish Cox. He has the ability to be a lockdown corner and the ball skills to be a big time playmaker in the defensive backfield, something this defense has lacked. Outside of Cox the rest of the DBs will be new to the starting lineup, which may end up being a positive. Another fresh face is defensive coordinator Bill Young, who is aggressive and comes in with a good reputation.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DE Ugo Chinasa (JR), 2) CB Perish Cox (SR), 3) LB Andrew Sexton (SR)

The Schedule

We will find out very quickly if the 2009 Cowboys are ready for prime time as they host the Georgia Bulldogs in week one. Week two brings a big test to the pass defense, with the prolific Houston Cougars coming to Stillwater—a nice prep for the pass-happy Big XII…as long as the Pokes survive it. In conference play the two games to circle are a home contest to Texas and the season finale in Norman against in-state rivals Oklahoma. Other intriguing conference games include visits from Texas Tech, Missouri, and Colorado, with a trip to Waco to take on the rising Baylor Bears the week before the Texas game—a very dangerous game.

Pivotal Point

It’s all about the defense in big games. Although the Stillwater faithful were happy with their nine wins, there was a sense that something was missing from the 2008 campaign—that signature big win. They lost to their three toughest conference foes in Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech—all from the Big XII South—as well as suffering a defeat in their bowl game against Oregon. For the most part, the defense was the culprit. They held their own in a 28-24 loss to the ‘Horns but allowed 56 points to the Red Raiders in Lubbock, 61 to the Sooners in Boone Pickens Stadium, and 42 to the Ducks in what could have been win number ten. This year they play Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas—it will be hard to label this season a success if they drop all three.

CFI Final Analysis

Oklahoma St.’s offense rivals any in the nation, with the triplets—Robinson, Hunter and Bryant—reminding many of another group of Cowboys (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin), who were ironically coached by former Poke headman Jimmy Johnson. That is not say this trio will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but at the college level they are as good as they come. OSU is on the cusp of a huge season…but until they prove it on the field against the big boys, a little skepticism is warranted.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels

Photos Courtesy of Oklahoma St. University