1. Defensive improvementThe Cowboys have featured high-scoring offenses for years but have struggled defensively. How much they improve under new defensive coordinator Tim Beckman will determine whether OSU can climb the Big 12 South standings.
2. Win on the roadOSU was 1-4 in road games last season and is 2-8 in the Gundy era. The Cowboys face a brutal road schedule. To make major strides, they must post road wins other than Baylor. Two or three road wins among games at Georgia, Troy, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Oklahoma would be huge.
3. Plug the middleThe Cowboys' biggest concern is a lack of experience and depth at defensive tackle. If Jeray Chatham, Maurice Cummings, Tonga Tea and Shane Jarka can provide consistent production in the trenches, OSU's linebackers and safeties won't have to creep to the line of scrimmage for run support.
4. Continue offensive dominanceOSU was the seventh-highest scoring offense in the nation last season. Quarterback Bobby Reid, receiver Adarius Bowman, running back Dantrell Savage and tight end Brandon Pettigrew should be better. If the Cowboys can average 35 points, they should be competitive in every game.
5. Fast startThe Cowboys could gain invaluable momentum with an upset of Georgia in the season opener. Even if OSU loses to the Bulldogs, the Cowboys need to be no worse than 4-1 heading into a two-game road trip to Texas A&M and Nebraska. By Mike Baldwin