STILLWATER – Big 12 football prognosticators have projected the Sooners No. 1 for the 2012 season, presumably because OU has a veteran quarterback and a salty secondary.
West Virginia is slotted No. 2, because the Mountaineers have a veteran quarterback and their 70-33 Orange Bowl pasting of Clemson is fresh in minds.
Texas checks in at No. 3, apparently because voters like their orange burnt.
But here's a warning. Don't discount Mike Gundy's Cowboys. Don't misjudge the depth of OSU's talent increase. Don't sleep on an OSU repeat.
Time was, Gundy would laugh or crack wise at the suggestion of his team's prowess.
Those days are gone.
I asked Gundy straight up Wednesday if his Cowboys could repeat as Big 12 champs. He played it straight.
“Do we deserve to be preseason No. 1?” Gundy said. “No, we don't.”
But there are warning flags about OU and West Virginia.
The Sooners have the best team on paper. But they keep incurring offensive line losses (center Ben Habern the latest), and Bob Stoops reinstated wayward players Wednesday, including thrice-suspended receiver Jaz Reynolds, because, you know, everyone deserves a fourth chance.
Doesn't smack of desperation, but it does make you wonder if Stoops is worried about who exactly will catch Landry Jones' passes.
Meanwhile, I've been driving the West Virginia bandwagon, but critics – and Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen – have rightly pointed out that WVU didn't exactly run roughshod over the Big East.
West Virginia scored 21 points on LSU, a great defense, but just 24 on Cincinnati, 23 on Syracuse and 21 on Pitt. None were great defenses. The Mountaineers beat South Florida 30-27 with just one offensive touchdown. What we saw in the Orange Bowl is not what the Mountaineers displayed most of the 2011 season.
As for Texas, well, please. OSU is breaking in a freshman quarterback. We have no idea if Wes Lunt can play effectively at this level. But we do have an idea about UT quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy. Mack Brown would trade them both for Lunt right now, straight up.
Best yet for OSU, the schedule breaks for the Cowboys. State won the Big 12 a year ago despite a rugged schedule; five road games, including trips to Austin, Lubbock, Columbia and College Station.
Now OSU gets five home games in the league. The Cowboys go to OU and Kansas State, but they get Texas, West Virginia, TCU and Texas Tech in Stillwater.
Gundy said preseason predictions are based first on quarterback and then defensive status. Lunt is a mystery, but OSU's defense is not.
The Cowboys led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference play last season; you can look it up.
Defensive coordinator Bill Young said he believes his unit a year ago was championship caliber. “We played some really good offensive football teams, and we played pretty well,” he said.
And now State figures to be even better, with DBs like Brod Brown, Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe, and linebackers like Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis.
“I don't know that we've got a bunch of first-round draft choices, but we're a real solid football team,” Young said.
And we all know the scoop on offense. As Lunt goes, so go the Cowboys.
“I don't think we're built offensively for our quarterback not to play well and still have a great day offensively,” said o-coordinator Todd Monken. “When he plays well, we'll have a good day offensively. When he doesn't play well, we won't.”
Lunt is the ultimate unknown. But he's surrounded by a veteran line – even with the loss of suspended tackle Michael Bowie – and playmakers galore.
“Are we awfully thin? Yes,” Monken said. “Do we have enough talent? Yes.
“That doesn't always lead to the kind of success you'd like. But if you do the right things and players believe, play good football, you give yourself a chance.”
The Big 12 poll put the Cowboys fourth in the 2012 projections. I had OSU third. I might be low.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.