STILLWATER — Among all the statistics that show Oklahoma State’s inexperience this season, none have quite the punch as a certain sound bite coach Mike Gundy gave during a radio interview on Monday.
The Cowboys, he said, will play at least eight true freshmen on Saturday against Florida State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I mentioned to them as a team in a group setting, I said, ‘You guys have a great opportunity … you’re playing high school ball last year and now you get to play the returning national champions.’ I kind of looked at some of them and they looked at me,” Gundy recalled in an interview with SiriusXM College radio. “And I said, ‘Now, you guys do know you’ve got to go out there and play?’ I kind of joked with them a little bit.”
If Gundy’s prediction becomes a reality, those freshman Cowboys will have quite the story to tell their grandkids someday — about their first college football game coming against the reigning Heisman winner in an NFL stadium on prime-time TV.
It also shows why the Vegas odds are against the Cowboys. Those freshmen step in as 17 starters from last season are gone.
But paired with the unknown is optimism. The final word out of fall camp was that the incoming class was focused and prepared to a level that surprised even the most veteran Cowboys.
“A lot of these young guys are actually really mature for their age,” senior defensive tackle James Castleman said. “A lot of these young guys came in with the attitude; they want to kill, they want to play. Football comes first for a lot of them. They’re not expecting to be redshirted … they’re expecting to get out there and make plays.”
Gundy hasn’t identified those eight freshmen he says will play. But if you examine that crop of young Cowboys in terms of OSU’s most glaring needs this season, a few stand out as legitimate candidates.
Here’s a look at eight possible options for true freshmen who might play Week 1 and beyond this season.
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LB Justin Phillips / 6-0, 215 / Pearland, Texas
Phillips is one freshman who likely won’t be fazed by the setting on Saturday. He completed his high school football career eight months ago inside AT&T Stadium with a loss in the state title game. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer specifically mentioned Phillips as a standout in the Cowboys’ final fall camp scrimmage.
High school credentials: Phillips finished his senior year at Pearland (Texas) High School with 86 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He also returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown in the state championship game. Other offers included Baylor, Boise State and Iowa State.
Rivals ranking: 3 stars
Quotable: “Justin Phillips has really showed up. He can tackle.” — Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer
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LB Gyasi Akem / 6-1, 210 / Broken Arrow, Okla.
Akem certainly looks the part with his physique and athleticism. The Broken Arrow product was among the top-10 most highly touted outside linebacker recruits in the nation last season. If given the opportunity, he could provide needed depth at linebacker and on special teams in 2014.
High school credentials: At Broken Arrow, he recorded 67 tackles, one sack and one interception last season to earn all-state honors from The Oklahoman. Akem received offers from more than dozen top programs, including Oklahoma, Clemson, Kansas State, Baylor and Tennessee.
Rivals ranking: 4 stars
Quotable: “He could have the size to play multiple positions, like inside linebacker or outside linebacker.” — Spencer.
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LB Kirk Tucker / 6-2, 190 / Tucker, Ga.
Tucker is one of the potential replacements for Shaun Lewis at “star” linebacker, a hybrid position that requires length and speed. Those both seem to be strong attributes for Tucker, whose reported 40-yard dash time is 4.55 seconds.
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