It’s not a secret that the outlook for Oklahoma State football this season isn’t near as bright as it was a year ago when the Cowboys were Big 12 favorites.
The good news?
Coach Mike Gundy and OSU have been doubted before.
Last season, OSU graduated 28 players. The Cowboys are only returning four starters on defense, lost their top three receivers, have an offensive line riddled by injuries and another offseason with some uncertainty at quarterback. Not exactly breaking news.
That’s why this spring might have been the most challenging in Gundy’s tenure.
“We pushed our players more this spring, this week, than we have since I’ve been the head coach here,” Gundy said after OSU’s final spring practice. “From a scrimmage standpoint, we’re so young that we needed enough work. We said they don’t have enough days to get these guys ready.”
The Big 12 has taken notice, and its outlook for the Cowboys is even more pessimistic.
The conference announced its preseason awards and poll this past week, and junior college transfer Tyreek Hill was the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
But other than that, the Cowboys didn’t have a single player make the all-conference team.
That’s no James Castleman. No Kevin Peterson. No J.W. Walsh, Daniel Koenig, Jhajuan Seales or Des Roland.
In the conference preseason poll, the media picked OSU to finish fifth behind Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and Kansas State.
Big 12 country has little faith, but preseason predictions mean little — especially in Stillwater.
OSU ended up better than its preseason position in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. In the past seven years, last season was the only time OSU finished worse than its prediction.
As for the lack of star power, there was also a time when Zac Robinson was an unknown backup, Brandon Weeden was a third-string walk-on, Justin Blackmon was a no-name recruit from Ardmore. The Cowboys don’t have many big names entering this season, but maybe the stars are yet to emerge.
Look at OSU’s roster, and it’s certainly not all bad.
With Seales, Blake Webb, Marcell Ateman and others at receiver, OSU has talent. In J.W. Walsh, the Cowboys have a gritty quarterback with adequate experience. A reliable workhorse in Roland. Now a dynamic skill player in Hill.
The defense is a serious question, but it did make significant improvements in the short spring period, and Spencer worked wonders in 2013, his first season as defensive coordinator.
The Cowboys open against Florida State, and it might not be pretty. The conference schedule doesn’t project to make matters easier. There are ample reasons to think a six-win season would be a possibility.
But history says nine or so wins isn’t out of the question.
The best example: In 2010, OSU was picked fifth in the Big 12 South, but finished 11-2 and tied for first.
The odds are against the Cowboys, but they could prove the Big 12 wrong.
It wouldn’t be the first time.