STILLWATER — Nobody in or around the Oklahoma State football program willingly allows for an anticipated drop-off.
Not even with 28 seniors missing from a year ago, as well as several other key contributors.
“The past is the past,” linebacker Ryan Simmons said of the roster turnover. “This is a new year and this is what we have and what we’re working with.
“It’s going to raise questions, because people don’t know what to expect. It happens every year. But as far as us going out and getting the job done, we’re held to the same standards as last year.”
Of course, that’s the only acceptable attitude, with pride and man cards at risk.
That’s the way it is everywhere this time of year, even in the camps of football failures like New Mexico and Tulane and Temple and Florida International.
So freshmen and sophomores are waging a two-deep takeover at OSU?
So No. 1-ranked and defending national champ Florida State is up first in a rugged schedule that also features road trips to Manhattan and Norman and Waco and Fort Worth — three of which carry Top 25 status?
So the Cowboys, used to being in the middle of the Big 12 title chase, are now picked for the middle of the Big 12 standings?
So it is.
“We don’t try to look at that,” said junior cornerback Kevin Peterson. “We just try to keep going, play our hearts out. Win games.
“It’s motivation. You never see yourself down like that. Just play games and let people know what you can do.”
Still, anybody in or around the Oklahoma State football team would admit that the Cowboys are best built for 2015 and beyond, when the kids — and we do mean kids — will be past their Big 12 baptisms.
That’s when the buzz-worthy players collected from what Cowboys coaches believe to be their best recruiting classes can pair talent with experience.
“There’s just really no substitute for having experienced players,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
That’s not to say 2014 doesn’t offer hope and optimism.
Oh, it’s there, beginning with the shot at taking on FSU to start the season.
Yet no matter how the next three months play out, exceeding expectations or not, the bar for what comes next goes higher.
OSU’s roster is overrun with youth.
Freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores dominate the squad’s overall makeup.
The junior class is strong, setting up a vital core of talent and leadership for 2015.
At the top, only 11 scholarship seniors can be counted.
Youth will be served, too, with underclassmen holding spots all over the depth chart. There’s a lot of developing and growing up to be done.
Showing up in practice is one thing. Getting it done on Saturdays is another.
Still, by all accounts, this group of OSU youngsters is oozing with talent and a fire to become better.
“They’re so eager,” Gundy said. “It’s so enjoyable to be around them. And I see the look in some of the young guys’ eyes. They’re considerably better than when they showed up here, just in this short period of time. It’s a lot of fun to be around. This team’s fun.”
OSU’s offense could be good.
Really good. Now and in the coming years.
The Cowboys carry but one senior at the skill positions, albeit a good one in running back Desmond Roland.
All the other playmakers — and there are many — project to return, many for multiple years.
At receiver, the Pokes are deep and talented.
“I love those guys. Those guys are great,” said receivers coach Kasey Dunn. “It’s so much fun coming to work every day. It really is. I told them the other day, ‘This is a blast for us.’
“And every single one of them is coming back next year. I hope they are. We’re excited about what the future has for all those guys, a lot of young kids who are eager to learn. They come out and play.
“They’re athletic. They’ve got really good ability and hands. A good work ethic. It’s fun.”
Quarterbacks J.W. Walsh and Daxx Garman are juniors, yet freshman Mason Rudolph is closing ground in a bid to be the QB of the future. John Kolar, a current high school commitment from Norman North, prepares to join the mix as well.
Roland, a late-season find a year ago, will be missed. Yet already he’s in a job share with newcomer Tyreek Hill, whose speed and skills could make him the focus of the entire offense. Rennie Childs and Sione Palelei are waiting in the wings. And on the way is Ronald Jones II, one of the nation’s elite running back recruits.
The offensive line
An area of concern, especially with left tackle Devin Davis’ career in jeopardy, this year’s offensive line will require major contributions from underclassmen.
Daniel Koenig and Chris Grisbhy are senior starters, while senior Brandon Garrett is a key backup. But there’s but one junior offensive lineman on the roster, with younger players filling critical roles.
Center Paul Lewis and guard Zac Veatch are sophomore starters. Redshirt freshman Zach Crabtree is due to start at right tackle. And the backups are a mix of freshmen and sophomores, a crisis created by the injury to Davis and would-be starters Jake Jenkins and Travis Cross opting to get on with their lives, rather than return for senior seasons.
Relying on so many unproven players can be frightening.
Yet it’s also exciting — assuming, of course, the group gets bigger, stronger and better through experience.
The predominant storyline of the past six months: the Cowboys lost seven senior starters from last year’s defense.
And the replacements are mostly raw rookies readying for a baptism by fire against the likes of No. 1 Florida State and a rugged run through the Big 12.
OSU’s defensive two-deep features as many as nine true or redshirt freshmen who are all but assured of playing significant roles.
That’s the bad news.
And it’s the good news, down the road.
The kids are alright, already.
“Sometimes, that’s what it takes,” said senior tackle James Castleman, “to be thrown in there and forced to play. That’ll make you grow up real fast.
“And that’s all it takes sometimes.”
Well, for starters, there’s no Florida State on the 2015 nonconference schedule.
Where the Seminoles had OSU’s attention from the start of spring this year, providing daily inspiration and motivation, the bigger challenge next fall may be in getting the players’ attention.
They’ll have to be prepped on two Central schools — Central Michigan and Central Arkansas — the squads on tap to start the season.
Care to take a guess on their mascots?
Chippewas and Bears.
Then there’s another visit from the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio.
Once into Big 12 Conference play, the Cowboys get Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and TCU at home.