STILLWATER — The buildup is finally nearing its tipping point.
Oklahoma State football coaches and players have spent the past eight months talking about the Cowboys’ pending season opener against No. 1 Florida State in terms of preparation and excitement. The questions mostly centered on OSU’s youth versus FSU’s championship pedigree.
But now that kickoff at AT&T stadium is less than 24 hours away, the focus has changed to the ultimate unknown.
Can the Cowboys dethrone the Seminoles?
“They ought to fire me if I’m not telling them we’re going to win this game,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said back in late July, as the Cowboys had yet to begin fall camp. “By game week, we better feel like we can go out there and win. But right now, that doesn’t seem like it’s a possibility at all.”
Honest as ever, Spencer saw the matchup on paper and wasn’t shy about OSU’s chances. Asked again a month later, and his prognosis changed — if only slightly.
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“We’re a lot better off now than we were, however many practices ago when we started,” Spencer said. “But is it a finished product? No. All we’re trying to do is accelerate the learning process and be prepared as much as possible when we play the game.”
Learning on the fly is tough. Doing it against the defending national champion seems impossibly difficult.
“(The Seminoles) really don't have weaknesses,” coach Mike Gundy said.
It’s one of the many reasons why Gundy has kept his depth chart and attack plan mostly under wraps throughout the offseason. The first time anyone will get a sure look at the Cowboys’ identity on both sides of the ball will be Saturday night.
But among the unknown are three factors that will undoubtedly play into the Cowboys’ success, or lack thereof, against the Seminoles.
KEEP FSU’S DEFENSE GUESSING
All eyes will be on Tyreek Hill and that’s great news for OSU. The Seminoles defense will be locked onto the junior college transfer with track-star speed, and the Cowboys need to use that to their advantage.
Because beyond the obvious benefit of having a big-play threat on the field is Hill’s ability to be used as a decoy.
“Tyreek comes in, what is he?” defensive assistant Van Malone asked. “Initially before you make a call, he’s a problem, because you don’t even know what he is. ‘Oh, he’s a wide receiver this time. We’ve got to send out another DB.’ Then he’s a running back the next time. So before the ball even snaps, there’s a problem.”
If OSU can keep the talent-laden Seminoles defense on its heels with that confusion, it figures to have the offensive firepower to put up plenty of points. Turn this game into a shootout, and the Cowboys might have a chance.
GET PRESSURE UP FRONT & CAPITALIZE ON FSU MISTAKES
The Seminoles will start a senior at every position on the offense line, and each weighs upward of 300 pounds.
But with James Castleman in the middle, Jimmy Bean off the edge, and a number of other pass rushers and run stuffers on what seems to be a deep defensive line, the Cowboys are high on their big guys up front.
“One of the best d-line’s in the conference and in the nation, in my opinion,” middle linebacker Ryan Simmons said. “A lot of the things we can do can definitely put pressure on (FSU quarterback Jameis Winston).”
But just getting to FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is only half the battle.
“The defensive line really compliments a corner,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “The quarterback has to make a quick decision based on the rush; maybe he makes an errant throw.”
Since 2009, the Cowboys have forced a nation-leading 163 turnovers. They’ll likely need a few more Saturday to keep pace with the Seminoles.
HIT THE BIG PLAY ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Florida State led the nation in multiple categories on both offense and defense last season, including points scored (723) and interceptions (26).
One area the Seminoles struggled? Punt-return coverage.
They ranked No. 121 nationally allowing 16.93 yards per return. It’s a minor stat OSU would like to exploit Saturday — especially with Hill possibly returning punts.