A year ago at Big 12 Media Days, one prominent storyline surrounding Oklahoma State was its defense, and the promise that the Cowboys could control games on that side of the ball, as well as on offense.
As the Cowboys finished 8-5 a year ago, they ranked No. 80 in total defense, No. 110 in passing defense and No. 104 in opponent first downs.
In their five losses, the Pokes surrendered at least 41 points in each setback.
Well, the defense was a hot topic again Monday, and with familiar skepticism. After yet another disappointing season spent trying to slow enemy offenses, OSU again carries optimism that its defense will be much improved, even amid questions about the unit being the team's one glaring weakness.
“We're always going to plan on stopping someone,” said defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. “Hopefully it goes as planned. Just because you make a plan doesn't mean it goes as you plan. But we're going to try our hardest.
“We don't like getting scored on. As much as we did, we never got used to it. It's not something you're supposed to get used to. We want to be the best defense and that's all we're aiming for.”
GUNS UP, SOONERS STYLE
As part of the Big 12 Media Days festivities, cheerleaders and mascots from all 10 teams provide some spirit during the two-day run, this year at the downtown Omni.
OSU linebacker Shaun Lewis evoked some Cowboys spirit from an unusual source: two Oklahoma cheerleaders.
Quickly, the image took off, leaving the cheerleaders in a sticky spot.
Lewis posed for a picture with two members of the Sooner cheer squad, convincing the smiling young ladies to flash the “guns up” hand gesture. Lewis posted the photo on Instagram, with the caption “Cowboy fans all over the place.”
Before long, the cheerleaders were feeling heat from outraged OU fans who follow them on Instagram. They appealed to Lewis to remove the photo, but Bedlam being Bedlam — and the web being the web — the images have been captured permanently.
FRESHMAN MUSTAFAA A NO SHOW
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy confirmed that true freshman defensive end Naim Mustafaa left the program during the summer.
Mustafaa, a four-star prospect from Alpharetta, Ga., enrolled early at OSU and participated in spring practice. But Gundy said Mustafaa did not return to campus for summer workouts.
Mustafaa's departure has been rumored for weeks and is now reflected on an updated roster on the school's official website.
Mustafaa was a bit of a surprising recruiting pickup for OSU, as he was a longtime Georgia commit before flipping his pledge to the Cowboys in early January in time to enroll for the spring semester.
The loss of Mustafaa affects OSU's defensive end depth, arguably the squad's biggest question mark heading into 2013. The Cowboys must replace three players that started last season in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett.
Returners include senior Tyler Johnson, sophomores Trace Clark and Jimmy Bean and redshirt freshmen Victor Irokansi, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jeremiah Tshimanga and Eric Davis. Newcomers include junior college transfer Sam Wren, who arrived in the spring, and true freshman Vili Leveni.
GUNDY ‘VERY HAPPY' AT OSU
Gundy reaffirmed Monday during Big 12 Media Days that he is “very happy in Stillwater,” despite flirtations with Tennessee and Arkansas last December.
He also admitted he was partly to blame for the outside hubbub that came with being attached to other head coaching jobs.
“At times, you wish that — or I wish that — my name wouldn't have come up or I wish that it wouldn't have been as much smoke or fire,” Gundy said. “At times, I'm to blame for that. But I'm very happy, always been very happy in Stillwater.”
Tension between Gundy and athletic director Mike Holder — much of it surrounding nonconference scheduling — was the primary reason Gundy entertained interest from other schools.
But it appears the relationship between coach and athletic director has improved. So now Gundy is about to enter his ninth season at his alma mater — and with the team picked to win the conference in the Big 12 preseason poll.
“When we go in those homes, the very most important thing we do is recruit young men who want to get a degree from Oklahoma State and be a part of that team, and that commitment has to be from both sides,” Gundy said. “So I'm comfortable with that.
“It doesn't mean I always agree with the decisions that are made. None of us do. But I do understand a chain of command, and at the end of the day, I say, ‘Yes, sir,' and move forward.”
MORE GUYER PRODUCTION TO COME?
OSU's Denton Guyer pipeline has produced, with receiver Josh Stewart coming off an All-Big 12 season and quarterback J.W. Walsh playing a key role, both as a spot starter and in a package that suits his dual-threat skills.
Next up: sophomore Jimmy Bean, a Guyer classmate of Stewart and Walsh who could be poised for a breakout at defensive end.
“Jimmy Bean is looking good,” Stewart said. “He's like a monster. He feels like he can get bigger and better in some places, but that's everybody.
“I think if he keeps a level head and understands what he has at stake, and what's ahead of him, there's no limits to where he can go.”
OPENER A CONCERN FOR GUNDY
Half-joking, Gundy said that “in life, we don't always get what we want” when it comes to scheduling, or more specifically the Cowboys 2013 season opener with SEC foe Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Gundy hasn't budged on his stance that playing an easy nonconference schedule is the Cowboys' best way to compete for a national championship. And he said the difficult opener will cause the Cowboys to have a more strenuous fall camp. And that could have lingering impact.
“My concern is whether that affects us in November,” Gundy said. “Because we really need to be strong in the last week of October and up through November to make that run.
“We've had a formula at Oklahoma State over the last really five, six, seven years that we feel like gives us the best chance to be strong, be in great shape, and be fresh at the end of the season so our teams can perform at the highest level.
“We have to alter that some when we play teams early in the season, particularly the first game, that are very capable of having success against your team if you don't play well.”