The reigning Big 12 football champion has been virtually written off, voted fourth in the preseason media poll without so much as a single first-place vote.
If it feels like old times, Cowboys fans, maybe it'll turn out like the last time your squad was projected to stumble back – 2010 – when it instead posted a school record for wins and threatened to win the Big 12 South entering the regular season's final weekend.
Before that 11-win breakout, Oklahoma State was pegged for the South cellar, and some even suggested Mike Gundy's seat to be simmering following a disastrous Cotton Bowl performance on the heels of a Bedlam bummer.
Seems the Cowboys, despite returning 16 players with at least five career starts and the best secondary in a league where the importance of defending the pass can't be overstated, still have some proving to do.
And let's be honest, with good reason.
Four other teams – Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU and Kansas State – picked up first-place nods. All return proven commodities and winners at quarterback, a must-have in this decade's Big 12.
Still, those teams face pressing issues, too, as does always-popular Texas, picked third in the Big 12 just behind the Sooners and Mountaineers and ahead of the Cowboys.
So is there room for the Cowboys to post a 2010-like run and make a bid for back-to-back conference championships?
Depends on how their pressing issues unfold.
Five to ponder:
5. Is there ample depth at cornerback?
In the event of an injury to either Brodrick Brown or Justin Gilbert, the Cowboys could be in a spot. Backups Jonovan Griffin, Larry Stephens and Miketavious Jones have hardly played.
Even those times when Brown and Gilbert need a blow could get sticky.
Barring injury, however, the Cowboys possess the best cornerback combination in the Big 12, perhaps the nation in Brown and Gilbert. Considering only those two, that's stout depth.
4. How much will the Cowboys miss Grant Garner, Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez on the offensive line?
By now, we should know that Joe Wickline will field an imposing group, something he's been doing since arriving as the underrated second half (along with Larry Fedora) of Gundy's combo hiring for his first staff. And Wickline and others have been touting the accruing talent on the offensive line, pointing to this rising crew as perhaps the best group yet.
Garner made all the line calls and will be missed, although Evan Epstein proved solid in the spring. Otherwise, there's enough stability returning with veterans Lane Taylor, Jonathan Rush and Michael Bowie to lead a next wave featuring Parker Graham, Daniel Koenig, Brandon Webb and others.
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