5 DATES THAT WILL SHAPE OSU'S SEASON
* Sept. 29: OSU's first conference game — and its first home contest against Texas since 2009 — is huge. Texas is trying to prove its “back,” and there's no better way to do that than knock off the defending Big 12 champs. OSU is trying to prove it has staying power atop the conference, and there's no better way to do that than to immediately take care of a team projected to finish higher in the standings. This is a light week for the rest of the conference, with West Virginia hosting Baylor, Iowa State hosting Texas Tech and TCU traveling to SMU.
* Oct. 6: One of the odd parts of OSU's schedule is the bye weeks that bookend the Texas game. Todd Monken said this summer that he likes it, because it gives Lunt more time to get comfortable in the offense early in the season. It will also allow the Cowboys an extra week to prepare for conference play, and then a chance to step back and correct mistakes immediately after their first Big 12 game. But then OSU has no more breaks until after its regular-season finale at Baylor on Dec. 1. The Big 12's marquee game that week is Texas-West Virginia in Austin.
* Nov. 10: Old friends visit Stillwater when Dana Holgorsen, Joe DeForest and Robert Gillispie come to town with West Virginia in perhaps the Cowboys' most anticipated home game. Kansas State's visit to TCU is another crucial game for the Big 12's pecking order, while OU will try to get revenge against Baylor without RG3.
* Nov. 17: OSU's final home game comes against Texas Tech. But OU will face WVU in Morgantown in what many have already dubbed the Big 12 Game of the Year. Depending on the results of this contest and the OSU-WVU game the previous week, this day could mean Bedlam once again has Big 12 title implications.
* Nov. 24: Mike Gundy finally captured his first Bedlam win as a head coach last season, a 44-10 beat down in Stillwater to clinch the Cowboys' first Big 12 championship. Follow that performance up with a win in Norman, and OSU will likely do more than prove that this series is now a rivalry. It will probably keep the Cowboys in the hunt to capture a second consecutive conference crown heading into the final week of the regular season. TCU also plays Texas in Austin, taking the place of the now-defunct rivalry game between the ‘Horns and Texas A&M.
5 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR OSU'S SEASON
Charlie Moore, not Tracy Moore, will be Cowboys' leading receiver
As noted above, Moore is the most likely candidate to take over the go-to receiver role. But Moore has a great combination of size and speed — and a savvy ability to adjust to the ball to make the tough catch. His explosion in the spring finale was not a fluke, and backup position on the depth chart is essentially a formality heading into the season. Moore won't put up Blackmon-like numbers, but he'll develop into Lunt's go-to guy.
A starting linebacker will be usurped
Nothing represents the Cowboys' depth on defense more than the linebacker position, where all three starters return and young quality backups sit just behind. The second-teamers — Ryan Simmons, Lyndell Johnson and Nico Orenelas — may actually have more speed, athleticism and upside, which could show by midseason. Simmons is the most likely candidate to break into the starting lineup, overtaking incumbent Caleb Lavey.
OSU will crack top 3 in Big 12 in total defense
The Cowboys don't have a dominant line like Texas, which is expected to feature one of the top defenses in the nation. But OSU's secondary and linebackers gives it a top-notch back seven to counter the Big 12's passing attacks. The Cowboys won't have the best defense in the conference, but it will improve enough to finish in the top 3.
Wes Lunt will throw fewer interceptions in 2012 than Brandon Weeden threw in 2011
One of Lunt's greatest strengths is his ability to take care of the football, as he only tossed eight interceptions total over his final two high school seasons. Obviously, the talent level is a huge upgrade in the Big 12, so freshman mistakes are bound to happen, but Lunt also likely won't take as many risks as Weeden did last season as he grows within OSU's spread system. Weeden threw 13 picks in 2011. Expect 10 or fewer from Lunt.
Quinn Sharp will be a finalist for the Lou Groza and Ray Guy Awards
Sharp is already regarded as the nation's best all-around kicker, but he has never been a finalist for the Lou Groza or Ray Guy Award. That will change this season. Heck, he might win them both.