The Oklahoman's staff members discuss three topics surrounding this year's Oklahoma State football team:
1. Which position group enters the season as the biggest question mark?
Gina Mizell (beat writer) - Kicker/punter would be the easy answer here, but I'll go with defensive end. Mike Gundy even highlighted that position group as a big question at Big 12 Media Days. The Cowboys are replacing both starters for the second consecutive season. Senior Tyler Johnson, a converted linebacker who played end for the first time last season, is the most experienced guy of the bunch. Junior college transfer Sam Wren got solid marks during the spring, and Jimmy Bean obviously had a fantastic performance in the spring finale. Sophomore Trace Clark has played a bit. But that's about it. OSU is going to need help from at least one of its redshirt freshmen--Victor Irokansi, Emmanuel Ogbah, Eric Davis or Jeremiah Tshimanga. OSU's plan to play more aggressively in 2013 has to start with a strong pass rush, particularly against the spread offenses in the Big 12.
John Helsley (beat writer) - Defensive ends. Three guys with starting credentials -- Ryan Robinson, Nigel Nicholas and Cooper Bassett -- are gone. There are plenty of candidates, ranging from late-blooming veteran Tyler Johnson and Juco addition Sam Wren to a cast of freshmen and sophomores readying for their breakouts. Jimmy Bean looked like the real deal in the spring, but spring things can be deceiving. The position is critical in the Big 12, where pressuring quarterbacks is a must. So if the Cowboys truly are going to be better on defense, the development of this spot will be key.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - Kickers and punters. I know the offensive line has some holes to fill, but that seems to be the story lots of years and Joe Wickline just inserts another one of his guys and goes on down the road. I know defensive end is up in the air, but the potential there is high. But replacing Quinn Sharp is a real issue. He was such a game-changer for the Cowboys last season, pinning teams deep and reversing fields. No one on campus showed the same ability during the spring. That could leave the kicking and punting duties to freshman Ben Grogan. He's highly touted, but that's a lot of pressure on a true freshman.
2. Finish this sentence: OSU is favored to win the Big 12 mainly because of ___________.
Mizell - The consistency Mike Gundy's program has shown over the past five seasons. The Cowboys have won 49 games over that span, which is tied for the ninth-best total in the country. Voters have noticed and given the nod to the Cowboys is a seemingly wide-open league. The stockpile of skill players on offense, especially two capable quarterbacks in a league that suddenly has very few proven players at the postion, helps, too. The schedule might have something to do with it, as well. OSU gets Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor and Kansas State at home.
Helsley - Offense. OSU has two proven quarterbacks, and winning quarterbacks at that, in Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. They'll prove to have the best receiving corps in the league and one of the best in the country. Joe Wickline's offensive lines are always strong. Running back depth is a bit of a concern, yet it's one position where the playbook doesn't get in the way of preventing true freshmen from making an impact; and the Cowboys seemingly have good fits in incoming backs Rennie Childs and Corion Webster. So the Cowboys will be very good on offense. Again.
Carlson - Offensive consistency. That might sound crazy considering the Cowboys have a new coordinator, have yet to name a starting quarterback and lost their feature tailback. But the consistency is in the system. No matter who's running it -- whether on the sidelines or on the field -- the system produces. And with two very capable returning quarterbacks, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the Cowboys will score a bunch this season. No other team in the league with a returning starter has near as much certainty.
3. True or false: J.W. Walsh gets at least 20 percent of the snaps this season.
Mizell - Barring an injury to Chelf, false. But barely false. I think he'll get about 10-15 snaps a game out of the short-yardage and goal-line package that will likely expand a bit more this season. But this won't be a two-quarterback system.
Helsley - True. Walsh is a winner and a quality quarterback. AND he has a unique skill set withing that, built around his running abilities, which provides a valuable wild card. So the Cowboys will utilize the Walsh Package to change the pace of a game and give defenses multiple concerns to deal with during their work week of preparation. Truth is, 20 percent might not be high enough.
Carlson - True. No question it'll be more than 20 percent. We know that Mike Yurcich likes mobile quarterbacks, so there is little doubt in my mind that the new offensive coordinator will have plenty of packages for Walsh. My gut says we'll see him in all sorts of situations. On the goal line. For entire series. Frankly, I could see him playing as much as a third of the snaps this season.
4. Is this the best OSU defense of Mike Gundy's tenure?
Mizell - I believe so. The Cowboys have key seniors at all three levels: Calvin Barnett and Tyler Johnson on the line, Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey at linebacker and Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe in the secondary. Barnett's impact in the trenches is obvious. A guy like Lyndell Johnson is a difference-maker because of his lateral range and big-play ability. There's more speed and athleticism all over the field, and several positions have developed quality depth. Now, very similar things were said about last year's unit, and those words obviously didn't turn into results. But I think Glenn Spencer's more aggressive philosophy should make a big difference.
Helsley - TBD. Not willing to go there, yet, without some game data to support it. Fool me once, you know? Now, it is the most talented defense of the Gundy era. There are athletes everywhere, part of the annual upgrade of the OSU roster. There is speed and athleticism, bulk up front, experience at linebacker, potential stars in the secondary... The Cowboys just need their players to play to their expectations. That's when we'll know how good the defense is, or isn't.
Carlson - I'm not ready to go that far. This defense has a lot of potential, but until these guys prove it on Saturdays, you'd have to say the 2011 defense was the best of the Gundy Era. Look at all the turnovers that it caused. That wasn't a one- or two-week phenomenon. That defense did it all year. Until this year's defense comes out and shows what it can do, I can't put its potential above 2011's production.