Even after nine months, no one is sure what happened in Morgantown, W. Va. on Sep. 28, 2013. The Oklahoma State Cowboys were undefeated and heavily favored, headed into a game with a Mountaineer squad that had just been flattened 37–0 at Maryland. The Cowboys struggled to consistently sustain drives and West Virginia’s typically sub-par defense created three turnovers that led to 13 points.
What followed was a nine point loss to a team that only managed one more victory all season. Oklahoma State finished 10–3 with a loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, but the loss to West Virginia cost them a share of the Big 12 title with Baylor. The talent doesn’t stack up quite as well in 2014, but much like Bill Snyder, Mike Gundy always seems to make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts. And the fans won’t have to look too far for some excitement.
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At running back, the Cowboys add the number one junior college recruit in the country in Tyreek Hill. Hill has become somewhat of a legend over the spring for his explosive speed and looks to be a legitimate home-run threat out of the OSU backfield. Hill will likely share carries with senior Desmond Roland to create a real lightning and thunder attack. Sophomore Rennie Childs adds depth behind Roland and Hill, while junior fullback Jeremy Seaton will look to open holes in front of them.
Oklahoma State might not have a standout star at wide-out this coming season, but Robert Whetsell of Cowboys Ride For Free isn’t at all worried about the position. Jhajaun Seales heads up a group of four talented sophomores, with Marcell Ateman on the opposite side and Austin Hays and Blake Webb lining up on the inside. Juniors David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd solidify a two-deep that could create problems for the opposition as long as they have someone to get them the ball.
J.W. Walsh lost his starting job to Clint Chelf last season, but with Chelf’s graduation, Walsh should get another chance under center this fall. As of the end of spring ball, it was still an open competition between Walsh, junior Daxx Garman and four-star freshman Mason Rudolph, but don’t expect experience to lose out here, at least in the short-term. Walsh will almost certainly get the starting nod in week one, but Whetsell tells me that the the junior will be on a short leash once again and Garman or Rudolph shouldn’t get too comfortable on the bench.
Holding it all together is an offensive line full of question marks. Longtime line coach Joe Wickline left to join Charlie Strong’s staff in Austin. To replace Wickline, Gundy brings in Bob Connelly, a journeyman assistant who has spent time at Alabama, UCLA, UTEP and Arizona State. Connelly has a tough job this year with OSU losing several key upperclassmen. Seniors Chris Grisbhy and Daniel Koenig lead the group at left guard and right tackle, while fellow senior Brandon Garrett fights to come back from injury and claim the left tackle spot. Sophomore Devin Davis, also recovering from injury, shows as the starter ahead of Garrett and fellow sophomores Zac Veatch and Paul Lewis round out the starters on the spring depth chart at center and right guard. It won’t be easy, but if all the injury concerns are ironed out before fall, things could come together up front.
On defense, the Cowboys have even more questions. The only position group that Whetsell doesn’t seem concerned about is the defensive line, where junior Jimmy Bean lines up with senior tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau and Sam Wren bookends the other side. Former four-star signees Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor are through their redshirt years and will add some depth to a unit that could wreak havoc with the pass rush.
Behind them, things get murky.
The losses of All-Big 12 talents Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis will make things difficult for OSU at linebacker, but juniors Ryan Simmons and Devante Averette will hope to fill the void. Junior Kevin Peterson is the lone returning starter in the secondary and has a big job ahead filling the shoes of Justin Gilbert. Joining him are juniors Ashton Lampkin and D’Nerius Antoine with sophomores Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson as the safeties. The Cowboys aren’t the only team in the league with a questionable secondary, but with talented receivers like Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett lining up on the other side, they’ll need to find their footing fast.
Mr. Curtis Kitchen is the only one among the BOTC writers to pick OSU to beat the ‘Cats in Manhattan. The rest of us expect victory, but certainly not without a battle. The Cowboys are never an easy out, but this season might be tougher than most in Stillwater.