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Defending Champion Oklahoma State Faces QB Transition
August 22, 2012
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

STILLWATER, Okla. - Oklahoma State finds itself in a new role heading into the 2012 season. For the first time in Big 12 history, the Cowboys enter a season as the defending champions.

There's another significant change involving the lineup. Oklahoma State goes from having college football's oldest quarterback to starting a freshman. Wes Lunt, an 18-year-old who graduated high school early so he could take part in spring practice, was named the starter to replace two-year starter and 28-year-old Brandon Weeden.

Lunt's ability to quickly adapt will be crucial if the Cowboys have any chance of defending their title.

"He can only do as much as he can give us at this particular time. He's not going to step in and play like Brandon Weeden,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his rookie quarterback. "He can't put a lot of pressure on himself. You can't perform well in any sport playing under pressure. We just want him to give us what he's got, and the other guys have got to rally around him."

"I think we're a good football team. ... I don't think it's realistic to expect offensively for things to look like they did last year, especially early, just because you lose two first-round picks."

In addition to Weeden, the Cowboys must replace Justin Blackmon, a two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award that goes to college football's top receiver. In two seasons as a starter, Blackmon had 333 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns.

In Gundy's tenure, Oklahoma State has stockpiled a plenty of offensive talent. Last season, running backs Joseph Randle (1,216 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns) and Jeremy Smith (646 yards rushing, nine touchdowns, 7.1 yards per carry) combined to give the Cowboys a potent running game. Both are back and along with a veteran offensive line should be able to help the offense move the ball without relying on Lunt exclusively.

"We can help him by running hard, blocking for him," Randle said. "He proved to us in spring practice he can get the job done. We're confident in him but the rest of the veterans on offense need to do all we can to make things as easy for him as possible."

In addition to Blackmon, Oklahoma State must replace second-leading receiver Josh Cooper. Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson are veterans but have not served as main targets. Charlie Moore was impressive in the spring game and might be a break-out performer.

Last season Oklahoma State averaged nearly 49 points a game which helped obscure the fact the defense allowed nearly 28 a game.

"Last year people would tell us we weren't very good," cornerback Justin Gilbert said, "but we were winning games."

In defensive coordinator Bill Young's three seasons in Stillwater, the Cowboys' defense has improved each season. This year, the back seven (linebackers and secondary) features speed, talent and depth.

The yards and points allowed last season were balanced by the fact that Oklahoma State led the nation by forcing 44 turnovers. The Cowboys will continue to make forcing fumbles and making interceptions a top priority.

"Our defense has to pick up where they left off last year," Gundy said. "There are a number of those guys that are back and they understand the importance of forcing turnovers."

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Coach: Mike Gundy, eighth season.
2011: 12-1 overall, 8-1 in Big 12.
Bowl: Defeated Stanford, 41-38 (overtime) in Fiesta Bowl.
Returning starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense.

Key players: Junior RB Joseph Randle, junior RB Jeremy Smith, senior WR Tracy Moore, senior WR Isaiah Anderson, junior WR Charlie Moore, senior OL Jonathan Rush, senior OL Lane Taylor, senior C Evan Epstein, senior CB Brodrick Brown, senior CB Justin Gilbert, junior LB Shaun Lewis, senior LB Alex Elkins.

Information, please: Quinn Sharp is on the preseason watch lists for both the Groza (kicker) and Ray Guy (punter) awards. Last season in his first as the team's kicker he converted 22 of 25 field goals while averaging 46.3 yards per punt, which ranked third in FBS. ... Oklahoma State has won 41 games over the last four years, the second-most in the Big 12. ... Oklahoma State is one of only six teams from BCS conferences to win at least nine games in each of the last four years. The other five: Virginia Tech, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oregon and Alabama.

Numbers to note: Since taking over as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator in 2009, Bill Young's defense has forced a total of 108 turnovers. Over the last three seasons, Iowa State is second in the Big 12 with 89 turnovers followed by Oklahoma with 87 and Texas with 81.

Schedule
Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas*
Oct. 13 at Kansas*
Oct. 20 Iowa State*
Oct. 27 TCU*
Nov. 3 at Kansas State*
Nov. 10 West Virginia*
Nov. 17 Texas Tech*
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma*
Dec. 1 at Baylor*
* - Big 12 Conference game.
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