Accomplishments that have never happened before keep happening at Oklahoma State.
Two years ago, the Cowboys won their first Big 12 Conference championship. In July, the media tabbed Oklahoma State as the favorite to win this season's title. And when the Associated Press preseason poll was announced Saturday, the Cowboys were ranked No. 13 while Oklahoma checked in at No. 16.
That's the first time in the 63-year history of the AP preseason poll that the Cowboys have been ranked ahead of their Bedlam rivals.
"It's cool. It's an honor," said wide receiver David Glidden, who is from Mustang, Okla. "I've been an Oklahoma State fan for a long time, and I've never seen that. Now being here, it's really a credit to all of the guys that came before us. It's really cool, but we have the same mentality as we did when we were at the bottom."
A quarter of a century ago, Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders capped a remarkable season by winning the Heisman Trophy. Current coach Mike Gundy was the Cowboys' quarterback. Now, he has restored national respect and attention to Stillwater.
In nine seasons, Gundy has built a program. True enough, Oklahoma State failed to defend its 2011 Big 12 title last season … but the Cowboys overcame quarterback injuries that would have wrecked other teams. Three different QBs started, all threw for 1,000 yards and each won a Big 12 game as a starter.
"It certainly makes you think you're doing something right when people think highly of your program," Gundy said. "It means a lot to Oklahoma State that people feel comfortable in saying that we're good enough to have the opportunity to win a conference championship."
Gundy has yet to name a starting quarterback; senior Clint Chelf was the starter at the end of the season and sophomore J.W. Walsh also started games last season. The Cowboys have to replace leading rusher Joseph Randle and their defense needs to improve.
Oklahoma State enters the season with new coordinators. Mike Yurcich will run the offense and Glenn Spencer was promoted from linebackers coach to take over the defense. Two years ago when the Cowboys captured the Big 12 title, the defense led the nation in takeaways.
"It's difficult to coach defense in this league and at Oklahoma State," Gundy said. "We have been so good on offense that the defense has been the red-headed stepchild. I just want us to be a little more aggressive. I just want to have a little more zing to us, a little more swagger."
In previous seasons, Oklahoma State would break its team huddles by yelling "Big 12." Now the chant is "BCS." The goals are loftier, the bar has been raised.
"I don't think there's pressure," linebacker Ryan Simmons said of the preseason expetcations. "Guys are excited. We're excited that people are seeing us as that type of team. It's only pressure if you make it pressure. We'll do whatever it takes to finish at the top."
Coach: Mike Gundy, 67-35 in nine seasons.
2012: 8-5 overall, 5-4 in Big 12, tied for 3rd.
Bowl: Defeated Purdue, 58-14, in Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Returning starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense.
Key players: Senior QB Clint Chelf, sophomore QB J.W. Walsh, junior WR Josh Stewart, senior RB Jeremy Smith, senior WR Tracy Moore, senior LB Shaun Lewis, senior CB Justin Gilbert, senior safety S Daytawion Lowe, senior OT Parker Graham.
Three Key Questions
1. How fast and effective can the offense be?
The starting quarterback will either be junior Clint Chelf or sophomore J.W. Walsh. If Chelf gets the job, expect to see Walsh, an effective runner, in short yardage packages. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich helped Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) University set school records on offense and he wants the Cowboys' offensive tempo to be even faster. Oklahoma State averaged 78 offensive plays per game last season.
2. Will the kicking game remain effective?
The Cowboys need to replace Quinn Sharp, which is like replacing three players. He finished as the most accurate place kicker in school history plus could boom punts and kickoffs. Freshman Ben Grogan will be Oklahoma State's place kicker in the season opener. The other kicking jobs could go to Michael Reichenstein (punts) and Kip Smith (kickoffs).
3. Can the running game remain effective?
While the passing game has provided the bulk of Oklahoma State's gaudy offensive numbers, the run game has been brutally effective. The Cowboys have had a 1,000-yard rusher each of the last six seasons. This season the offensive line must find three new starters. Senior Jeremy Smith has a career average of 6.2 yards per carry in a backup role; he must prove he can handle the wear and tear of being the main man.
Last season at Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) University, Mike Yurcich was the offensive coordinator. The team averaged 529.9 yards per game in total offense and 46.9 points per game. … Senior linebacker Shaun Lewis wears No. 11 but maybe that should be changed to No. 5. In his career, Lewis has accumulated five sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, five pass breakups and five interceptions. … Wide receiver Josh Stewart had 1,210 receiving yards last season. That's the third-most by a sophomore in school history, trailing only Justin Blackmon's school-record 1,782 yards in 2010 and Dez Bryant's 1,480 yards in 2008.
Numbers To Note
Oklahoma State intercepted just 11 of the 544 passes attempted by opponents last season. That's an interception rate of 2 percent; the Big 12 average was 3.1 percent. … The Cowboys allowed an average of 47.2 points in their five losses last season, including 59 points to Arizona and 51 to Oklahoma (a game decided in overtime. … Departed kicker Quinn Sharp was 28 of 34 on field goals last season and finished his career making 84.7 percent of his attempts, a school record.
|Aug. 31||Mississippi State (Reliant Stadium, Houston)|
|Sept. 7||at UT-San Antonio|
|Sept. 28||at West Virginia*|
|Oct. 5||Kansas State*|
|Oct. 26||at Iowa State*|
|Nov. 2||at Texas Tech*|
|Nov. 16||at Texas*|