When thinking back to the 2010 college football season, it’s hard not to conjure up images of Cam Newton doing his thing, Oregon’s blur offense, Texas’ disappointing season, Nevada’s upset win over Boise State or TCU’s win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
There were plenty of things to remember about last year, but few think back to Oklahoma State’s unlikely two-loss season and third-ranked total offense.
Considered a candidate to unseat Baylor in the basement of the Big 12 South in the preseason—that distinction eventually went to the Longhorns as Baylor went bowling—Oklahoma State started the year undefeated until losing a shootout to Nebraska in the seventh game. They carried their one-loss record into Bedlam against Oklahoma, but failed to capture their 17th win in the Bedlam Series, and their first since 2002, in a 47-41 loss to the Sooners. The Cowboys flew through most of their competition, and the two losses came in close games that were not decided until the fourth quarter. They even capped the year with a decisive bowl win over Arizona.
A team that came very close to earning a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game that is coming off a two-loss season with several key players returning should get a little more preseason recognition than they’ve received, but thus far most of the Big 12 talk has centered around the new conference format, Oklahoma’s place among the preseason national elite, whether Baylor can be as good as they were last year, and whether Texas will be as bad as they were last year. Oklahoma State has taken a backseat, although nobody expects the Cowboys to slide into the Big 12 basement this year.
Justin Blackmon decided to return to the Cowboys for another season after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. Brandon Weeden will be back at the quarterback position after leading the Cowboys offense to the second-ranked passing offense. He passed for over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns a year ago. Five starters return along the offensive line, providing some continuity for an Oklahoma State offense facing life without offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen—who will serve as offensive coordinator at West Virginia next season before taking over as head coach in 2012.
One player that must be replaced is running back Kendall Hunter, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith saw carries last season, bringing some experience back to the position. Smith rushed for seven touchdowns in 2010, while Randle came away with 463 yards. Gone also are three defensive linemen and linebacker and leading tackler Orie Lemon.
The secondary, which ranked 115th in pass defense as teams tried to keep up with the Cowboys offense, will see three starters return. Improvement against the pass is something to watch out for in 2011 if Oklahoma State wants to take the next step against several teams that can throw the ball. They’ll face Arizona, Tulsa, Texas A&M, Texas, Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma—all of which besides Texas finished 2010 in the top 35 passing offenses. Of course, replacing the departed defensive linemen will be key to providing a pass rush to help the defensive backs.
Expect Oklahoma State to come into 2011 highly ranked—somewhere in the six to nine range is likely. They’re capable of outscoring anybody on the schedule, and with experience returning in the secondary, the Cowboys offense could find itself with a little more breathing room than it’s used to.