DALLAS — The pieces all seem to be in place for Oklahoma State to have a season that will be talked about for years.
An almost certain top-10 preseason ranking. A high-octane offense loaded with talent and experience. A serious contender for the program’s first Big 12 South title, and just its second-ever conference title. Expectations that a promising season will end with a BCS game.
Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy certainly understands the fine line his team must toe between exuberance and complacency in its attempt at unprecedented success this season. The ascent of the Cowboys into the upper echelon of the Big 12 South will certainly be a major topic of discussion as the three-day Big 12 Football Media Days kicks off Monday in Dallas.
“You just have to balance it through hard work,” Gundy said to FanHouse. “You have to make sure they understand, ‘You got here because of what you’ve done and in order to maintain it, you have to work even harder in the future.’
“That is an issue because kids start to believe what they read, they see themselves on TV and start thinking they are pretty good. As soon as they cut back, that’s when you get beat. So we have taken that into consideration.”
But there is no denying the stars have seemed to align themselves for the Cowboys to have a banner season. Quarterback Zac Robinson returns for a third season as the starter and his two key weapons, wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter, who led the Big 12 in receiving and rushing yardage respectively are back with him. And then there is the offensive line that is stocked with experience, led by left tackle Russell Okung.
Texas and Oklahoma will again be the class of the Big 12 South, but the schedule even stacks up in the Cowboys’ favor. Georgia, Texas, Missouri and Texas Tech all have to pay a visit to Boone Pickens Stadium, leaving the lone tough road game for the season-finale against rival Oklahoma. The only question at the end of last season was how would the Cowboys overcome one of the worst defenses in the country, and even that was answered this offseason when Gundy was able to lure alum Bill Young away from Miami and back to Big 12 country where he rebuilt Kansas’ defense under Mark Mangino.
“We’ve been very fortunate we have a mature quarterback coming back, and a veteran offensive line, a veteran All-American running back, a great wide receiver,” said Gundy, whose team was picked to finish third in the Big 12 South behind Oklahoma and Texas in the league’s preseason media poll released Thursday. “Then defensively we have a number of guys who have played.
“We will have a lot of experience, except at the safety position. We are very lucky to have those guys.”
Perhaps the biggest key will be Hunter, who had a breakout season as a sophomore last year with 1,555 rushing yards. Plenty of eyes will be on the smallish speedster. Gundy seems confident Hunter will be even better this season. “I wouldn’t trade Kendall for anybody in the country,” he said. “Kendall is a special young man. He never says a word, he just busts his tail, has got tremendous ability to make you miss, great speed, great strength, tremendous ability to make you miss. He should play the game for a long time.”
“He just continues to get better. He’s extremely fast and very very strong. He’s a better person than anything. He’s a great kid.”
Hunter, meanwhile, doesn’t seem as confident about being singled out. He prefers looking at himself in the concept of the team. “I just want to do whatever I can to better myself and better the team,” Hunter said. Just how much better the Cowboys will be from last season’s 9-4 finish should be pretty evident from the start when they host Georgia in a nationally televised season-opener Sept. 5 and then turn around and host typically high-scoring Houston the following week.
Those games will certainly prove pivotal to OSU’s stated goals of a rare double-digit win season and a BCS bid.
“Obviously everybody knows who Georgia is,” said Gundy, whose team is definitely in line for a school-record fourth straight bowl bid. “We are facing an opponent like that then we are facing a Houston team that can score a lot of points and is very well coached. You have to play well in those games. “There is so much parity now in college football that if you don’t play like you are suppose to each week and eliminate your turnovers, you could be in a difficult situation.”