This story is part of the KU Edition, a special section that runs in the Lawrence Journal-World.
Cowboys at a glance
Coach: Mike Gundy
Coach Year at school: 7th
2010 Record: 11-2, 6-2 Big 12
Last Year vs. KU: The Cowboys posted 597 yards of offense in a 48-14 road victory over the Jayhawks on Nov. 20, 2011.
Returning Starters: 19
Impact Newcomers: James Castleman 6-3, 295, DT; Maurice Hayes 6-2, 300, DT; Desmond Roland 6-0, 185, RB; Herschel Sims 5-9, 208, RB.
Key Games: Sept. 24 at Texas A&M; Oct. 15 at Texas; Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma.
Vs. Kansas: Oct. 8 in Stillwater, Okla.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy knows that if his Cowboys are to win the Big 12 for the first time in their history, they’re going to need more than an explosive offense.
“This league has been very difficult, and because of the ability for offenses to score — and to score fast — ultimately I think it will come down to how a team will perform on defense and special teams,” Gundy said. “We feel like we need to improve in those areas.”
Offensively, the Cowboys would be content just to maintain their record-setting pace from a year ago.
In 2010, OSU scored 44.2 points per game — tops in the Big 12 and third nationally, behind only Oregon and Boise State.
Those types of numbers could be possible again with the return of receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Blackmon, the 2010 Big 12 offensive player of the year, finished fifth in the Heisman voting after catching 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns during his sophomore season. The 1,782 receiving yards in a season was the sixth-best in NCAA history.
Though the 6-foot-1, 215-pound native of Ardmore, Okla., most likely would have been selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he instead chose to return to OSU for his junior year.
He’ll be joined by Weeden, who also passed on the pros after earning all-Big 12 first-team honors at quarterback last season.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Weeden will turn 28 years old on Oct. 14, the day before the OSU faces Kansas in Stillwater, Okla. The senior was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 2002 MLB Draft and played five seasons of minor-league baseball before joining Oklahoma State in 2007.
Though he hadn’t been a starting quarterback since 2001, Weeden set school records in 2010 for passing yards (4,277), touchdown passes (34) and completion percentage (66.9 percent).
The most significant departure offensively for Oklahoma State actually isn’t a player. Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson left OSU at the end of the season and is now the head coach at West Virginia.
Todd Monken, who was wide receivers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars the last four seasons, was hired as the Cowboys’ new offensive coordinator.
“There won’t be much that’s different from last season,” Gundy said. “We didn’t see any reason in changing what we were able to accomplish last year. So we just need to move forward.”
Defensively, OSU will be led by senior safety Markelle Martin — an all-Big 12 preseason pick at defensive back. The 6-foot-1 native of Wichita Falls, Texas, led the Cowboys with 10 pass breakups a year ago and tied for second on the team with three interceptions.
OSU also returns a vital member of its special teams, as junior punter Quinn Sharp is back after earning 2010 all-conference honors. Not only did he average 46.24 yards per punt last year (second nationally), he also led Div. I with 53 touchbacks on kickoffs.