Oklahoma State Cowboys at a glance
Coach: Mike Gundy
Coach Year at school: 8th
2011 record: 12-1, 8-1 Big 12
Last year vs. KU: The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first eight possessions and put in their second-stringers before halftime in a 70-28 rout of the Jayhawks on Oct. 8, 2011, in Stillwater, Okla.
Returning starters: 16
Impact newcomers: Wes Lunt, 6-5, 210, QB; C.J. Curry, 6-2, 186, WR.
Key games: Sept. 29 vs. Texas; Oct. 27 vs. TCU; Nov. 24 at Oklahoma.
Vs. Kansas: Oct. 13 in Lawrence.
Note: This story is a part of the 2012 KU football preview section that appears in Sunday's Journal-World.
Just after winning the Oklahoma State starting quarterback position in the spring, 18-year-old Wes Lunt returned briefly to Rochester High School in Illinois ... to attend his high-school prom.
Turning the QB position over to a 6-4 freshman — one who graduated early to compete for the OSU starting job — is quite a change in experience for the Cowboys after being led by 28-year-old MLB-draftee-turned-college-QB Brandon Weeden.
Last year, the senior passed for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns in helping OSU to a 12-1 record and victory over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
“There’s always a lot of talk about losing players that have really done well at Oklahoma State,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said, “but one thing that we look forward to as coaches is an opportunity to start to develop and watch young people grow.”
Quarterback is just one of two positions where the Cowboys lost a superstar.
The other spot is receiver, where Justin Blackmon — he was picked fifth in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars – leaves after being honored as the nation’s top receiver the last two seasons.
“We want three or four of our receivers this year to give us what a Justin Blackmon gave us this last year,” Gundy said.
“And so that will be our goal is for Wes to be able to develop and delegate the ball to the guys that can make the plays. But it is very difficult to replace a Justin Blackmon.”
Tracy Moore is the top wideout returning after contributing 45 catches for 672 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
OSU returns the most talent at running back, especially with underappreciated Joseph Randle returning.
The 6-foot-1 junior ran for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns a year ago and also was a reliable receiver, catching 43 of the 47 passes targeted at him.
“Joseph has done very well for us,” Gundy said. “And he’s been durable. Not only a good runner inside but outside.”
Five-foot-10 junior Jeremy Smith offers big-play potential, as he averaged 7.1 yards per carry while tallying 646 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2011.
Sophomore Herschel Sims also took advantage of his limited carries, posting 7.8 yards per carry.
The offensive line loses a pair of All-Big 12 first-teamers in center Grant Garner and left tackle Levy Adcock, though the Cowboys still have four players coming back with at least some starting experience.
Defensively, OSU was much better last year than its yardage numbers suggested. The Cowboys defense — which was on the field for an NCAA-leading 1,089 plays in 2011, partly because of OSU’s fast-paced offense — did a good job of limiting big plays while also forcing turnovers.
The Cowboys’ 44 takeaways were the most in the NCAA, as they ranked in the nation’s top two in both fumbles recovered and interceptions.
OSU’s strength defensively will be in the secondary, as senior cornerback Brodrick Brown and junior corner Justin Gilbert had five interceptions each in 2011.
The Cowboys also are set in the kicking game, as senior Quinn Sharp returns after being named first-team All-Big 12 last season as both a place-kicker and punter.