STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is about to find out how far his program has come.
When Gundy took over in 2005, little was expected of the Cowboys, especially during rebuilding years. Now, the Cowboys are still considered dangerous by many experts, despite returning just six starters on offense and four on defense from a team that went 10-3 and lost in the Cotton Bowl.
Some of that optimism comes from Oklahoma State’s 59 wins since the start of the 2008 season — eighth most in the nation. Gundy believes his program might have turned the corner.
“These players expect to win and expect to play on a high level,” he said. “Confidence builds success, and success brings more success. Our players have been around and have been in the locker room and bowl games and what not. Some of the guys haven’t played at this level, but they were around teams that expected to win. I don’t think there’s any question that that helps.”
Oklahoma State should again be dangerous on offense. J.W. Walsh is the likely starting quarterback after starting five games last season and passing for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Running back Desmond Roland returns after scoring 16 touchdowns from scrimmage last season.
The Cowboys will learn quickly about their rebuilt defense — they open with defending national champion Florida State on Aug. 30 in Arlington, Texas.
Here are five things to look for from Oklahoma State this season.
MUSICAL QUARTERBACKS — Walsh should get most of the snaps, but Daxx Garman is expected to play and true freshman Mason Rudolph could play, too. Walsh is a dual threat while Garman and Rudolph are pro-style quarterbacks. Gundy says he’d rather use one quarterback, but all three are good players.
“Our quarterback situation this year is a little bit different than what it has been in the past,” Gundy said. “We vary our style of offense based on who’s in the game. We expect that player and that style to be involved enough to score points.”
DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD — The Cowboys take an inexperienced secondary into their matchup with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys say there is talent, and some of the young players gained experience last season as backups. Kevin Peterson started last season opposite All-American Justin Gilbert and Ashton Lampkin was a key reserve. Sophomore Jordan Sterns and redshirt freshman Tre Flowers were the first-teamers at safety during the spring. Larry Stephens, a safety who missed most of last season, is back.
SPEEDSTER HILL — Tyreek Hill, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, could be one of the league’s most exciting players. Gundy says he’s the fastest Oklahoma State player in at least 20 years.
Hill won the 200 meters at the conference indoor meet and placed second in the 60 meters. He will play running back and receiver and return kicks. At Garden City Community College in Kansas last season, he caught 32 passes for 532 yards and six touchdowns and had 101 carries for 659 yards and five scores.
“He’s got unbelievable talent,” receiver David Glidden said. “Everybody I talk to, they ask me about him and I say, ‘You’re just going to have to wait and see. It’s something you can’t really describe.”
RECEIVING CORPS — Oklahoma State lost top receivers Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore from last year’s team. Jhajuan Seales is the top returning pass catcher with 39 catches for 571 yards and three scores last season. Brandon Shepherd and Marcell Ateman have potential, and Hill could figure in significantly as a pass catcher. The Cowboys will need new players to step into primary roles this season.
FALLOUT FROM THE OPENER — If Oklahoma State somehow beats Florida State or plays well against the Seminoles, the foundation could be laid for a very good season. If the Cowboys are blown out, and that is a distinct possibility, a young team will need to mature quickly to bounce back.