Top 50 countdown: No. 35 Oklahoma State

Coach: Mike Gundy | Staff
In 2006: 7-6, 3-5 Big 12; Beat Alabama 34-31 in Independence Bowl.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Key losses: WR D'Juan Woods, LT Corey Hilliard, DT Ryan McBean, DE Victor DeGrate.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Two transfers helped lead one of the biggest offensive turnarounds in the country in 2006. The play of Adarius Bowman (from North Carolina) and Dantrell Savage (junior college) - along with the maturation of quarterback Bobby Reid - improved the OSU offense by more than two touchdowns per game. The Cowboys averaged 20.8 points per game in 2005, but increased point production to 35.2 points per game last season. Oklahoma State was also one of only two teams in the country to average more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game (undefeated Boise State was the other).

OKLAHOMA STATE TOP 10
Adarius Bowman collected 1,181 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns in 2006.

1. WR Adarius Bowman
2. RB Dantrell Savage
3. LB Chris Collins
4. CB Martel Van Zant
5. DE Nathan Peterson
6. QB Bobby Reid
7. OT David Koenig
8. S Andre Sexton
9. LB Patrick Lavine
10. OT Russell Okung
Best player: WR Adarius Bowman. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bowman is the Big 12's top receiver and the team's top NFL prospect. He finished the season with 1,181 yards, 12 touchdowns and 19.7 yards per catch. He had the best performance by a receiver last year against Kansas with 13 catches, 300 yards and four touchdowns.

Most overrated: QB Bobby Reid. Reid is a true dual threat. He accounted for 2,266 passing yards and 500 rushing yards, but has some work to do as a passer. Even with Bowman and D'Juan Woods, Reid still completed only 55.4 percent of his passes. His 267 passing attempts were second fewest among full-time quarterbacks in the Big 12 last year.

Most underrated: RB Dantrell Savage. For all the talk of Bowman and Reid, Oklahoma State's spot as the No. 7 rushing team in the country gets lost. The Cowboys had four 500-yard rushers last year, but the best was the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Savage. He ran for 648 yards over the last seven games, and should carry that momentum into 2007.

Must step up: WR Artrell Woods. Woods had an excellent spring, and put himself into position for a starting spot at wide receiver. The former three-star recruit had two catches for 9 yards as a true freshman last year.

Impact newcomer: WR Dez Bryant. One of those secondary targets in the passing game could be the true freshman Bryant. Oklahoma State dipped into Texas to grab the state's No. 7 overall prospect. That recruiting success could pay off in a hurry with Bryant.

Position battle: Offensive line. Junior David Washington is set at center, and sophomore Russell Okung is set at tackle. The rest of the spots are up for grabs. Senior David Koenig is the third returning starter on the line. He could play either tackle or guard. Line coach Joe Wickline isn't afraid to juggle players to find the right mix.

Shoes to fill: WR D'Juan Woods. Woods had nearly 2,700 receiving yards during his Oklahoma State career. Bowman has filled his spot as a go-to receiver, but the Cowboys need a legitimate No. 2 receiver to keep opposing defenses from ganging up on Bowman. One answer could come from underrated tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

New in 2007: With most of the key cogs back, Oklahoma State should again have one of the best offenses in the Big 12. Look for backup quarterback Zac Robinson to see more playing time, even if he's on the field at the same time as starter Bobby Reid.

Grade the units:
QB: B. Bobby Reid blossomed last year into a viable run-pass threat. Backup Zac Robinson provides good depth.
RB: A. Led by Dantrell Savage, this group is dangerous - even without Mike Hamilton, who transferred.
WR/TE: B-plus. Adarius Bowman is an elite receiver, but the Cowboys are looking for answers beyond their star.
OL: B. This unit has experience in center David Washington and tackles David Koenig and Russell Okung - who started as a true freshman. The Cowboys are looking for the right combination up front.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: The defense didn't come close to matching the heights of the offense last year, finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in most categories. The defensive side of the ball had a change in leadership. Former Ohio State assistant Tim Beckman took over for coordinator Vance Bedford, who resigned and took a position at Michigan State. Oklahoma State must replace all four starters on the line, but backups Marque Fountain and Nate Peterson combined for 12.5 sacks and 25 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. There's hope for the future, though. In terms of numbers, freshmen Andre Sexton and Patrick Lavine were the team's top tacklers.

Best player: LB Chris Collins. Oklahoma State's outstanding group of freshmen on defense could have been even better had Collins been healthy. He was named a Rivals.com second-team All-American despite having major knee surgery after the sixth game of the season. His speed at outside linebacker made him an instant difference-maker.

Oklahoma State Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Georgia
Sept. 8 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 14 at Troy
Sept. 22 Texas Tech
Sept. 29 Sam Houston St.
Oct. 6 at Texas A&M
Oct. 13 at Nebraska
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Baylor
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Most overrated: LB Donovan Woods. Woods is on his third position in his Oklahoma State career. He moved from quarterback to safety in 2005. After starting at safety last year, Woods moved to outside linebacker in the fall. He has all the skills to be a solid defender, but he plays like he's a little out of place.

Most underrated: DE Nate Peterson. Peterson didn't start last year but finished with four sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He has been a pass-rush specialist but will be tested as an every-down player in the fall.

Must step up: DT Jeray Chatham. The former offensive lineman has four tackles in two seasons, but now Oklahoma State is counting on him to be a key part of the thin defensive tackle rotation.

Shoes to fill: DT Ryan McBean. McBean, a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft, was a two-year starter for the Cowboys. His departure - along with nose tackle Larry Brown - leaves Oklahoma State hurting for tackles.

Impact newcomer: NG Tonga Tea. A four-star junior college transfer, Tea will be a part of the rotation on the interior defensive line, primarily at nose guard.

Position battle: Chatham, Tea, senior Maurice Cummings and sophomore Jonathan Lewis are all vying for playing time in the defensive tackle rotation.

New in 2007: Oklahoma State will hope the new attitude of coordinator Tim Beckman will make a difference. There won't be many changes in scheme, but the play calling could be less conservative. Woods, who started 12 games at safety last year, will move to outside linebacker. The Cowboys also have concerns about their best defensive player, Chris Collins. He is dealing with a health issue and an off-the-field legal issue that could cause problems.

Grade the units:
DL: C. All four starters are gone, but backup ends Marque Fountain and Nate Peterson were productive in part-time duty last year.
LB: B-plus. Sophomores Chris Collins and Patrick Lavine make this a young and exciting group. Donovan Woods and Rodrick Johnson provide experience.
DB: B. Martel Van Zant and Jacob Lacey are an underrated cornerback tandem. Andre Sexton led the team in tackles as a freshman with 79 stops.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: Oklahoma State's special teams were excellent last year. Return man Perrish Cox and punter Matt Fodge led the way. Jason Ricks was also a solid kicker throughout the year.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Oklahoma State is a team on the rise in the Big 12 South. The problem is, of course, the Big 12 South. The Cowboys will likely be in a dogfight for third place in the division behind Oklahoma and Texas. The offense will be there, but the improvement in the defense will be the key. The Cowboys seem headed for a mid-level Big 12 bowl game such as the Alamo or Insight bowls. Predicted record: 8-5
Best player: Cox. Cox was a Rivals.com first-team freshman All-American thanks to his impact on special teams. He stepped in as a true freshman as the primary kickoff and punt returner, scoring once on a kickoff return.

Grade the units:
K: B-plus. Jason Ricks was 10 of 12 on field goals last year but had a 53-yarder.
P: A. Matt Fodge was second-team All-Big 12 last year, averaging 44.9 yards per kick.
KR: A The Cowboys got two touchdowns from the kickoff return team: One from Cox and another from Grant Jones.
PR: A. Both punt returners come back. Cox averaged 12.8 yards per return, and Tommy Devereaux averaged 10.6.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Mike Gundy's first season at Oklahoma State was a rough one. However, he righted the ship last year. After a 7-6 campaign and a bowl win last season, Oklahoma State is on the right track. In recruiting, Oklahoma State has put together two back-to-back top 30 classes The Cowboys pulled in some top talent like wide receiver Dez Bryant, defensive end Richetti Jones and cornerback Perrish Cox going to Stillwater.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: B. Gundy, who has gone 11-13 at Oklahoma State, is entering his third season as head coach with high expectations.
Offense: A. Coordinator Larry Fedora led a turnaround of more than two touchdowns per game from the previous season.
Defense: B. Tim Beckman, a former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State and Urban Meyer assistant at Bowling Green, will take over a young defense that struggled last year.

Special teams: A. Oklahoma State again had an excellent return game in 2006 under coordinator Joe DeForest.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 34.


 

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