May 30, 2007

Big 12 breakdown: Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy hopes Oklahoma State's best defense isn't its offense this fall. The defense that has finished near the bottom of the Big 12 in recent years has a new leader in Tim Beckman, but the Cowboys lack depth inside while Beckman's system remains a work in progress. Behind one of the nation's most explosive offenses, Oklahoma State has aspirations of finally finishing ahead of Texas and Oklahoma. Its defense must cooperate.



BRIEFLY: For a chance at the South, the defense must capture positive headlines



The Oklahoma State spring media guide touts the Cowboys as "suddenly a hot item." It states "the landscape, attitude and excitement level is dramatically different." But actually, the landscape in the South standings in 2006 remained nearly the same as 2005. Oklahoma State finished 3-5 in one of the nation's toughest divisions to trail Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech again.



There is reason for optimism in Stillwater, though, as Oklahoma State comes off its 34-31 win over Alabama in the Independence Bowl despite fielding a young team. That marked the Cowboys' fourth bowl in five seasons, their best stretch since the 1980s. They grabbed their second straight Top 30 recruiting class (OSU's '07 class is ranked No. 28 nationally and fourth in the Big 12 by Rivals.com). They also return eight starters from what was one of the most improved offenses in the nation last season. Oklahoma State vaulted at least 35 spots nationally in five different major statistical categories, most notably from No. 96 in scoring in '05 (20.2 pts) to No. 7 in '06 (35.2).



The team went from No. 114 in turnover martin to No. 34. Its defense returns seven from a unit that went from No. 51 to No. 12 in sacks (2.9 per game), and from No. 67 to No. 8 in tackles for a loss (7.7 per game). But the defense as a whole continued to be the Achilles heel to the team, ranking in the bottom half of the Big 12 for a third straight year and giving up no fewer than 24 points in the final 10 contests.



Could the Cowboys' high-powered offense coupled by the hiring of defensive coordinator Tim Beckman give them a lift in the South standings and a better bowl? Fans in Stillwater certainly hope so. Beckman coached cornerbacks the last two years at Ohio State, which finished 12th in defense a year ago. While the construction of some amazing facilities continues on the Oklahoma State campus, Gundy continues laying the groundwork with goals in mind.



"This year we will have to be a tougher team," Gundy said. "We will need to be a mentally tougher team to be successful at some of the places we have to play next fall."



The wake-up call will come on the road against likely preseason-Top 10 opponent Georgia on Sept. 1.



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