Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 3/8/13
As another off season of College Football material kicks off, this year marks the third year I’ll throw my hat in the ring and look at a number of topics and categories. In the process I’ll look to do everything from predicting next year’s 25 best teams, identify the games of the year, narrow down the Heisman field, identify those replacing 2012′s stars and ultimately make predictions for each league, culminating in a national championship pick. They’ll be many things I’ll be ridiculed for. There will be a number of things that will surprise some people. Ultimately you’ll come away from the next 6 months of material as ready for the college football season as I can possibly make you. While I’ll be sure to miss on things I would like to remind the skeptics I did correctly predict the same number of bowl teams preseason as Phil Steele a year ago as well as top him in BCS Bowl participants predicted before the year. Nonetheless I’m not putting out any magazines soon so keep buying his for the top preseason coverage available. The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us continue the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the off season coverage here at The Sports Headquarters. *Returning Starters Figures from Phil Steele’s Blog Teams already ranked: #25. Fresno State Bulldogs #24 Vanderbilt Commodores #23 USC Trojans #22 Miami Hurricanes #21 Ole Miss Rebels #20 Boise State Broncos #19 Wisconsin Badgers #18 Oklahoma Sooners #17 Florida State Seminoles #16 Northwestern Wildcats Coming in at #15… Oklahoma State Cowboys 2012 Record: 8-5 Conference Finish: Tied for 3rd (Lose tiebreaker to Texas) Bowl: Won Heart of Dallas Bowl 58-14 over Purdue 2013 Returning Starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive   2013 Offense Oklahoma State shook off any questions of personnel losses last season when Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon left for the NFL and the team still ranked fourth nationally in total offense. Mike Gundy has established a juggernaut of an offensive system that much like Oregon out west seems to just plug new parts in and watches the machine (in this case the system) do all the work. Entering 2013 the Cowboys have a good portion of those parts back in the fold and should once again be among the top offenses in all of college football. The quarterback position is an ongoing question for the Pokes as Gundy used three guys last year all nearly equally and Clint Chelf and J.W Walsh outperformed Wes Lunt as a whole but once again the argument over who gets the ball in 2013 will be a three-way tug-of war. Chelf appears to be the favorite after entering last year as the third man on the depth chart and then playing extremely well when Lunt and Walsh suffered injuries. Nonetheless the Cowboys should have more than enough talent surrounding the quarterback to produce no matter who gets the call behind center. However, for a team who feels confident in contending for the Big 12 crown, the choice at QB could be the difference between a league title and third-fourth place finish. Joseph Randle’s decision to enter the 2013 draft was a bump in the road for the Cowboys as Randle was a workhorse who was very productive in his last two seasons in Stillwater. Despite seeing a drop in TDs last season, Randle improved his rushing yards to over 1400 yards including seven games of over 100 yards, a group that included games vs Texas, Oklahoma and TCU. With his departure Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland will likely take over the backfield workload and can expect holes to run through as teams try and defend the prolific passing attack the team will possess. Nearly the entire receiving group is back from a team that finished the year seventh in passing offense. Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore, a receiver who may be forgotten because of his injuries last year, headline a group that could make up the best receiving core in the league. While Stewart dominated the statistical production last year, if everyone can stay healthy, expect more balance among the group this year and three-four guys capable of having big years. The offensive line has some revamping with only two offensive linemen back for 2013 and will have big shoes to fill after a 2012 season where the Cowboys allowed the 11th fewest sacks in the nation despite a much greater number of drop backs than most schools. A couple facets of the Pokes offense that made them so prolific in 2012 was the offensive red zone efficiency where they tied for third in the country and turnovers, a spot where though they finished around the middle of the country, was pretty respectable for a team that ran as many plays as they did and threw the ball downfield. Oklahoma State may have lost a couple parts, but if 2012 was any indication, the 2013 offense should again put up some crooked numbers. 2013 Defense As I’ve always said regarding teams from certain leagues, you have to take into account the league they play in and while Oklahoma State’s passing game may have been slightly impacted by the Big 12 traditional style of play, the defense is the same. The Pokes weren’t an elite defense in 2012 by any definition but some of its lackluster performances can simply be attributed to the up-tempo offensive style of football played in the league that lends itself to shootouts. This has long been a program that has recruited heavy on offense as of the team’s four-star recruits or higher in the past few years all but one has been an offensive player. In 2013 the Pokes do bring back seven defensive starters including at least two starters at each of the three levels leaving it with a fairly experienced group that won’t have massive turnover at any one part of the defense. Calvin Barnett and James Castleman both return on the defensive line with Barnett being an all-conference performer a season ago. At the linebacker spot Shaun Lewis was an All-Big 12 performer a season ago and Caleb  Lavey is back making up two-thirds of the Pokes starters a season ago. Alex Elkins departs as the team’s second leading tackler and leaves an important void that needs to be filled. If there was any indication of the problems in the secondary last year look no further than the tackling ranks. Even beyond the 108th ranked pass defense was the fact four of the team’s top five tacklers were in the secondary. Offenses were able to throw all over Oklahoma State last season leaving its secondary on an island and limiting the impact of the front seven. With three starters back, all seniors in 2013, that group must be better if Oklahoma State has hopes of competing for the Big 12 crown. Everyone knows the Big 12 is a pass heavy league and this group should be able to do enough to compensate for an offense that can score 40 almost any night. A year after being one of the best teams in college football at forcing turnovers the Pokes dropped immensely down to the middle of the country in that department. As I’ve long said about teams who don’t get stops: If you can’t force punts and you don’t get turnovers, what does that leave? The Cowboys were fairly good at getting off the field on third down but one area that bit them time and time again was penalties. If the Cowboys can be more disciplined in 2013, it will likely lead to more possessions on offense and could be the difference in one-two more wins. Not to be overlooked is the loss of kicker/punter Quinn Sharp who was a dynamic special teams talent with a great leg. We’ll see how his loss changes the decision-making process for Mike Gundy. Schedule Oklahoma State stepped up and scheduled a season opener against Mississippi State in Houston, a game though against an SEC foe should be a win. The Bulldogs last season were essentially bad team bullies and given the talent coming back for the Pokes should result in a victory. From there nothing should keep Oklahoma State from entering conference play 3-0. The opportunity for a fast start is there for Oklahoma State as the schedule is very back heavy in my opinion (reflected by my poll) and while teams such as Kansas State and West Virginia could replace last year’s stars flawlessly, the guess here is both see a bit of a drop off given the turnover. Realistically a home game in mid-October against TCU represents the first legitimate chance at a loss in my opinion if Oklahoma State doesn’t have a massive-turnover game or suffer significant injury. However starting with TCU things pick up rapidly. The team has road games at Iowa State and Texas Tech (each capable of pulling an upset at home) followed by Texas on the road, Baylor a potential Big 12 sleeper and then the Bedlam game at home against Oklahoma. I could see the Pokes starting as strong as 4 or 5-0 in league play and then having trouble closing the league title out. While I don’t think they’re the best team in the Big 12, the way the schedule sets up, if they take care of the games they should early, later in the year they may be able to split a couple tough games and still win the league.    Send all complaints to @BDFTBLStandard and go follow the site twitter feed at @TSHQsportsblog for sports coverage all over as well as plain tom-foolery content.
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