Coach: Mike Gundy (first season) 2004 record: 7-5 (Lost to Ohio State in Alamo Bowl) Big 12 finish: 4-4 (5th South) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 12th (237.0 ypg) Passing: 111th (143.5 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 75th (173.8 ypg) Passing: 68th (222.4 ypg)
at Texas A&M
at Iowa State
Depth Chart: Offense
6 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
Martel Van Zant
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Mike Gundy's opening months as coach featured sweeping change -- a new offense, a new defense, newfound enthusiasm -- with one notable exception: the same optimism of a team on the rise.
"The last three or four years, there has never been a time in our locker room where I thought anybody felt comfortable after a loss," said Gundy, a head coach for the first time at the age of 37 after popular stints at Oklahoma State, first as a player and then as an assistant. "We're here to win."
Gundy, OSU's offensive coordinator since '01, played a vital role in the program's recent rise. So when Les Miles bolted for the Bayou, following Nick Saban at LSU, Gundy was an easy choice as successor.
Gundy said he learned a lot under Miles. And yet, he overhauled the team's style, infusing aggression to both sides of the ball by hiring Larry Fedora as offensive coordinator and Vance Bedford as defensive coordinator.
Gundy's offensive exploits loom legendary at Oklahoma State, where he's been a record-breaking quarterback and offensive coordinator. Now the Cowboys' head coach, Gundy is going even bolder -- by stepping back.
Gundy's first priority was hiring Fedora as his new offensive coordinator. "I just felt like Larry was on the cutting edge of what college offenses are all about," Gundy said.
Fedora, offensive coordinator at Florida the last three years, produced the SEC's leading rusher and receiver in 2004. And he's delivered the same no-huddle, spread attack from Gainesville to Stillwater. Fedora's top priority is deciding on a quarterback, with incumbent Donovan Woods and redshirt freshman Bobby Reid engaged in a tight battle that could carry into the season.
Woods led the Cowboys to seven wins a year ago, but Reid offers tantalizing upside.
There's more competition at tailback, where Mike Hamilton and converted fullback Julius Crosslin are bruising big backs with a burst. The talented but oft-injured Seymore Shaw could also work his way into the mix.
Wide receiver is the one hangup in fully implementing Fedora's attack, with few proven playmakers at the position, other than D'Juan Woods, last season's leader in receptions, yards and touchdown catches. Two field-stretching tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew and Paschal Smith, might relieve some of the demands on the wideouts.
The offensive line is solid, with four players returning who have started, led by guard Corey Hilliard, an all-conference candidate.
The Cowboys have ditched the passive 4-2-5 scheme for the aggressive, attacking style of Bedford. "We're going to fly to the ball," said Bedford, who was lured away from the Chicago Bears. "And we'll get after it."
The strength of the defense is linebacker, where seniors Paul Duren, Lawrence Pinson and Pagitte McGee have combined for 59 starts.
The front four reveals the most pressing questions. Xavier Lawson-Kennedy has struggled in his first two years but showed signs in the spring that he may finally be primed for a breakthrough. Junior college transfer Ryan McBean is also being counted on to bolster a unit short on depth and experience.
In the secondary, Vernon Grant and Daniel McLemore are fast yet undersized at cornerback. Safety Jamie Thompson is one of the best tacklers and technicians in the league.
Special teams are usually dependable, but the Cowboys are unsettled at too many key spots. Jason Ricks returns as an accurate kicker on mid-range field goals. And McLemore's speed makes him a dangerous return man. But much will be asked of incoming freshman Matt Fodge, who should punt and kickoff and perhaps challenge Ricks for field goal duty.
The Cowboys keep flirting with making a move up in the conference pecking order, a tough task in the Big 12 South. But with Oklahoma and Texas suffering major personnel losses, the landscape might be ripe. That's easier said than done for a program that typically loses the recruiting battles to the Sooners, Longhorns and Texas A&M. Still, OSU sends out potential breakthrough players at the critical positions. And either Woods or Reid could be special.
The schedule is reasonable; the biggest road tests come in Norman and College Station.