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AS SURE AS PISTOL PETE WEARS A TEN-GALLON HAT, THE COWBOYS' offense will put plenty of points on the scoreboard. Never mind that Dana Holgorsen, who oversaw OSU's third-ranked offense last year, has moved on to become head coach at West Virginia. New coordinator Todd Monken has promised to make little more than tweaks, meaning Brandon Weeden will still fling footballs to Justin Blackmon for gobs of yardage, and Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will gain ground behind five returning blockers.
Questions do remain on the defense, where coordinator Bill Young faces an imposing task: coaxing a championship-level performance out of a unit that yielded more than 26 points per game last fall and has lost important players at linebacker and defensive tackle. Young is confident that a series of platoons will help fill the gaps.
Up front that job falls to a four-man stable of tackles manning the pair of spots between senior defensive ends Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick. Junior Nigel Nicholas, an agile 279-pound former end, headlines the group of tackles, which also includes juco transfer Maurice Hayes and redshirt freshman Christian Littlehead. "We've got four young players that need to get the same production that we were getting out of two players last year," says coach Mike Gundy.
Behind that line, sophomore Caleb Lavey and 25-year-old former baseball prospect Tyler Johnson will try to replace Orie Lemon's experience with their athleticism at middle linebacker, while a trio will fight for reps at Justin Gent's old spot on the weak side.
More certain is the group's strongside linebacker (Shaun Lewis returns) and the secondary, which brings back starters Brodrick Brown, Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Those four players were responsible for half of the Cowboys' conference-best 34 turnovers a year ago. "I can guarantee you no one in America—college, pro or high school—talks more about turnovers," Young says before mentioning the gassers that his players must run if they don't create at least five in a spring practice.
In the end, though, Young understands how his unit can truly thrive at OSU. "The best defense is a good offense," he says, chuckling. "Always has been, always will be." Pistol Pete can hang his hat on that.
COACH Mike Gundy (7th year) 47--29 (25--23 in Big 12)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Todd Monken