This series always sneaks up on me, but here we are, previewing each of Mississippi State’s 2013 football opponents. Between now and the last week of July, I’ll be looking at each team every Friday, with the exception of the week I’m on vacation in early July.
MSU begins camp around Aug. 1 (no official start date yet), so this will be one way we can whet your appetite and help build the anticipation for the coming season. Hopefully you and I both will learn a little something about each opponent along the way; that’s kind of the goal here.
So we begin with a new ESPN creation, the Texas Kickoff Classic, to be played at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. MSU played in this city in 2010, defeating Kevin Sumlin‘s Houston Cougars, 47-24. This will be the fifth meeting between MSU and Oklahoma State, with the series tied at 2-2.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (Aug. 31, in Houston)
• Conference: Big 12
• 2012 record: 8-5 (5-4, T-3rd Big 12)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Mike Gundy (67-35, eight seasons)
• Returning starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense, 0 specialists)
• Last meeting: MSU, 29-11 (Sept. 18, 1999, in Starkville)
• On the Web: OKState.com
After going 12-1 in 2011, the Cowboys had a bit of a down year, but that’ll happen when you lose guys like quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. But there is an expectation that Gundy will have this team back to being a high-flying powerhouse on both the Big 12 and national scenes.
I solicited the help of OSU beat reporter Gina Mizell, who writes for The Oklahoman (here’s the interview I did with her for my radio show). She noted that several key pieces return to an offense that ranked third nationally in scoring last year (45.7 ppg), fourth in total offense (547 ypg), and seventh in passing offense (331.7 ypg). Who will be directing this offense? Good question, and Gundy isn’t letting on. He’s got three candidates: Senior Clint Chelf, sophomore Wes Lunt and sophomore J.W. Walsh. Gundy said recently that he isn’t going to name a starter until it’s time to play MSU, although Chelf (1,588 yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions) appears to be the leader.
All three of those guys started and won games last season, with injuries to Lunt and Walsh allowing Chelf to get on the field. Whoever is flinging the ball around has some good targets, including the Big 12′s top returning receiver, Josh Stewart (101 catches, 1,210 yards, seven TDs). This offense is now being directed by Mike Yurcich, who was previously OC at Shippensburg, a Division II school.
The offense wasn’t the problem last year. It was the defense that let OSU down, giving up more than 40 points in each of the five losses, including 59 to Arizona and 51 to rival Oklahoma. The Cowboys ranked 80th in total defense (421.7 ypg) and 110th against the pass (280 ypg). There’s a new coordinator on that side of the ball, too – Glenn Spencer, who was previously at Duke, Georgia Tech and West Georgia. He’s installed an aggressive scheme that players seem to like.
The defense is led by tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman, who last year combined for 60 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss, and last year’s leading tackler, safety Daytawion Lowe (75 tackles, two INTs). Oklahoma State is hoping for a more effective pass rush this season – it averaged 1.92 sacks last year, which ranked 66th nationally
This will easily be the toughest of MSU’s four non-conference games, and a win against this kind of team in this setting would make it a notable highlight for head coach Dan Mullen. The general consensus is that OSU will be stronger than last year, and Vegas likes the Cowboys, having already made them an 11.5-point favorite over MSU.
Next up: Alcorn State