This week’s game: MSU vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State, in Houston, Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ABC and ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst, Quint Kessenich sidelines)
Game week is finally here, and the Bulldogs have a chance to make an early statement as Dan Mullen begins his fifth season at the helm. The Cowboys are looking to start fast as well as they carry high expectations into this season. Both teams are coming off 8-5 campaigns. Check out our table-setter story in today’s Journal.
Mullen will hold his weekly press conference at 1 p.m. today, so be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates. Now, let’s take a look at MSU’s Week 1 opponent.
• Last meeting: MSU, 29-11 (Sept. 18, 1999, in Starkville)
• Series: Tied 2-2
• Oklahoma State on the Web: okstate.com
• Oklahoma State coach: Mike Gundy (67-35, eight years)
• Three Oklahoma State players to watch: WR Josh Stewart, WR Austin Hays, S Daytawion Lowe
• Premature review: In our Premature Preview of Oklahoma State, we looked at a wide-open quarterback race involving three guys. Since that was written, Wes Lunt transferred to Illinois. That’s provided a little more clarity on the situation, but not a ton, because Gundy has remained mum all offseason on who his starter will be. We do know that both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh will play this Saturday, so MSU has to prepare for a couple of different styles. Walsh is the better runner of the two. Both guys drew starts last year, so OSU coaches probably feel confident in both.
Under Gundy, the Cowboys have possessed one of the nation’s perennially prolific offenses. Last season they ranked in the top 10 nationally in three major offensive categories (passing, total yards and scoring), and the wide receiving corps is expected to be as dangerous as ever with the likes of Stewart and some very promising youngsters. They go deep at the position. It’s up to new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to make sure the machine keeps churning.
With all the passes being thrown, it’s easy to overlook Oklahoma State’s running game. That could be a mistake. OSU ranked 21st in rushing offense last year (215.3 ypg) but has to replace 1,400-yard rusher Joseph Randle. Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland will tag-team the run attack this year; last season, each player went over 300 yards, and they combined for 12 TDs.
It’ll be tough for MSU to keep Oklahoma State from putting up some points, so the Bulldogs are likely to find themselves in a shootout. How much resistance can the Cowboys’ defense put up? Last year, they ranked 80th in total defense and 64th in scoring defense, and they gave up more than 40 points in all five losses, including 50-plus twice.
With new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, OSU is looking to be more aggressive, starting up front. It ranked 66th in sacks last year (1.92 per game), and the defensive line appeared to make strides during preseason camp. That unit is led by tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman, who last year combined for 15.0 tackles-for-loss and 2.0 sacks.
This will be about as tough an opener as MSU could ask for, but it would sure be huge for the program to pull off the win. Vegas says it would be an upset, having tabbed Oklahoma State as a 12.5-point favorite.