Few teams in the country have as many gigantic holes to fill on their roster this off-season than Oklahoma State.
Aside from losing three offensive starters to the NFL Draft and seeing nine of their 11 starters leave on defense, the Cowboys they've also had to work on learning a completely new offensive system this off-season. Needless to say, this was one of their most important spring practices in recent memory.
HuskersIllustraed.com sat down with OSU beat writer Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World to get his thoughts on just how far Oklahoma State got in its rebuilding project this spring.
Have you ever been around a team that has undergone as much change in one off-season than what Oklahoma State is going through right now?
"This is the most comprehensive rebuilding project in school history, and it began in spring practice. They're replacing nine defensive starters, four offensive linemen and a quarterback (Zac Robinson) who graduated as the school's career leader in total offense, passing yards and touchdown passes, and a guy who led them to consecutive nine-win seasons. In addition to having to identify all those new candidates to fill those vacancies, they made their most profound culture switch ever also when they went from a 50-50 run/pass offense to hiring (offensive coordinator) Dana Holgorsen from Houston. Holgorson has been a coordinator for five years. For four years, Oklahoma State has been virtually 50-50, I mean almost exactly 50-50 on run/pass yardage. In five years as a coordinator, Holgorsen is getting 79 percent of his yards on pass plays. OSU has led the Big 12 in rushing four straight seasons, but I doubt they'll get that again this year."
You mentioned losing Robinson - what is the situation at quarterback at this point?
"At the top, it looks really good. Brandon Weeden had a sensational spring. He had a sensational last two weeks. For the first two weeks, he would have a great day, a good day and a bad day. Real up and down. But that was because he was learning a new offense. The last half dozen practices, he was looking really good in that offense, and he looked really sharp in the spring game. Holgorsen said that he has a better arm than Graham Harrell had at Texas Tech or Case Keenum at Houston, and I don't doubt it, actually. He's 26. He'll be 27 in October. He spent five years playing baseball with the Yankees and Dodgers' organizations, so he's an older guy. But behind him are three freshmen. So he's got three freshmen backups, and you've got four new offensive line starters, so it's pretty important to keep Weeden healthy and on the field."
Do the Cowboys have good enough receivers to run that kind of pass-heavy offense, especially with Dez Bryant out of the picture?
"They're comfortable with the four frontline guys, the four who would start if they played today. They feel like they can get yards and touchdowns with those four. But they like to rotate eight - start four and rotate four in - and they just don't have that depth. So they might end up playing two or maybe even three incoming freshmen receivers. They like their top four, but behind them they've got a whole bunch of question marks. They just haven't recruited to that kind of offense. You mentioned Dez Bryant - no, they don't have anybody in that universe. Nobody. But he's the best ball handler I've ever covered in college football. Those guys don't come around very often."
After losing nine starters from last year, do you foresee any issues for the defense with the offense moving to such a quick strike approach?
"There's two dynamics at play. Holgorson's offense typically, whether they score or not, they don't hang onto the football very long. So that's going to leave OSU's defense on the field more than it's accustomed to. But, for two years they have recruited a higher level of player, and they feel like their depth on defense is better than it's ever been, even with all the new guys out there. They feel like they're more athletic. I would say they're exceptionally good at the safety positions, maybe as good as anybody in the conference in fact. They're pretty good at the end positions, and even though they have two new starters, I would say they're pretty good at the corners.
"But their big question mark on defense is their interior line at both tackles, and then all three linebacking spots. They lost all three linebackers from last year. That's the biggest question mark on the defense. Their middle linebacker is a pretty good player, and he tore his knee up just before the Georgia game in the opener last year. He's back, but they might have three guys shuffling in and out at each of the other spots depending on the down and distance. The two outside linebacker spots are huge question marks. Massively huge."
Where does OSU stand in all this conference realignment discussion? What is the plan if Nebraska, Missouri or even Texas leaves?
"Last week I met with Boone Pickens and (OSU athletic director) Mike Holder, and they both expressed confidence that the Big 12 is going to stay intact as it is, but I think they were just trying to be glass-half-full kinds of guys, you know what I mean? They were being hopefully optimistic that the league will stay intact. Behind closed doors, I don't know what they're saying or thinking, because there's the talk that maybe if Nebraska or Missouri do split away, that perhaps has many as four teams from the South might be invited to go to the SEC. OSU is confident that with their $283 million stadium renovation and a pretty good basketball program, they'd be viable in the eyes of the SEC and would be invited to join that group. But nothing's guaranteed.
"To me, if the SEC looks at the Big 12, the only two automatic candidates would be Oklahoma and Texas. I would put Texas A&M and OSU as possibles. If the Big 12 ends up dissolving, or if Nebraska and Missouri go elsewhere and OU and Texas go elsewhere, I don't know if the Big 12 would otherwise stay intact. At this point, only Jim Delaney knows what to expect in the next 60 days or whatever. But I can definitely say that OSU feels better about its chances to remain at the highest level of conference membership because of what it's done with its stadium. Pound for pound, there's not a better football facility in the country than what they've got now."
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