STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Riding the productive pass-and-catch tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State put together the best season in school history and claimed its first Big 12 championship and BCS bowl victory.
Now, it’s time for a youth movement.
Facing the daunting task of replacing a pair of first-round draft picks, the Cowboys plan to open their season with a freshman starting quarterback for the first time since 1950 and lean on experience elsewhere to try and defend their conference crown.
At age 18, new starting quarterback Wes Lunt is nine years younger than Weeden was at this point last year, heading into what would be a record-setting season.
“We’ll have some young guys at some key positions, and there is still work to do,” head coach Mike Gundy said at the team’s media day Saturday.
“I’m excited about everything. Our defense is more athletic than it’s been. I thought they were better than people gave them credit for last year, and we have a lot of those guys coming back. We’ve got more depth and if we can keep the train going with turnovers it will certainly give us a chance to win football games.”
Lunt will have big shoes to fill in following Weeden, who broke numerous school records while leading an offense that ranked second in the Bowl Subdivision in scoring (48.7 points per game) and third in total offense (545.5 yards). And he won’t be able to throw to Blackmon, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft.
He will be able to hand the ball to Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, who combined to rush for 1,862 yards last season. Tracy Moore, who had 45 catches last season, is the leading candidate to fill take over as the No. 1 receiver while senior Isaiah Anderson and Josh Stewart also provide experienced targets for Lunt.
“I think it will be more of the same, maybe running a little more as a first option,” said Randle, who has over 2,000 all-purpose yards in two seasons. “I don’t think we are going to have to change that much because I think (Lunt) is that good. He’s come in here and showed that he can run this offense.
“But I feel like I am capable of carrying the ball 30 times a game every game of the season if that is what the coaches ask me to do. I’m like everybody on this team right now; people are saying that we can’t do this or do that after last year. We are ready to prove them wrong.”
The Cowboys were picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 this season but have a habit of exceeding expectations in recent years, including two years ago when they had to replace first-round draft pick Russell Okung and a then-unknown Weeden took over for entrenched starting quarterback Zac Robinson.
Lunt, who will be the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Oklahoma State since 1993, is even more of an unknown. The 6-foot-4, 211-pounder left his Rochester, Ill., high school early and enrolled at Oklahoma State for the spring semester.
He won a spring competition with Weeden’s backup, Clint Chelf, and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh to claim the starting job after the spring game. Chelf is the only one of the three to have attempted a collegiate pass, completing 34 of 49 in 10 games over the last two seasons behind Weeden.
First-year players at Oklahoma State are not allowed to speak to reporters.
“We opened it up at the start of spring practice and (Lunt) was the best of the three,” Gundy said. “Nobody knows how fast he will come along, but he does have some experience around him to help with the process.”
A defense that led the nation in turnover margin last season may be looked to early as the offense finds its rhythm. Seven of the team’s top 10 tacklers return.
“We have the same mindset as we had last year,” said safety Daytawion Lowe, who made 91 tackles last season. “That’s been our goal since I got here, to win the Big 12 and a national championship. We expect to be there again.
“Actually, we’ve been a little more amped up this summer because there has been so much talk about losing Brandon (Weeden) and (Justin) Blackmon. I think we are ready to prove ourselves, show last year was no fluke.”