No. 19 Oklahoma State opener a huge mismatch

On paper, it’s one of the biggest mismatches of the college

football season.

Playing its first game since winning the Fiesta Bowl and

finishing last season with the No. 3 ranking, defending Big 12

champion Oklahoma State will host struggling Savannah State on

Saturday night.

It’s one of the biggest of the big boys picking a fight with one

of the meekest kids in school, with only a $385,000 payday making

up for the black eye that’s expected to be delivered.

For the 19th-ranked Cowboys, it may be the perfect way to open

up the season after losing record-setting quarterback Brandon

Weeden and two-time All-American receiver Justin Blackmon in the

first round of the NFL draft. Freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will

have a seemingly low pressure environment to take his first

collegiate snaps and throw passes to a largely unproven receiving

corps.

And Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy makes no apologies for the

game that serves a purpose for both schools.

The youthful Cowboys get an early tuneup before next week’s road

trip to Arizona. Savannah State, which has gone just 4-72 against

FCS competition over the past 10 years, gets a chance to play one

of college football’s powers in its first game ever against a Bowl

Subdivision opponent and a hefty sum to deposit in its bank

account.

”They’re going to balance a lot of their budget at that

athletic department based on our games. That would be my guess,”

Gundy said. ”But then for us, when they ask me (who to schedule),

I say: `I want to play the three easiest teams we can play and then

play conference.’ That’s what I tell them every time.”

Gundy says he doesn’t exert much control over Oklahoma State’s

schedule, leaving that to others who have to handle the athletic

department budget and deal with the backlash from fans. But he sees

no point in going with a more difficult nonconference schedule,

particularly since the Big 12 went to playing nine league games

last season.

”If you add another heavy hitter, supposedly, that makes it

difficult on you because it is what it is: The more of those games

you play, the better chance you have of something (bad)

happening,” Gundy said.

And so, Oklahoma State will start out with what could be nothing

more than a glorified scrimmage. With a number of changes most

noticeable at quarterback, receiver and on the offensive line,

there is something to be gained from getting those first-game

jitters out of the way and facing unfriendly competition for the

first time.

If all goes as planned, Gundy will face the decision of when

enough is enough.

”We’ve always called off the dogs around here,” Gundy said.

”We’ve never kept guys in when we thought the game was under

control. … We’ll have to make a decision on if there’s guys in

the game that need experience and need reps and need to play. As

soon as we think that we’ve accomplished that, we will get them off

the field.”

Until then, it’ll be a showcase for some of the Cowboys’

newcomers.

Lunt, who won a three-way competition with J.W. Walsh and Clint

Chelf in the spring, is off-limits to reporters, so it has been up

to his teammates to discuss how ready he is to take over for

Weeden.

”Besides the physical attributes he has, I’ve seen maturity in

three months that people really don’t get to see,” receiver

Charlie Moore said. ”I’ve seen this guy grow up really quick, and

I really think he’s ready to be a leader. I think he’s ready to

lead this team.”

Gundy said he hasn’t held back any of Oklahoma State’s offense,

although it remains to be seen how many plays get called in the

opener. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said his play-calling

will be based on what kind of defense the Tigers deploy, not the

inexperience of his quarterback.

”There’s a lot of hungry guys on this team. There’s a lot of

young talent that are ready to prove themselves,” said new

starting center Evan Epstein. ”It’s really exciting. It’s kind of

hard to put into words.”

Epstein will be replacing one of four departed starters on the

offensive line, and there are newcomers on the defensive front as

well after starting ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones finished

their careers. In all, the Cowboys lost players who combined to

make 264 receptions for 3,158 yards last season in the nation’s No.

2 scoring offense.

So, this isn’t a matter of picking up where the team left off –

winning the school’s first conference title since 1976.

”It’s not easy at all because we’ve got a lot of new players,”

safety Daytawion Lowe said. ”It’s really about teaching all the

players that didn’t play last year what it takes to do that. It’s a

lot different.”

And yet, the Cowboys still see oodles of potential and are

pursuing the same goals as a season ago.

”We’re always going to want to win the Big 12, we’re always

going to want to go to a BCS game and win a national championship.

That’s just the goal,” Epstein said. ”We play Division I football

and that’s the top, and we’re always going to want to do the

best.”