Louisiana-Lafayette-Oklahoma St. Preview
The combination of All-Big 12 quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-America wide receiver Justin Blackmon helped Oklahoma State enjoy a record-setting 2010.
With both deciding to return for another season - this one under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken - coach Mike Gundy's team is very optimistic.
The ninth-ranked Cowboys look to improve to 8-0 against Louisiana-Lafayette in Saturday night's season opener at Boone Pickens Stadium, where Mark Hudspeth will make his debut as Ragin' Cajuns coach.
A first-year starter last season after playing four games the previous two, Weeden threw for a school-record 4,277 yards with 34 touchdowns to help the Cowboys finish with a share of their first Big 12 South title. Their 36-10 victory over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl gave the school a record 11 wins.
In January, the 27-year-old former minor league pitcher decided to bypass the NFL draft and return to Stillwater, as did Blackmon, who set school records with 111 catches, 1,782 yards and an FBS-best 20 TDs while being named the 2010 conference player of the year.
"We have one goal, and that's to win all our games next year," said Blackmon, who led the FBS last season with 148.5 receiving yards per game. "It's the same goal we've had since I've been here. We fell short this year, and next year we're going to come out and we're going to try to get it."
If the Cowboys are going to make a run at perfection and approach last season's production - third in the FBS in total offense (520.2) and scoring average (44.2) - the offense will have to take shape under Monken, who replaces new West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Monken, a pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach at Oklahoma State from 2002-04, spent the last four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars as wide receivers coach.
"We've had a smooth transition," Gundy told the school's official website. "When you have a quarterback who is as mature as Brandon is, he's willing to buy in, he's a good guy and he's easy to get along with, that helps that transition."
The Cowboys, though, will be without two-time All-American running back Kendall Hunter, who rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 TDs in his last season in 2010. Sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will likely have to carry much of the load out of the backfield.
Hudspeth, though, feels that shutting down Weeden and Blackmon will be the key to this matchup.
"We have a tough challenge in front of us as we face one of the top teams in the nation that's equipped with two Heisman Trophy candidates," said Hudspeth, who takes over after Rickey Bustle led Louisiana-Lafayette to a 3-9 record last season. "I believe our toughness is going to give us an edge in this game. We will be tough."
The visiting Cowboys learned that Oct. 8 when they trailed the Ragin' Cajuns 21-17 at halftime before posting a 54-28 victory behind Weeden's five-TD effort, including two to Blackmon, who finished with a career-best 13 receptions.
Louisiana-Lafayette senior Chris Masson, who threw a career-high 55 passes for 308 yards in that game, will likely split time with junior Blaine Gautier.
"Both of our quarterbacks have practiced at a high level and I expect both of them to play," Hudspeth said. "Sometimes you play the hot hand, sometimes it is gut-feeling, and sometimes you game plan for it."
The Cowboys are finding it difficult to anticipate what Hudspeth and his new staff have planned for Saturday.
"They know everything we're going to do and we don't know anything they're going to do so it's a little concerning," defensive coordinator Bill Young told the school's official website.
The last time the Ragin' Cajuns came to town, Oklahoma State won 56-3 on Oct. 4, 2003, to improve to 4-0 in the series in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State starting free safety Johnny Thomas and receiver Michael Harrison have been ruled ineligible for this game.
Thomas started 11 games last season, including the last nine, and finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles. He also had three interceptions.
Harrison had 14 catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.