Oklahoma State steps into an unfamilar role: Big 12 favorite

BY foxsports • July 22, 2013

DALLAS – Oklahoma State has owned the Big 12 before, but the media have never picked the team to win the conference until this season.

Coach Mike Gundy is determined that being in the unfamiliar position as the league's favorite doesn't impact the Cowboys.

"I know that it won't have any effect on our season, but I do think it means a lot to Oklahoma State that people feel comfortable in saying that we're good enough to have the opportunity to win a conference championship," Gundy said Monday at the Big 12's Media Days.

"Being picked No. 1 certainly doesn't guarantee you the conference championship, we all know that."

Especially this season, since a whopping six teams received first-place votes. Oklahoma State received 15 of them. Runner-up Oklahoma received eight, third-place TCU got nine and Texas nabbed eight.

The media is obviously showing a lot of confidence in the progress Gundy has made at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were 11-2 in 2010, 12-1 in 2011 and 8-5 last season.

Yet Oklahoma State is probably one of the few preseason favorites to not have an established starter at quarterback. Oklahoma State played three quarterbacks last season, and two return.

Clint Chelf appears to be the frontrunner after passing for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. However, J.W. Walsh actually led the Big 12 in pass efficiency with 1,564 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Gundy hasn't named a starter, and isn't expecting to anytime soon.

"They'll get equal reps," Gundy said. "The one advantage we have in our offense is in practice and even in games. We get a number of reps because of our tempo. We expect to play very fast this year. So we'll work both guys. We feel very comfortable with them."

Coordinating the offense this year is Mike Yurcich, who was formerly the OC at Division II Shippensburg University. Other than a stint as a graduate assistant at Indiana, Yurcich has never been on a Division I staff.

However, the Cowboys have had success plugging in new offensive coordinators in the past. The high-octane system doesn't change.

In fact, Gundy thinks the Cowboys are capable of playing even faster this season.

"We feel like we can stretch a defense," Gundy said. "I'm sure that other coaching staffs have a method of ways they train and develop and schemes that they use to give them an advantage. We think speed is an advantage on offense."

First under the heading of speed is receiver Josh Stewart, who is the latest in a line of elite receivers at Oklahoma State dating back to Rashaun Woods and Dez Bryant.

Stewart averaged 12 catches a game last season for totals of 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns. Playing alongside the likes of Justin Blackmon, a former No. 5 overall NFL pick, and Josh Cooper, now with the Cleveland Browns, had its benefits.

"I came in at a right time. Learning from Blackmon, Josh Cooper, just being around guys like that, you just want to strive to be great," Stewart said. "You can't be in the same program as those guys and not try to compete at the same level they were. I think every year OSU is going to have a top dude, just because of the drive in that program."

Oklahoma State's drive in 2013 begins with an Aug. 31 showcase game in Houston against Mississippi State.

A chance to open the season with a win over an SEC opponent obviously carries more weight than finishing at the top of a preseason poll.

But in a program that's achieved a lot of firsts in the last few seasons, finishing atop the preseason poll for the first time is an achievement.

"We'll mention that to our players and be very vanilla," Gundy said. "They've still got a lot of work ahead of them, but we're very proud of how far they've come and that they have the opportunity. They've got to go out and play well."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire