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Previewing The OSU Cowboys 2012 Schedule (Part 1 of 2)

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Instead of starting the season seeking its first Big 12 title, Oklahoma State begins the 2012 campaign in defense of its Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl championships. The Cowboys have a target on their backs as the season nears and the schedule sets up fairly favorably for the Cowboys  with most of the big games scheduled to be played in Boone Pickens Stadium, save for Bedlam. Here is a two-part look at what awaits the Pokes in 2012.

9/1 vs. Savannah State

2011 record: 1-10

This matchup might not get Cowboy fans fired up but it is an ideal setup for true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt to be making his first collegiate start. Not only is Savannah State an FCS opponent, it's not competitive in the FCS. The Tigers were one of the cellar dwellers in 2011, ranking 120th nationally in total offense and scoring offense out of 124 I-AA programs en route to a 1-10 record. And it's not as if Oklahoma State having to break in a new quarterback will give Savannah State an upper hand, the Tigers will also be breaking in a new QB against the defending Big 12 champions on the road. QB Antonio Bostick, who threw for 755 yards and three touchdowns in split duty last year, will be the new full-time starter for the Tigers. Reserve running back Sheldon Barnes has plenty of experience with 1,227 career rushing yards and eight touchdowns but he managed just 195 yards and one score in a reserve role last season. Dylan Cook is the team's returning receiving leader after recording 28 receptions for 281 yards and a touchdown last year. Savannah State's defense will have its hands full with OSU's potent offense, as well. The Tigers finished 2011 ranked 116th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense in the FCS. They are led by sophomore defensive lineman Leroy Cummings, who had seven sacks as a true freshman. This game should be over before it even begins and will serve as a tune up for the following week's trip to Tucson, Ariz.

9/8 at Arizona

2011 record: 4-8

Hey, does it feel like these teams have played recently? This Sept. 8 matchup will mark the third-consecutive season the Cowboys and Wildcats have faced off, with the Cowboys winning the 2010 Valero Alamo Bowl 36-10 and last year's Thursday night meeting 37-14 in Stillwater. Arizona won't look the same as it has in the previous two meetings and neither will the Cowboys. UA's passing duo of Nick Foles and Juron Criner has departed but that's not the biggest change out in the desert. Mike Stoops was fired in the middle of the 2011 season and he has since been replaced by former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who will bring a wide-open look to the Arizona offense. QB Matt Scott will take the reins and will be operating behind an offensive line that returns all five starters and will have at least one consistent target in former Texas Longhorn receiver Dan Buckner. Scott has been tabbed as an ideal fit for Rodriguez's zone-read but limited depth behind him and limited success from the running backs (114th in rushing last season) could hinder its effectiveness in the early going. It works in OSU's favor that they will be playing in just Arizona's second game in Rich Rod's system while they're still working out the kinks, but it will also be Lunt's first career road start. Arizona's defense finished last in the Pac-12 in total defense, pass defense and sacks but will have more to work with as former starters S Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight, LB Jake Fischer and DT Willie Mobley all return from injuries that kept them off the field for long stretches a year ago.

9/15 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

2011 record: 9-4

Speaking of playing a familiar opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette makes its third appearance on the Cowboys schedule in three seasons. OSU handled the Ragin' Cajuns fairly easily in last year's season opener, beating ULL 61-34, but the Cajuns went on to have an unexpectedly successful campaign that ended with a 9-4 record and a New Orleans Bowl victory. Now there are legitimate expectations for the Cajuns in Mark Hudspeth's second year as most of the key contributors from last year's team return. Quarterback Blaine Ganther completed 62.8 percent of his passes last year for 2,958 yards and 23 touchdowns with just six interceptions with nearly 500 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground. The Cajuns also return running back Alonzo Harris (700 yards, 4.3 ypc, 8 TDs) and receiver Javone Lawson (63 rec, 1,092 yards, 8 TDs) and the offensive line returns four starters with 76 career starts. The defense returns an experienced and stout front four and solid secondary but only two full time starters from last season. That said, the defense should not be overlooked with five eligible transfers now on the two-deep who all originally started their careers in the SEC.

9/29 vs. Texas

2011 record: 8-4

It's not often that an 8-4 season is a step in the right direction for Texas but last year was one of those times. It's still too early to tell if Texas is back but it is starting to look the part again, at least from a talent standpoint. David Ash has been tabbed as the ‘Horns starter at quarterback over Case McCoy and that position still is a huge question mark and a key in just how well Texas plays in 2012. It doesn't inspire confidence that coaches have said both will play in the team's season opener against Wyoming. Where Texas has really grown is in the backfield and it should be able to ride heavily on budding star Malcolm Brown (742 yards, 5 TDs), who was a freshman All-American last year. Fellow 2011 freshman Joe Bergeron (463 yards and 5 TDs) was also a smashing success and had perhaps an even more impressive spring than Brown. The sophomore tandem will be joined by national high school record-breaking standout Johnathan Gray to form a deep, explosive backfield behind Texas' massive line. UT's defense should be menacing after finishing 11th in the country in total defense in 2011. The defense loses three starters but might be upgrading at all three spots, especially at linebacker. Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are gone from the linebacking corps but redshirt freshman Steve Edmonds and sophomore Demarco Cobbs are bigger, faster and more athletic than their predecessors. UT's defense boasts one of the nation's most talented secondaries, led by corner Carrington Byndom and safety Kenny Vaccaro. This game is sandwiched in between both of OSU's bye weeks, which is beneficial as this is a massive one on the Pokes' schedule.

10/13 at Kansas

2011 record: 2-10

Kansas would like to forget the 2011 season happened and took a lot of necessary steps to accomplish that goal by replacing the entire coaching staff. Turner Gill was shown the door after an abysmal 2011 campaign where KU was pounded on a weekly basis en route to an 0-9 conference finish. Charlie Weis takes over in Lawrence, entering his fourth job in the past four years (Notre Dame HC 2005-09, Kansas City Chiefs OC 2010, Florida OC 2011, Kansas HC 2012) and brings a few Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots and needed experience with him. This task might be the toughest he's faced yet with the cupboard nearly bare on his arrival. Weis quickly pulled in some transfers, most notably quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame. Crist threw for 2,327 yards and 16 touchdowns with nine interceptions with the Fighting Irish. Junior running back James Sims is the offense's top returning player after rushing for 727 yards and nine touchdowns on 4.0 yards per carry. KU actually has solid depth at receiver, led by D.J. Beshears (40 rec, 437 yards, 3 TDs), and this should be better utilized in Weis' offense with Crist at quarterback. The defense will be a massive undertaking, though. KU ranked last in the country in total defense (516.4 ypg) and scoring defense (43.8 ppg), making defensive coordinator Dave Campo's (yes, the former Dallas Cowboys head coach) job an unenviable one.

10/20 vs. Iowa State

2011 record: 6-7

The Cyclones pulled off the biggest upset of the college football season last year when they shocked No. 2 Oklahoma State and prevented the Cowboys from a national championship berth. Safe to say focus and motivation should not be issues for OSU when the Cyclones come to Stillwater in late October. ISU named Steele Jantz as the starting quarterback for the season after winning a heated battle with Jared Barnett that leaked into fall camp. Another heated competition is going on in the backfield where junior James White is expected to have a big season after rushing for 743 yards and eight scores as a first-year starter but running back Shontrelle Johnson's status is still uncertain after suffering a neck injury early last year. Johnson beat out White for the job entering 2011 and if he is able to make a recovery and get cleared by the NCAA, this position gets considerably stronger. The backfield averaged 175 yards per game a year ago but that number could change with Jantz running the show as a more prototypical drop-back passer. The defense was better than its No. 95 national rank and the heart and soul of the defense comes from likely future NFL linebackers A.J. Klein (101 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception) and Jake Knott (107 tackles, 2 INTs). No matter what ISU's record is when it enters Boone Pickens Stadium, it should be a lively environment after what unfolded in Ames last November.

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