TCU's eighth victim in 2012, and fifth in the Big12, are the runtlings of Boone Pickens' Stillwater litter, the Cowboys of "Oklahoma" "State." This year the story for Boone Pickens' U is which replacements will shine, and how early. What they’re replacing was the story last season—an NFL drafted quarterback (Brandon Weeden), receiver (Justin Blackmon), and safety (Markelle Martin), and very talented graduated linemen (two each on offense and defensive lines), and another receiver. Add the dismissal of starting tackle Michael Bowie, and suddenly the Cowboys look new from top to bottom on offense, and at defensive end.
So the rebuild commences. The pollsters seem hardly to have noticed all the new faces. The coaches picked the Cowboys 19th (yes, that’s a big drop from 3rd, but for a team with that many new faces starting, 19th is a hefty dose of respect).
The most famous of the new faces, already, is true freshmen Wes Lunt, who took the lead at quarterback in his early-enrolled first spring. He’s fully ten years younger than the guy he’s replacing.
Paul Myerberg points out that "Lunt is the most prolific passer in the history of Illinois high school football; he’s a pass-first quarterback moving into a pass-first system." Sophomore Clint Chelf is still the backup, probably with an eye on ousting Lunt as the true freshmen encounters the kind of growing pains true freshmen always do when the games begin.
Three of the big boys up front are going to be guards Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush, and tackle junior Parker Graham. Rush got a medical redshirt for missing 10 games last season; Graham is the experienced replacement for Bowie, who was the experienced replacement for graduated two-time all Big 12 tackle Adcock. Center and tackle, however? Auditions are underway, with sophomore Daniel Koenig, redshirt freshman Devin Davis, and incoming freshmen Michael Wilson and Greg Brantley in the mix. Koenig is the only one of the group to have taken a snap in a college game.
The receiving corps is remade this season, without Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam, and Michael Harrison, who took with them 56% of last year’s catches and 57% of last year’s receiving yards. So it’s going to be about young and new players in the receiving corps this season. Tracy Moore is the top returning receiver, hauling in 45 catches for 672 yards and four scores last season; Isaiah Anderson was productive, as well. Charlie Moore had a monstrous spring game (15 catches) and looks to be a key player in 2012. Both of these play outside receiver.
Inside it's all new faces. JUCO transfer tight end Blake Jackson was highly touted. Those are capable receivers, and three of them are experienced, so the dropoff may be less than some fear. What nobody seems to expect is another Biletnikoff winner, or finalist, to emerge in Stillwater this season (no Cowboys are on this year’s watchlist for the award).
The only offensive unit on the team that is comfortably veteran is the backfield. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith return over three-fourths of the team’s carries from last season, and more than 90% of the team’s ground yards. It’ll be more of the same in 2012. One of the rising backups, Herschel Simms, is no longer on the team— and he won't be missed, at least not this year.
And then there's the defense— one of the quirkiest in the country. BPU has finished no lower than 11th in the F.B.S. in forcing turnovers in each of the last three seasons, coinciding exactly with the tenure of Bill Young as coordinator. It's bend-but-not-break, perhaps with more bending than is good for Cowboy fans' stomach acid levels. BPU created 44 turnovers last season— the nation's best— and is in no way going to match that total this season. Outside of the new faces starting at defensive end, it's a familiar cast in Stillwater.
The defensive line is looking for two new ends trying to fill the gaps left by departing senior starters Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick. One competitor for the new spots is former linebacker Tyler Johnson. Another is senior Nigel Nicholas, who moved outside from the tackle position. Johnson and Nicholas are competing with senior Cooper Bassett to start. JUCO transfer Ryan Robinson is expecting to start opposite the winner of the Nicholas/Johnson/Bassett battle.
Another JUCO transfer looks to start in the middle, Calvin Barnett. Next to him in the Cowboys' 4-3-4 rotate junior Anthony Rogers and sophomore Christian Littlehead. This is one of the Big 12's best interior lines.
Behind them, with one exception, it's all returning players. The linebackers are Shaun Lewis at strongside, Alex Elkins at weakside, and Caleb Lavey in the middle. These gents tallied 125 tackles last season, 15 for losses. They're solid.
The secondary looks for Lavocheya Cooper to replace Markelle Martin, a three year starter and NFL draftee. Shamiel Gary, familiar to Frog fans as a Wyoming transfer and freshman all-American, is the backup. Daytawion Lowe (an all-name team selection) is the returning starting safety. The defense's best player is cornerback Broderick Brown, playing opposite Justin Gilbert. Brown intercepted five passes last season.
There may be no weirder team, perception-wise, than BPU. Some pollsters love them— the Football Outsiders guys vote them 5th in the country, and project no dropoff offensively for them. (Really!) On the other end of the spectrum is the indispensable Pre-Snap Read, which ranks the Cowboys 32nd, and calls 2012 a season to consolidate gains, and prepare for an outburst in 2013.
Here at Wimplehaus we look for the Cowboys to fall closer to Myerberg's expectations than the Football Outsiders.' This will be TCU's first truly difficult road trip, but if the Frogs' linebackers are not a detriment to the defense, TCU will win.