Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy knows it's a year of transition for his offense in 2012, but he hasn't been shy about setting the expectations high for the Cowboys' other unit.
Gundy called this group of linebackers “the best group…that we've had here that I can remember, as a player or coach.”
All three starters -- senior Alex Elkins (90 tackles) and juniors Shaun Lewis (61 tackles) and Caleb Lavey (74 tackles) -- return, as does key reserve Joe Mitchell. Redshirt freshman Ryan Simmons and sophomore Nico Ornelas are two young players the coaching staff has high hopes for.
“We have more players who can run fast and have natural savvy to make a play,” Gundy said. “I see a very competitive position with a number of guys that can make plays. Some of them are experienced. Some of them aren't.”
I remember sitting down with Gundy for awhile after the Bedlam win against Oklahoma, and he mentioned something to the effect of, "We've got some athletes around here now that we haven't had at Oklahoma State in a long time -- maybe ever."
For the defense, that could pay off this season while the offense finds its stride.
We've already seen Oklahoma State build an offense without superstar recruits, but on defense?
Oklahoma State has just as many -- more in 2011, actually -- top recruits on the defensive side of the ball than Oklahoma, which has provided a benchmark of success in the Big 12 for every other program.
Last season, Oklahoma State gave up a lot of yards, but forced 44 turnovers -- five more than any team in the country. In 2010, it forced 34 turnovers, fifth-most nationally.
If OSU starts slowing offenses and forcing turnovers? Look out.
This season's defense returns eight starters, but it's the depth that has Gundy excited.
"We have a number of young players that can really contribute and help us on that side of the ball,” Gundy told the paper. "It's always been a goal of ours to get enough depth to play a number of guys, like we have on offense. I see this as the first spring that we've really had that opportunity."
Seems like that's worked well for the offense. Could this season be the beginning of big things for the defense? And, perhaps, the beginning of a new dynasty in the Big 12?
If the defense is as good as Gundy believes it can be, and the offense picks up anywhere close to where it left off in 2011, you better believe that's where the Cowboys are headed.