Without delving into all the drama that surrounded Wickline's departure, let's dwell on how critical successfully replacing him will be to the continued success of Gundy's vaunted offense.
Enter Bob Connelly.
As can happen with college assistants, Connelly has endured a "nomadic" career, never staying in one place too long. He's got strong connections to Mike Price, whose hiring and firing from Alabama before he ever coached a game is still the stuff of legend. NewsOk posted a great breakdown of Connelly's career activity. But leave no doubt...this is a very tall task.
Bob not only has a completely new system to learn, but also inherits an offensive line suffering from some key departures.
As noted in this earlier post, starting center Jake Jenkins graduated and chose to forego his remaining eligibility. Travis Cross, who found some success late in the season on the right side and supplanted starter Chris Grishby on a couple of occasions, also graduated and left the program.
Out of 16 offensive linemen listed on the spring depth chart, only 6 are upperclassmen. That group will only get younger when 2 recruits show up for fall camp.
|Clute, TX/Brazoswood/Blinn CC
|Cape Coral, FL/Cape Coral
|Deer Park, TX/Deer Park/Trinity Valley CC
|Flowood, MS/Northwest Rankin/Pearl River CC
|Tulsa, OK/Edison/Tulsa CC
|Broken Arrow, OK/Broken Arrow
|Houston, TX/North Shore
|St. Louis, MO/Mary Institute Country Day School
|Bedford, TX/L.D. Bell
The seniors are all vets, but outside of that the Cowboys will be looking for folks to step up. Sophmore Zac Veatch (a converted HS TE) is the only other player with significant game experience on the line. Sophmore Devin Davis could be a key as it appeared that, after a fairly successful freshman season, he might have a spot nailed down last fall until he suffered a season ending leg injury in practice. Sophmore Paul Lewis looks to be the best bet to start at center.
In 2013, OSU was solid in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Offensively there were some struggles early as the unit had to deal with injuries, but as the season progressed and they got healthy things improved drastically. How important are the linemen on either side of the ball? Of the top 10 players for the Cowboys in the spring, as noted by ESPN's Jake Trotter, the top 2 are defensive and offensive linemen.
This season could definitely be different. If Wickline was here we wouldn't even be talking about this, but we now have an unknown at a position that had been a given for 9 years.
The positive out of this? This is a young group, and if they can find some success and depth they will be good for the next 2-3 years.
Connelly is fortunate to have 3 experienced seniors to provide some leadership, but I'll be very interested to see what happens on offense. Wickline was the "bell cow," so to speak, so now where does the leadership land for that side of the ball? Does Gundy have a death grip on the reins? Can Yurcich emerge from the shadows of Gundy and Wickline?
The answers to those questions, and Connelly's ability to get his arms around a new system and a young line, may be THE key to OSU's success in 2014.