The Oklahoma State Cowboys will take on the reigning national champion Florida State Seminoles on August 30th in the 2014 Cowboys Classic. This game is part of ESPN’s agreement with the Dallas Cowboys to bring an elite game to AT&T Stadium on Labor Day weekend through 2024, and the game will be on ABC at 7:00 pm central time, and College GameDay will be there.
This is a relatively new stage for the Cowboys, as the non-conference scheduling OSU has tossed out in the past few years has been "mediocre," at best. The most notable of the Cowboy non-conference blowouts was an 84-0 thrashing of Savannah State at the start of the 2012-2013 season. Coach Mike Gundy defended the scheduling tactics by expressing that those types of games teach you a lot about your team, and has gone so far as to indicate he doesn’t want top level games scheduled in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
However, Athletic Director Mike Holder has dismissed those feelings and scheduled the Mississippi State game at the beginning of last season ( 21-3 OSU victory), and now a gargantuan matchup with Florida State. The Cowboys are a 17 point underdog according to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, who released the early line for this game as a part of its Games of the Year Promotion. Florida State will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, as they return seven starters on both sides of the ball, and one of those starters is reigning Heisman Trophy winning QB Jameis Winston.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, only return six starters on offense and four on defense. The most notable returning Cowboy is QB J.W. Walsh, who has gone through a roller coaster ride as the signal caller in Stillwater. Gundy will not commit to Walsh as the starter, but he is expected to start. Walsh went from being named co-starter, with then-Senior QB Clint Chelf in camp, to being thrown into the fire in the second series against Mississippi State and playing pretty well, to going 20/47 with two interceptions in a road loss to a very weak West Virginia team. Walsh defenders will say that he threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns, which he did, but one of Walsh’s interceptions was returned 58 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Overall, the entire offense seemed sluggish, averaging just inches per run play. After that game, no one saw much of J.W. as he ended up on the bench for the remainder of the season. Clint Chelf then led the Cowboys to a 7-2 mark the rest of the way, including a masterful 370 yard/ four TD performance against the 4th ranked Baylor Bears.
So naturally, when comparing these two teams, you start behind center. All indications have it that Jameis Winston will not take a step back this season, especially with a year of maturity under his belt. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher knows mostly what he will get out of Winston: a smartly played game, served with a heavy dose of leadership on the side. J.W. Walsh is more of a wildcard at the QB position for OSU. Walsh has shown moments of brilliance and potential, while showing other moments of missed reads and open throws that make you want to rip your eyebrows off one by one.
Even if Walsh come out and plays awesome, the QB position will still most likely favor FSU, but OSU picks up some of the slack in the backfield. The Cowboys feature the running back tandem of Desmond Roland and ascending sophomore Rennie Childs. Childs ran for 189 yards and a touchdown in very limited time as a freshman. However, the real damage in the run game will be done by the senior running back Roland, who ran for 811 promising yards and 13 touchdowns last year in an incomplete season as a starter. The Cowboys are expecting both backs to take a medium sized step forward, as they both now can hold on to designated roles as workhorse and backup.Despite OSU being known as this aerial juggernaut, the Pokes consistently come with a strong and aggressive run game.
Florida State has a few question marks at the running back position as they lost Devonta Freeman to the NFL and James Wilder Jr.. Karlos Williams is expected to carry the load for FSU, but has never fully done so during his time in Tallahassee. OSU has a defined advantage at the running back spot with Roland, who might be poised for a huge game, returning to his native home of Dallas, TX for this game. Last time Roland played in AT&T Stadium in front of a hometown crowd he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and found the endzone. Roland will look to better that performance the secnd time around, and the general feeling is that, with the zone read he and Walsh will run, he may be looking at six to seven yards per carry if everything goes according to plan.
Moving to the receiver position, both teams lack big time experience. For the purposes of this piece, we are going to consider Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, incoming freshman Tyreek Hill as a wide receiver, despite Mike Gundy saying he will play RB/WR this season. Gundy said that Oklahoma State needed to get Hill "15-20 touches a game", indicating that Hill will be a big part of the offense early on. That plays into a bigger storyline facing the OSU receivers: a lack of experience. After Junior WR Josh Stewart bolted for the NFL, the Cowboys were left with a hole at receiver, expected to be filled by Jhajuan Seales. Seales has drawn Justin Blackmon experiences early on, but has yet to take that next step. Seales hasn’t taken that next step yet because he hasn’t been truly given the chance. Seales and Marcell Ateman expect to fill out the edge, but both played only minor roles last season. The Pokes will fill out those primary positions well, but the depth at WR is also an issue. After Seales and Ateman, the Cowboys are left with Branden Sheppard (JR.), CJ Curry (So.), Austin Hays (Jr.), and David Glidden (JR.). Although none are freshmen, neither have ever been a main target at a major FBS level. A lot of question marks need to be filled in, and fast!
Florida State, on the other hand, features many veteran players, including Rashad Greene (Sr.) who is projected as Jameis Winston’s favorite target. The youngest player in FSU’s projected WR rotation is Kermit Whitfield, a sophomore. After Rashad Greene, FSU has older guys who haven’t filled that role yet but the transition should be easier with the best QB in the country behind center.
Winston’s personal protection agency (his offensive line) looks to be one of the best in the country with five seniors projected to start. They will have the definite advantage, but OSU’s offensive line has an interesting situation developing with former OL coach Joe Wickline heading south to join Charlie Strong at Texas. OSU has 3 sophomores and 2 seniors projected to start. FSU has a defensive stud in Mario Edwards that will create problems for OSU, who will surely need to help on him at times. That will be an interesting storyline to watch as the game goes on, because if the Cowboys’ OL gels early, FSU better look out.
Overall as an offense, these teams are pretty even as OSU always manages to throw up 35 points no matter who is out there. The Pokes will most likely have to reach the 40 point mark to win the game, which could either come easy or be impossible based on the way some of those question marks (J.W., Jhajuan, and the Offensive Line) perform.
Moving to the other side of the ball OSU is thin yet again, returning only 4 starters. The Cowboys lose experience in players like Justin Gilbert, Caleb Lavey, and Shaun Lewis that simply cannot be made up before August 30. OSU’s secondary looks poised to be shredded by Jameis Winston, but always seems to have a knack for coming up with the key turnover. The turnovers have been a pattern for OSU in 2011. OSU led the nation in turnover margin on its way to a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory. 2012 saw the Cowboys go 8-5, while struggling to take the ball away. Last season however, showed the Cowboys through to a 10-3 record with turnovers playing a key role. OSU’s defense made big plays last season, like a last minute interception vs Kansas State, but those can only be big plays if the offense doesn’t lose the ball (Michael Sam strip sack on Clint Chelf.)
OSU’s defense will be a bend don’t break defense, and MUST force turnovers, as they don’t have the depth to be a shutdown defensive squad. Florida State’s defense is not awesome, but one to be reckoned with. FSU returns seven starters on defense and looks to further their chemistry with one another. The group will benefit with an entire season together already under their belt. FSU seems to hold a clear advantage on defense, but not an Alabama-Savannah State sized difference.
Special Teams will also be big, with OSU returning both their Kicker and Punter this season with FSU returning both of its as well. The biggest storyline out of there will be Ben Grogan. Grogan struggled a year ago going 13-18 on field goals and 67-68 on extra points. It doesn’t look abysmal on the surface BUT, Grogan was 9-13 in Cowboy wins, but only 2-5 in losses. Grogan will need to be solid, as OSU will need to capitalize on all of its scoring opportunities.
My Pick: Personally I am a huge Oklahoma State fan and would just love to see them go out there and win 82-3, but I think Florida State will prevail 48-38 in this one. Too much offense, and in the big moments, too much defense. Even though it sounds like gibberish coach speak, the turnover battle and the trenches will play a key role in this game, directly effecting the outcome. If this game was played at the end of the season, I think this game would be a field goal game either way, as OSU would benefit more from the extra experience. OSU has a great chance to win this game, especially if J.W. comes out slinging and the OL can keep him upright. Both of those are question marks that we won’t know until 8/30/14 at about 7:30 CT, a half hour into the mammoth game scheduled to be in Jerry World. Seeing Oklahoma State win would be amazing, and the better story, but too much FSU in this one.
P.S. This is my first time really writing anything meant to be "Professional" I guess other than school work so I hope you enjoyed the breakdown of this game through my own personal lens. I’ll be rooting like hell for OSU, but if I had to guess FSU will win, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be repping my orange way before and even further after this game. Pistols Firing! Hope you enjoyed!