DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 4th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Boone Pickens Stadium (60,218) -- Stillwater, Oklahoma. Television: FSN. Home Record: WSU 0-0, OSU 0-0. Away Record: WSU 0-0, OSU 0-0. Neutral Record: WSU 0-0, OSU 0-0. Conference Record: WSU 0-0, OSU 0-0. Series Record: Washington State leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Oklahoma State Cowboys kick off a season-opening four-game homestand this weekend, as they welcome the Washington State Cougars to Stillwater for a non-conference clash at Boone Pickens Stadium.
The Cowboys turned in a solid 2009 campaign, but it didn't end so kindly with a 27-0 defeat at rival Oklahoma and a 21-7 loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl. With just a handful of starters back from that 9-4 squad, OSU enters 2010 with something to prove. Sixth-year coach Mike Gundy has turned the program into a consistent winner and despite the significant losses, the Cowboys could still have enough to return to a bowl game. A friendly schedule, which includes four straight home games to start the season, will also help the Cowboys in their quest for another winning campaign.
WSU meanwhile, has yet to get anything going under head coach Paul Wulff, who is just 3-22 after two seasons with the Cougars. Injuries and a lack of talent led to a 1-11 finish in 2009, which included a nine-game losing streak to end the campaign. The healthy return of many players and a cast recruited by Wulff give the Cougars some hope, but they have a lot to prove after being mostly dominated during the last two years.
The Cougars lead the all-time series with the Cowboys by a 2-1 count, but OSU won the most recent meeting, a 39-13 decision in the 2008 season-opener for both squads.
WSU was simply dreadful on offense last season, ranking 119th in the nation in both scoring (12.0 ppg) and total yards (248.6 ypg), so there is nowhere to go but up in 2010. If the Cougars are to complete a major turnaround, they will need quarterback Jeff Tuel to take the next step. Last season, Tuel became only the second true freshman ever to start at quarterback for WSU, throwing for 789 yards with six touchdowns and five picks. He took his lumps and gained valuable experience along the way, and the Cougars are now hoping that pays off this season.
Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone were the top two targets for WSU last season, combining for 74 catches and 870 yards, and their return should only help Tuel be successful.
The ground game, which averaged a pathetic 70.7 ypg a year ago, lacks options however, and needs to be vastly improved to help take some of the pressure off the young gunslinger.
Just like the offense, the defense for WSU abysmal last season and ranked last in the nation by allowing a whopping 512.0 total ypg. The defensive front needs to be better, simply put, after allowing an eye-popping 5.9 yards per carry and 35 rushing touchdowns last season. Sophomore Travis Long (4.5 sacks) and six-year veteran Kevin Kooyman will anchor the end positions, meanwhile, JC transfer Brandon Rankin is expected to start at tackle after a strong spring.
Alex Hoffman-Ellis highlights the returnees at linebacker and he paced the defense with 84 stops a year ago.
After posting 57 stops last season, safety Chima Nwachukwu returns as the most experienced player for a secondary, which will get a boost from three players who missed last year with injuries.
The Cowboys suffered significant losses on offense, so some new faces are needed to step in and produce immediately. Standout quarterback Zac Robinson is one key player that needs to be replaced and OSU is turning to Brandon Weeden to fill those big shoes. The 26-year-old former New York Yankee farmhand rallied the Cowboys in a 31-28 win over Colorado late last season and will now be counted on to produce each week.
The receiving corps lacks star power, but Weeden should get help from a solid ground attack that features a dynamic runner in Kendall Hunter. Slowed by injuries last season, Hunter managed just 382 yards and scored only a single touchdown. The hope is he is able to return to his 2008 form when he produced 1,555 yards and 16 scores, although that may be difficult with only one starter welcomed back along the offensive line.
The OSU defense finally improved some last season, but eight starters are now gone, leaving the Cowboys with a rebuilding project. Up front, both ends are welcomed back in Ugo Chinasa and Jamie Blatnik. The duo combined for eight sacks and will need to do better now that they are being counted on even more.
At linebacker, the Cowboys should receive a nice boost with the return of Orie Lemon, who was awarded a medical redshirt for a torn ACL last season. He is expected to be the leader of this group.
Markelle Martin is the lone holdover in the secondary and he posted 45 stops a year ago.
The Cowboys have a lot of questions to answer and they could find some of those answers this weekend. The Cougars still lack the same kind of talent and that will allow OSU to prevail on its home field this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma State 42, Washington State 20