Oklahoma State had a lot of question marks going into this season, but at the halfway point, most of those question marks have been replaced by exclamation points. Kendall Hunter ranking fifth nationally in rushing is not a surprise. Brandon Weeden ranking sixth nationally in passing is, and that explains how the Cowboys have started the season 6-0 this season. And if Weeden is nationally ranked, you have to figure his receivers are as well. Justin Blackmon leads the nation with an incredible 159 yards a game. How incredible is that number? If Blackmon somehow fails to gain a yard this week, his average would still lead the nation. And if you try to lock down on those guys, there's always freshman running back Joseph Randle to pick up the slack.
Defensively, the Cowboys have regressed a bit this season; that's not a surprise considering their losses from last season. The Cowboys rank 73rd nationally in scoring defense and 92nd in total defense. But last week, they held Texas Tech to 17 points in Lubbock, led by safety Johnny Thomas.
The Cowboys do rank 36th nationally in rushing defense, which means that the strength of the Cowboys defense matches up with the strength of the Nebraska offense. This week's matchup looks like the Blackshirts toughest test of the season thus far. Against Washington and Kansas State, Nebraska was able to make the opponent one-dimensional, but that's not likely to happen this week.
When I previewed this game in August, I thought this was a potential trap game between Texas and Missouri. Well, Nebraska choked against Texas, and now the Cowboys look pretty darn potent. They should have the Huskers full attention this week. Nebraska won't be able to make even a fraction of the mistakes they made last week, because Oklahoma State can - and will - find a way to exploit those mistakes.
After the jump, you can review our original preview of the Cowboys.
The last time Nebraska and Oklahoma State met on the football field might have been the low point of Nebraska football since before Bob Devaney arrived in Lincoln. The Huskers came out onto the field listless, and went back into the locker room trailing 38-0 at halftime. 48 hours later, Steve Pederson was fired, and setting the stage for the return of Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has been quietly becoming a consistent winner in the Big XII South. Four straight bowl games are a first for the Cowboys. But with only 10 returning starters, there are serious questions about how well the Cowboys will do in 2010. Add in a new offensive coordinator in Dana Holgorsen, and this season looks like it'll start out as a transition year.
Brandon Weeden only played in three games last season, most notably bringing the Cowboys back from behind against Colorado when Zac Robinson was injured. Weeden spent several years playing minor league baseball before enrolling at Oklahoma State; he'll celebrate his 27th birthday a week before the Huskers come to Stillwater.
His most experienced receiver is junior Hubert Anyiam, who was the leading receiver in 2009 with 42 catches for 515 yards and three touchdowns after Dez Bryant was suspended. Look for sophomore Justin Blackmon to step up as well; he pulled in 20 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman.
The lone returning star on offense for the Cowboys is running back Kendall Hunter. An all-American in 2008, Hunter was injured early in the 2009 season and only started two games. But in 2008, he was the Big XII's leading rusher with 1555 yards (averaging 6.5 yards a carry) and 16 touchdowns. Hunter will have to earn his yards the hard way in 2010, as only sophomore right guard Lane Taylor returns as a starter. Left tackle Nick Martinez did see action in 12 games last season; he has the unenviable task of trying to replace all-American Russel Okung.
The Cowboys defense has even more holes with only four returning starters, led by senior defensive end Ugo Chinasa. Chinasa led the Cowboys last season with 6.5 sacks. Junior Jamie Blatnick is expected to start on the other side; in five starts last season, he had 28 tackles. Senior defensive tackle Chris Donaldson played in the final 12 games of the season, but only amassed nine tackles. He'll likely start in the middle.
Linebacker Orie Lemon redshirted last season after tearing an ACL days before the season opener. In 2008, Lemon was the second leading tackler on the team with 90. If he's healthy, he'll be a solid anchor in the middle. He'll be flanked by 5' 11" 209 lb. junior James Thomas and 6'1" 236 lb. senior Justin Gent, who were reserves last season. Watch for reshirt freshman LeRon Furr to jump into the mix here as well as the season goes on.
Junior Markelle Martin took over the starting job at strong safety in week three, and is the only returning starter in the secondary. The expected starter at free safety is 5'11" junior Johnny Thomas, who has also run track for the Cowboys. Sophomore corners Brodrick Brown and Aundrae May may lack experience, but also have athletic skills to burn.
Defensive coordinator Bill Young made quite an improvement last season in the Cowboys defense, moving them up from 94th in total defense to 31st. So while he lacks in returning experience, he has a track record of improving defenses, and in the secondary, he's got a good nucleus of talent to build on.
With all of the question marks at Oklahoma State, it looks like Nebraska has a reasonable chance to win their first (and last) Big XII conference game in Stillwater this season. In 1998, the game was moved to Kansas City, where the Huskers won 24-17 with a last second defensive stand at the goalline. In 2002, the Cowboys won 24-21 and in 2006, Nebraska squandered a 16-0 lead in the second quarter, letting the Cowboys go on a 41-7 run to win decisively. However, this game is sandwiched between Texas and Missouri on the schedule, making it an easy game to overlook.