So I haven’t really paid much attention to OSU sports here in the past couple months. Gave a passing glance to the Big 12 baseball season, kept an eye on the NCAA golf championship. But it’s the dog days of sports, you know? I’d take a beer in the backyard sun over a message board conversation debating the merits of the song “Cowboys 4Ever” any time. Then this week, something clicked. I found myself all the sudden thinking about football season. I searched for the latest stories. Watched a compilation video of last year’s season (which by the way is funny because of the way they gloss over losses, especially when you lose in a bowl game). I even watched a couple videos of possible OSU recruits (Hello J.W. Walsh!). Point being, I’m now fully fired up for football season.
In all my reading, though, there was one thing that repeatedly made me do double-takes: references to the “explosive” offense OSU will have this season. Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than for OSU to wrack up the points this season. But this is OSU football, people. Assuming the team will be good in any area could come back to bite you. Either way, it got me thinking. Will OSU’s offense be any good next year? My first inclination is to say no. Too much change and too much inexperience. As I weighed the pros and cons, though, I started to believe it’s not an open-and-shut case.
First, let’s look at the reasons why you can’t just assume the offense will be explosive next year.
1. Massive inexperience on the offensive line. I know the Dana Holgorsen offense calls for getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, and so maybe that will alleviate a little bit of pressure for the line, but it can’t fix everything. This is a big red flag area.
2. A quarterback who has played about one game combined in his college career. Don’t get me wrong, Brandon Weeden absolutely saved OSU’s Cotton Bowl chances against Colorado last year, but he’s still not really proven anything. He looked great against the likes of Colorado and Grambling, but neither defense had the words “steel” or “curtain” in their nicknames. Plus, when was the last time he actually played any number of consecutive football games? Eight years ago? Plus, he left baseball because of an arm problem, which mysteriously doesn’t bother him when he throws a football. Well what if he’s throwing 1,000 passes each week in Holgorsen’s pass-wacky offense? Then how will the arm hold up? I’ve had just about enough of injury-armed OSU quarterbacks, thank you very much.
3. There’s not really a dominant, or even highly regarded, wide receiver on the team. No one really stepped up to be the man when Dez Bryant got the boot last year. Is anyone more likely to step up now? This is an offense that needs a lot of people to be sure-handed. Not sure those people are on campus.
4. We saw what happened last time OSU brought in a new-fangled offense. The first year in the Mike Gundy/Larry Fedora era was one to remember. If you like remembering the feeling of beating Montana State 15-10 and going on the finish 4-7. Well Holgorsen’s offense is even more new-fangled and complex than what Fedora was trying to do. Another red flag.
So those are the possible negatives. It’s a pretty strong case when you add it up. The funny thing is, when you look at the counterpoints to those arguments, you can actually make a pretty strong case the other way.
1. The offensive line features only one returning starter, but the fivesome will be rounded out by guys who were at least No. 2 on the depth chart last season. So maybe not a lot of starting experience, but a good amount of snaps. Plus, coach Joe Wickline has become known for assembling cohesive units up front. And if the line isn’t called on for extended pass protection plays or smash-mouth power rushing, that could mask some issues that might exist.
2. Yes, Weeden is unproven in the grand scheme of things, but when he has gotten in, he’s looked really go0d. The game-winning touchdown pass against Colorado was a thing of beauty; rolling out, throwing on the run off his back foot and lofting the ball perfectly to the corner of the endzone. And this wasn’t any short throw, either. The play was scored as a 28-yard touchdown pass, but the ball traveled about 45 yards in the air. Weeden was everyone’s choice — except for Gundy — to be Zac Robinson’s backup last year, based on his arm strength and demeanor. Given the chance, he excelled. So what’s to say he won’t excel now, in a quarterback-friendly offense?
3. Perhaps no wide receivers stepped up last year, but no wide receiver really had the chance to step up. They all started the year knowing they weren’t the man. None of them really had the chance to build a rapport with Robinson in spring or fall camp, because everyone knew the only rapport that counted was the one between Robinson and Bryant. And none really had a chance to catch too many passes in the first few games of the year, since Robinson threw almost exclusively to Bryant. But this season, OSU might not even need one receiver to be the man. They just need three or four to be dependable when called upon. Plus, if you believe, like I do, that Kendall Hunter is a special talent, getting him 25 to 35 touches a game should be mandatory, further taking pressure off the wide receivers.
4. OSU isn’t the only team to struggle when installing a new offense — just look at Michigan and Auburn in the past few years. Heck, Auburn even fired its offensive coordinator half-way through his first year when his offensive scheme didn’t set the SEC on fire. So why will OSU be different this year? Because Holgorsen’s offenses have been absolute machines in his first year in charge. During the 2007 Texas Tech season, Holgorsen’s first and only as offensive coordinator there, the Red Raiders averaged 40.1 points per game, putting 75 on the board in one game. During Houston’s 2008 season, Holgorsen’s first as OC there, the Cougars did better, averaging 40.6 points per game, including one 70-point outburst. By comparison, in 2005, the first year with Fedora at the controls, OSU averaged 20.2 points a game. But 2005 was Gundy’s first year, as well, so not only was the team adjusting to a new offensive scheme, they were adjusting to a new everything. There’s much more continuity and familiarity in the program now, and that should aide what Holgorsen’s trying to do. Not only that, as time has proven, Fedora wasn’t blessed with what you would call the world’s most accurate passer to run his offense in 2005. Holgorsen may have an edge if the Weeden that we’ve seen proves to be the Weeden we see every week.
So there you have it. Four good reasons why the offense may struggle, and four good arguments why it could click. When I add it all up, I think there’s a good chance the “explosive” tag might not be too far off.
Wait a minute, did I just get hooked in again with dreams of OSU football greatness? Sometimes with OSU football, if you don’t have optimism, you don’t have much else.