The Times’ college football countdown: No. 16 Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State will contend again for the national title, just not in 2012.

The Cowboys missed the last national title game by 86 thousandths of a point in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.

That’s right, Oklahoma State was 86’d.

We’re not here to regurgitate the debate of whether Oklahoma State deserved to play Louisiana State instead of Alabama. Let Bayou-gones be Bayou-gones.


Why take this any farther down the field than LSU did in the title game against Alabama?

The bottom line is that Oklahoma State had a great season, defeated Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, and announced recently it is not competing for this season’s BCS crown.

It wasn’t a formal announcement on company letterhead, but Coach Mike Gundy said as much with his decision to start a first-year freshman, Wes Lunt, at quarterback.

That gives Oklahoma State a shot to get back to the Phoenix area for a postseason game. Only this time it would be the Insight Bowl.

No team that has started the season with a first-year freshman quarterback has won the national title. We warned USC fans in 2009 to lower expectations after Pete Carroll named Matt Barkley the starter. USC finished 9-4 with Barkley throwing for 15 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. USC went to the Emerald Bowl.

Now, no coach with T. Boone Pickens as a fundraiser is going to concede a championship run before the season starts, but that’s what Gundy has effectively done.

And it’s OK. Carroll’s move in 2009 gave Barkley valuable experience in advance of this year’s charge to the top.

Gundy knows he can’t, in one swoop, replace quarterback Brandon Weeden.

“Experience is important because the quarterback controls so much on the field,” Gundy said recently of what he expects out of the position. “And the only way to get better is through experience.”

Enter Lunt, an early enrollee — like Barkley — who won the job in spring practice.

Oklahoma State, which is foundationally sound, will handle the transition. The Cowboys seem programmed to win eight or nine games. If Gundy stays with Lunt, though, there will be growing pangs.

“We opened it up for three guys and he was the best one at the end of spring ball,” Gundy said.

Oklahoma State also must replace receiver Justin Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner. The Cowboys hope to do it by committee. “We’re not trying to replace Blackmon,” Kasey Dunn, the team’s receivers coach, said recently. “We’re trying to replace his numbers.”

Two years ago, faced with the prospect of replacing star back Kendall Hunter, the Cowboys used the tag team of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith to combine for 1,862 yards and 33 touchdowns. Both runners return.

Oklahoma State has seven home games — including stops by Savannah State and Louisiana Lafayette — to pad its win-loss record and get its young quarterback ready for a national title run in 2014.

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State.