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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Oklahoma State’s New (Old) Look

Oklahoma State isn’t asking Todd Monken, its new offensive coordinator, to reinvent the wheel. If anything, O.S.U. wants Monken to go back into the garage, grab last year’s wheel and get it rolling once again, such as it was during a feel-good 2010 campaign. So Monken will watch some tape, digesting Dana Holgorsen’s effective attack, and keep this train headed in the right direction. That’s the hope, at least.

He has a built-in tutor in senior quarterback Brandon Weeden, who told The Oklahoman that Monken ”came in trying to learn our system. So I’ve spent a lot of time with him, teaching him a little bit,” said Weeden. “He’s really catching on and understanding what we are trying to do.”

What the Cowboys are trying to do is maintain the spread system that led the Big 12 in total, passing and scoring offense by a significant margin a year ago. Doing so will be Monken’s charge; a failure to do so — if even for a single Saturday — will place him firmly under a spotlight, as well as draw the inevitable comparisons to his wildly successful predecessor,

It’s an unfair comparison, if that turns out to occur: few assistant coaches in the country can match Holgorsen, and it’s important to remember that Monken is a relative neophyte to this particular brand of offense, having spent most of his coaching career stressing a more traditional philosophy.

At the same time, there is reason to believe that Monken can catch on. There his experience in the college game — at Oklahoma State, in fact. He served under Les Miles from 2002-4, coaching the receivers and piloting O.S.U.’s passing game. At that time, Monken coached alongside Mike Gundy, with the built-in familiarity between the pair surely one of Monken’s prime draws to his new boss.

While not exactly an ideal scenario — no coach wants to be told what offense to run — the drawbacks to Monken’s new position are far outweighed by the positives. He’ll have a senior quarterback to work with, one who excelled in this offense a season ago; as the above quote illustrates, Weeden’s presence will help speed up Monken’s learning curve.

Then there’s all-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who carries an unparalleled streak of consistency into the 2011 season. With this pair in place, Monken might be able to draw plays up in the dirt — Weeden drops back, Blackmon goes deep, Weeden delivers. There’s also depth and experience up front, which always helps.

Most importantly, not much will change. The coach calling the plays has changed, and the offense might not be as effective making in-game adjustments, thanks to his inexperience in the system, but O.S.U. will still rank among the most potent passing teams in the country.

But as the Cowboys prepare for the start of spring practice, this slight alteration stands as one of the Big 12′s most intriguing storylines. Once again — this is a recurring theme — O.S.U. won’t win games on defense; it will be the offense that wins games for the Cowboys, and in a sense the offense that also loses games, should the group not deliver.

In that vein, despite the leeway he’ll undoubtedly receive during the learning process, the heat is on Monken to deliver. He can rest easy with the thought that he has a full cupboard of talent and experience to work with.

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