STILLWATER — Mike Gundy thinks it’s a bit unfair to compare Oklahoma State’s wide receivers this season to former first-round NFL Draft picks Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.
What the Cowboys lack in proven top talent, though, they might just make up for in depth.
It’s been a few years since Bryant and Blackmon starred at Oklahoma State, where they blitzed Big 12 Conference defenders with their rare combination of size, speed and ability to beat defenses. This season, the Oklahoma State coach said the Cowboys have as many as a dozen wide receivers on the roster who are capable of starting, and he has a proven commodity in junior Josh Stewart.
“We may be as good at that position as we ever have been without having maybe a potential first-round guy that would be in the senior class,” Gundy said.
Oklahoma State’s receivers have the chance this season to be a collective unit instead of a one-man show. The Cowboys return their top four from last season, and Stewart could do something that Blackmon accomplished twice during his time in Stillwater.
Stewart and Oklahoma State senior Tracy Moore were named to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s top receiver. Blackmon won the award in 2010 and 2011, and Bryant was a runner-up for it in 2008.
“Coming in last season, all I wanted to do is . whatever I had to do when I had the ball to help my team out and that’s the mindset I had,” Stewart said. “It seemed like a small thing, but it turned out big.
“Look where I’m at now. I’m not going to change that mindset because there’s no need to change it.”
The Cowboys’ high-powered offense has a way of producing 1,000-yard receivers regardless of who’s taking snaps at quarterback. That was evident during Stewart’s breakout sophomore season in 2012.
He emerged as one of the nation’s leading receivers with 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns, doing so despite having three different quarterbacks throw passes to him last year.
Stewart’s 1,210 yards were the third-most by a sophomore in Oklahoma State history, trailing only Blackmon’s school-record 1,782 yards in 2010 and Bryant’s 1,480 yards in 2008.
“The inside guys are really talented. You have Josh Stewart and (sophomore) David Glidden,” Oklahoma State wide receivers coach Jason Ray said. “We flop those guys around and have gotten away from the inside and outside receiver thing to make them interchangeable.
“Overall, the group is a pretty strong, focused group.”
Stewart said he spent the summer taking part in offseason workouts in Stillwater instead of returning to his hometown of Denton, Texas. And he expects his productivity to continue with whichever quarterback Gundy names the starter.
Oklahoma State senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh are competing in practice to start the Aug. 31 season opener against Mississippi State in Houston. Stewart has said it doesn’t matter to him which quarterback gets the starting job since both showed last year that they can make plays.
Stewart, who’s smaller in stature than Bryant and Blackmon at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, has kept his focus on becoming a more complete receiver.
“Of course I’ve got to work on a few things. I’m not perfect,” Stewart said. “I’ve got a lot to work on, but other than that I’m going to keep the same mindset, play hard like I always do and do what’s the best I can for the team.”
Stewart and Moore were on pace to be one of the nation’s top receiving tandems last season before Moore suffered an ankle injury in a 20-14 win over Kansas on Oct. 13.
The Tulsa native was suspended for last year’s season opener against Savannah State, but he returned to catch eight passes for 106 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona.
Gundy has said that, aside from running back Joseph Randle, Moore was “our best player on offense” prior to his ankle injury. And Moore is back for a fifth year at Oklahoma State, though he doesn’t feel saddled with pressure to perform.
“I would rather be underrated than overrated,” Moore said. “So, being under the radar, there is nowhere to go but up really.”