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Cornered: MSU's Newcomer Defensive Backs Face Tough Task Against Pokes

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HOUSTON, Texas -

There has still been no word from Cowboy camp on who will line up under center for OSU when it kicks off against Mississippi State on Saturday for the 2013 season opener.

It's reasonable to expect both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh to see time against the Bulldogs, but regardless of who gets the most snaps, their ability to get the ball out to the Cowboys' receivers will be a major factor in realizing OSU's greatest matchup advantage in Houston against an inexperienced pair of MSU corners.

There is no doubt wide receiver is one of the Cowboys' strongest position groups, in all likelihood it's the strongest.

In fact, it has also been argued as one of the deepest receiving corps in all of college football.

Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore headline the group, as both were named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list. Stewart ranked 10th nationally in receptions with 101 for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns, establishing himself as the go-to guy for this Cowboy offense. Moore was projected to be the Pokes' No. 1 guy going into last season but that was derailed by an injury-plagued campaign. He did have a highlight outing that flashed his ability with four touchdowns against Arizona in the second game of the year and his big, physical presence will be a welcomed addition to the lineup.

They will be joined by proven commodities in Austin Hays (394 yds, 2 TDs), Blake Jackson (598 yds, 3 TDs), Charlie Moore (542 yds, 6 TDs) and Blake Webb (14 rec, 218 yds). While that is already an enviable six-deep lineup, it gets better.

C.J. Curry, Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and Jhajuan Seales have all impressed and could vie for some serious playing time, while newcomers Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples could eventually prove to be the best of the bunch behind the Biletnikoff duo.

In summary, there is no shortage of capable, talented receivers with whom to entrust the ball. And this is seriously bad news for Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs lost not one, but both of their starting cornerbacks from a season ago.

The Cowboys return 237 of their 262 receptions and 3,363 yards from their receiving corps; MSU returns two career starts and one interception at its cornerback spots. Advantage: OSU.

Last year, Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay formed arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NCAA. Now Banks plays for Tampa Bay, Slay is with the Lions, and the Bulldogs' new duo of Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun must endure a trial by fire against one of the nation's most potent passing offenses.

MSU certainly has talented defensive backs in Love and Calhoun, as well as, backups Cedric Jiles and Justin Cox, but the lack of overall experience and continuity won't do the Bulldogs any favors against what will likely be the fiercest passing attack they will see in 2013.

Love is the most experienced of the CBs, having started games against Tennessee and Texas A&M last season. At 5-foot-10 and 175-pounds, he will likely draw the most time against Stewart, who is similar in stature and is the Big 12's leading wide out statistically. He would be forced to shift to the inside, but it would make more sense than being physically overmatched against either of the Moore's on the outside (Charlie and Tracy are both 6-foot-2).

Calhoun is more than likely going to line up across from one of the Moore's because of his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame but the Cowboys' size advantages might lead MSU to rely heavily on reserve corner Justin Cox, who stands 6-foot-3, an imposing size for a defensive back.

Naturally, Mississippi State will rely on help from the safeties in pass coverage but the Bulldogs will be breaking in a new starter at strong safety, as well.

Junior Jay Hughes is the new full-time starter at strong safety but has ample experience, having appeared in 26 career games and also started the final three contests of 2012 because of an injury.

Free safety Nickoe Whitley is the lone returning starter in the secondary and finished last season with 88 tackles.

There is little doubt MSU will not bring a talented secondary to Reliant Stadium on Saturday but the lack of starting experience or continuity will be a hurdle for the Bulldogs to overcome against a potent OSU offense that averaged 45.7 points and 547 yards per game a season ago.

The Cowboys are double-digit favorites for a number of reasons, but perhaps none greater or more apparent than this.

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