Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy hasn't had to explain to his team how difficult its season opener will be.
Instead, he showed players film of Mississippi State and let them "make those decisions on their own."
The 13th-ranked Cowboys open the season on Saturday against the Bulldogs in Houston at Reliant Stadium.
The game represents a big step up in competition for both teams compared to last year's openers. The Cowboys crushed Savannah State 84-0 in 2012 while Mississippi State beat Jackson State 56-9.
It's also an opportunity for Oklahoma State to knock off a program from the mighty Southeastern Conference. Even though the Bulldogs aren't considered a top-tier team in the SEC, they've been to three straight bowl games and have turned into consistent winners under fifth-year coach Dan Mullen.
"I think the players know what they're into by watching tape," Gundy said. "Last year, we never tried to convince them of anything (about Savannah State) other than what was up. We needed to try to perform at our highest level and not concern ourselves with who we're playing. This year, we have the advantage of playing a good football team."
The Cowboys' high-tempo offense should be quite a challenge for Mississippi State, which has three new starters in the secondary. Oklahoma State will likely use two quarterbacks — senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh — against the Bulldogs.
Oklahoma State is debuting two new coordinators on the coaching staff — Mike Yurcich for the offense and Glenn Spencer for the defense.
Yurcich is charged with continuing the Cowboys' prolific offensive success. Oklahoma State has averaged 46.2 points per game over the past three seasons.
"Mississippi State is going to be a challenge because they're a very good team," Yurcich said. "They're tough and they're physical. We're just excited to get out there and play somebody that's not wearing orange."
Mississippi State has won four straight openers by a wide margin under Mullen. The Bulldogs return veteran quarterback Tyler Russell, who threw for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. LaDarius Perkins is also back after rushing for 1,024 yards in 2012.
But there are many more questions on defense, especially considering so many young players will be trying to stop Oklahoma State's prolific spread offense.
"For us, it's about executing, being at the right place at the right time," Mullen said. "When you're playing a team that's going to spread it out all over the field, the thing that's important is open-field tackling."
Five things to watch in the Oklahoma State-Mississippi State matchup:
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE TEMPO: Oklahoma State's offense would like to move at a quick pace, spread the field and get this game into the 40s. Mississippi State would like to set a slower tempo and keep the game in the 20s. Whichever team can impose its will is much more likely to come out victorious.
EYES ON STEWART: Oklahoma State returns WR Josh Stewart, who led the Cowboys with 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. He'll try to feast on Mississippi State's young secondary, which will have three new starters this season, including both cornerbacks.
A TWO QB SYSTEM THAT COULD WORK: Oklahoma State will likely use two quarterbacks against Mississippi State and both are good options. Senior Clint Chelf completed better than 60 percent of his passes for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Sophomore J.W. Walsh was good too, completing about 67 percent of his throws for 1,564 yards and 13 TDs.
RUSSELL LEADS THE BULLDOGS: Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell could go down as the most prolific passer in school history with a good senior season. He threw for 2,897 yards last season, including 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, but struggled down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost five of six games.
MSU GOES WITH INEXPERIENCED SECONDARY: Mississippi State's two best cornerbacks from a year ago — Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay — are now in the NFL. So the Bulldogs are now counting on young players like Jamerson Love and Tavese Calhoun to fill the considerable void. Coach Dan Mullen feels they're ready for the challenge, but Oklahoma State is a difficult first test._____
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