By Trinton Mills
The Pass Attack
The one part of OkState’s offense that is getting the most attention is its wide receivers. James Washington, the 2016 All-Big 12 receiver is returning, along with Marcell Ateman, Jalen McCleskey, and LSU transfer Tyron Johnson. Johnson, the 5-star redshirt Sophomore adds length and outside speed to the group. McCleskey, who had 812 receiving yards and 7 TDs last season will be just as involved, if not more involved than last season. He’s one of Rudolph’s favorite targets and is usually the guy to go to when Washington isn’t open. This is arguably the best group of WR in the country, and with a healthy Mason Rudolph this group could cause big trouble in the Big 12 as well as on the national stage.
Too Many Familiar Faces
This isn’t Gundy’s first rodeo and he’s been in this position before. Returning for his 13th season as the OSU head coach, Mike Gundy will have his players in good position for this upcoming season. The Cowboys are returning senior QB Mason Rudolph, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 TDs last season. Also returning is the dominant receiving corps, and Big 12 offensive freshman of the year Justice Hill(RB). Defensively the Cowboys are returning Tre Flowers, Ramon Richards, Chad Whitener, Cole Walterscheid, Jarrell Owens, and Trey Carter. Although there are some questions in the defense, it should be a pretty solid group. Led by Senior Safety Ramon Richards, the Cowboy’s defense is very optimistic and is looking up to the 2017/2018 season. In their last showing against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, the defense held the Buffaloes to only 8 points. They are looking to carry some of that momentum into this season.
Repeat of 2011?
Many people have been comparing this year’s team to the 2011 team that almost made it to the national championship game, and they’re right. The last time the Cowboys returned a stacked offense like this, they blew away the Big 12 and won their first ever Big 12 Championship. Granted they lost to Iowa State, the Cowboys were nearly unstoppable in the conference that year and went on to win the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford in OT. History repeats itself, and the Cowboys have all of the necessary tools for success this season. With an offense even deeper than the 2011 squad, this year’s team should do just as well, if not better than that year. It will take consistency from QB Mason Rudolph, quality play calling from Gundy, and an outstanding season from the defense. It will be a tough journey, but if they execute on all cylinders the possibilities are limitless.
Changes on Defense
Known for their explosive offense, OkState has always struggled in one area on the field, and that’s on defense. Last season the Cowboy defense allowed 26.5 ppg to opponents and gave up almost 3,000 regular season rushing yards and a little over 3,000 passing yards. The loss of Vincent Taylor is a big loss for the Cowboys, and this year’s D-Line has a lot of stepping up to do. With Ramon Richards moving to Safety, other DBs will have to step up this season and fill the role that he left. The running defense will have to step up the most. OSU gave up almost 200 rushing yards per game last season and allowed 22 rush TDs. If the Cowboys want to be successful, they have to fill up the missing spots from last season, and need to do it in a big way.
If there is one thing that the Cowboys are known for, it’s the trap game. That 2011 season, they lost to unranked Iowa State in Ames in a double OT thriller. In the 2016 season, OSU lost to the unranked Central Michigan Chippewas on a very, very controversial last second play. Regardless of what kind of season they have, there always seems to be that one game that slips up. This season, there are a few of those games that seem very possible. The one game that catches the eye of a lot of people is the road game against Pitt. Last season the Cowboys barely survived the Panthers in BPS, escaping with a 45-38 victory. Pitt’s style of play (run dominant) is the exact type of offense that OSU has nightmares about. Linebackers and the D-Line will have to have an outstanding performance if they want to escape this trap game. Another game that should not be overlooked is that September 23rd game at home against TCU. The Horned Frogs are returning 17 starters and have a stacked offense as well. They are one of the teams that will cause a stir in the Big 12 this season, and they will be no easy task to take on in Stillwater.
The elephant in the room that everyone knows, is Oklahoma State’s kryptonite, the Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners have proven to be dominant in the Bedlam series. Since 2000, the Sooners have won 13 out of the 17 meetings between the two. The last two meetings won by the Cowboys were in 2011 and 2014. A victory is due for OSU, but nothing is guaranteed. Year in and year out, Oklahoma comes in and gives it their all in the Bedlam Series and they never show mercy. With returning Heisman finalist QB Baker Mayfield, along with the nation’s best O-Line, this game is certainly not guaranteed. It will take a near perfect game to defeat the Sooners, but it’s not impossible. The defense needs to contain Baker and has to limit the run game as much as possible. If they fail to do so, this game could be a repeat of last year’s Bedlam. In a rivalry game like this, anything is possible and the Cowboys are ready to do whatever it takes to defeat OU.