With the 2017 season (finally) approaching we’re analyzing the situation in the Big 12. We’re here to breakdown every team and give you our 2017 outlook.
Let’s get going.
STADIUM: Boone Pickens Stadium (1920)
SEATING CAPACITY: 56,790
2017 RECRUITMENT RANKINGS: 38th (4th in Big 12)
ALL-TIME RECORD vs. TEXAS TECH: 20-21-3
Watching a white screen without knowing how to start your article is frustrating. When you have clear ideas about following paragraphs but you just can’t start is even more disheartening.
The reason for this mental vacuum is the evaluation of the Cowboys’ past season. Many teams would be proud and glad about a 10-victory season, even more than this if it’s the fifth in the last seven, but the “loss” against Central Michigan and the bad day of Mason Rudolph against Baylor are two wounds that hurt. I don’t want to belittle the considerable win against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, but I’m convinced that a BCS Bowl was possible.
On the other hand, Oklahoma State survived many scary situations, achieving a 4-0 record in one-possession games, and we must sadly recall that the Cowboys won against Texas Tech only because Clayton Hatfield missed the game-tying extra point late in the fourth quarter.
In addition, the team of Mike Gundy scored the winning touchdown with only 88 seconds to go against Pittsburgh, rallied from a 17-point deficit against Oklahoma State and from a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Kansas State. So the record could really be worse.
Apart from these considerations, we can say that Oklahoma State showed one of the funniest offenses in the country, led by one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the FBS, Mason Rudolph. The Cowboys scored 38.6 points, ranking 17th in the nation, with the passing game being the most important part.
The counterpart to this brilliant offense was a weak defense that suffered on many occasions and that in eight occasions conceded 30 or more points.
With a healthy dose of realism, we can expect 2017 Oklahoma State to be very similar to the 2016 version, maybe even with an extremization of the two parts of the team, as the offense looks brighter and the defense has some players to replace and some major issues to fix.
The offense really is of the funniest units of college football, as the passing game returns almost intact and the running game found an unexpected consistency late in 2016.
Rudolph comes to his final year in Stillwater as one of the less turnover-prone quarterbacks in the nation, with only four picks in 448 throws. He has a good size, an above average arm strength, and is effective with every kind of throw. The senior is also one of the most hyped players on the path to the NFL. With another good season, he can legitimately be included among the top five quarterbacks to enter the draft.
After many years of struggles, the backfield found again a 1,000-yard running back who could follow the footsteps of Joseph Randle and his 2012 season. The player was Justin Hill, and his performance was even more impressive because he was the first true freshman to reach this milestone. He doesn’t have a clear backup yet, but one is expected to emerge among the various players actually on the roster.
James Washington is the best wide receiver on the team as well as another appreciated player among NFL scouts. He is on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and will lead a unit that includes also the reliable Jalen McCleskey and the sizeable Marcell Ateman, who missed all 2016 with an injury and is expected to be again an important contributor.
There is hype also around former five-star recruit Tyron Johnson, who occasionally played for LSU in 2015 before deciding to transfer.
Another transfer, the armchair Aaron Cochran (6-foot-8, 350 pounds) is requested to produce immediately, as he is the natural replacement for left tackle Victor Salako, who graduated. Cochran, a Cal senior transfer, will join an offensive line that had many problems in the past season, allowing 32 sacks.
The defense loses many important contributors and will probably have some problems finding new balances. The decimated secondary will at least rely on two experienced safeties, Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards, while the cornerbacks are a big question mark. Clemson transfer Adrian Baker will be in the mix, but he has not earned a starting spot yet.
The front seven loses some key pieces too, particularly in the pass rush, but the depth is almost intact, with many experienced returning players who had significant playing time in past years.
The last word is for the kicker, as four-year starter Ben Grogan graduated and has to be replaced, probably by sophomore Matt Ammendola.
3-0 is likely the record that the Cowboys will have after three games, but the attention should always be high because Tulsa is a real scoring machine, South Alabama killed Mississippi State in 2016 and Pittsburgh is always an ACC team, despite being affected by many discipline problems that hit the defense.
After this, TCU is the first conference opponent and will immediately be a tough test with a direct rival for the Big 12 Championship.
Among the 11 projected starters on offense, seven - and the most impactful, like Rudolph, Washington, and Ateman - are seniors, so there is a clear picture of a window slowly closing in the sky over Stillwater.
The Cowboys can really contend for a spot in the Championship, but the defense should improve a little bit to reach this goal, and that’s not a given fact.