Oklahoma State Cowboys
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
2015 Record: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Big 12
2015 Bowl Result: Lost to Ole Miss 48-20 in the Sugar Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 10 offense, 7 defense
Odds to Win 2017 College Football Championship Game: 75/1
Odds to Win 2016 Big 12 Championship: 7/1
Regular Season Wins: under 8 1/2 -145 / over 8 1/2 +115
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Last season, many thought the Oklahoma State Cowboys would be better than they were in 2014 with a mediocre 7-6 rebuilding season. Oklahoma State certainly improved and won 10 games in 2015. The problem was they lost their last three games to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl by double digits. Still, Oklahoma State entered the Bedlam game against Oklahoma with a chance at winning at least a share of the Big 12 title. This season, the Cowboys look to again contend for the Big 12 title with 17 starters returning for coach Mike Gundy.
Here is a look at the Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams as well as an analysis of the schedule.
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In 2015, the Cowboys had an explosive offense with 480 total yards including 353 passing yards per game and also averaged 40 points a game. This was despite having virtual no running game. While the Cowboys were #22 or better in the aforementioned categories, they were #114 out of 128 teams in rushing nationally. That must improve in 2016. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich does get ten starters back though.
Junior quarterback Mason Rudolph showed flashes of brilliance in 2014 when he had to play the last three games because of injuries. Last year, he took over as the starter and improved as a sophomore. He completed 62.3% of his passes for 3,770 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Longtime starter J.W. Walsh took more than a few snaps per game especially in the red zone. He completed 67.1% of his passes for 787 yards with 13 touchdowns and 1 interception, and also rushed for 359 yards on 77 carries with 13 touchdowns. Walsh has graduated and the pressure will be on Rudolph to shoulder more of the load and be more consistent. Rudolph underwent foot surgery in late November and missed the bowl game. He is fully healed though. Taylor Cornelius and John Koler are competing for the back-up job.
It usually isn’t good when your second leading rusher is a part time quarterback. The Cowboys were awful in the ground game. Yes, the passing game was firing on all cylinders, but by the end of the season defenses had figured out the Cowboys’ one-dimensional offense. Chris Carson looks to improve from last year when he had 131 carries for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with 17 catches. Rennie Childs will get most of the back-up carries. Although, the running game received a boost when graduate transfer Barry Sanders, Jr. decided to move from Stanford to the school where his father won the Heisman Trophy almost 30 years ago. Raymond Taylor left the program and it was announced he would transfer to Tulsa last month.
The Cowboys have a talented group of veteran receivers. James Washington returns as the go to receiver after making 53 catches for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. David Glidden had 57 catches last year but now with the Atlanta Falcons. Marcell Ateman returns but is out until October after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason. He had 45 catches for 766 yards and 5 touchdowns. Jhajuan Seales, Jalen McCleskey, and Austin Hayes all had at least 18 catches last year and return as well. Cowboy back Blake Jarwin (a hybrid fullback/tight end) could be a larger part of the offense after making 17 grabs last year.
All five starters are back on the offensive line and the unit also added junior college All-American guard Larry Williams. The unit will be anchored by tackles Zachary Crabtree and Victor Salako who have combined for 97 starts. They were decent at pass protection allowing only 32 sacks, but they failed to open up holes for the running game. That must improve in 2016.
The Cowboys were very bad on defense last year allowing 439 yards and 31 points per game. In the last three games, The Cowboys gave up 45 points to Baylor, 58 to Oklahoma and 48 to Ole Miss, all losses. To be fair, the defense suffered some key injuries late in 2015 and grew fatigued. Even during the 10 game winning streak, OSU had to win a lot of shootouts including a 70-53 arena football type score against Texas Tech. Seven starters are back for coordinator Glenn Spencer, but they have to get much better in 2016.
The defense loses All-American end Emmanuel Ogbah, a first round pick of the Cleveland Browns. He had 64 tackles, including 17.5 for loss with 13 sacks. End Jimmy Bean is also gone after making 5.5 sacks last year. Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford will take over as the ends. Cole Walterscheid will also be in the mix at end. Tackles Vincent Taylor and Villi Leveni are both back. Levini missed all of 2015 with a knee injury. Taylor had 48 tackles and 5 sacks last year. Darrion Daniels and Moteklai Malle complete a deep rotation in the interior.
Linebacker Jordan Burton was first team All-Big 12 with 98 tackles last year. He will patrol one of the outside linebacker positions along with Devante Averette. Chad Whitener will start in the middle. Whitener had 93 tackles last year.
Safety Jordan Sterns was also first team All-Big 12 last year. He had 108 tackles and 2 interceptions. He is back along with fellow safety Tre Flowers. Ramon Richards and Ashton Lampkin will be the cornerbacks.
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Kicker Ben Grogan has made 49 field goals in his career but missed some important kicks last year. Punter Zach Sinor averaged over 40 yards per punt and landed 31 inside the 20. He is back for his sophomore season. Jeff Carr averaged over 21 yards per kick return last year, but Sanders could return some kicks as well. McCleskey took one to the house as a punt returner but averaged just 5 yards per return.
Schedule and Outlook
Oklahoma State has five home games in the first six games. They open with Southeast Louisiana, Central Michigan and Pittsburgh at home. The Cowboys open conference play with a trip to Baylor before hosting Texas and Iowa State. The second half of the season includes road trips to Kansas and Kansas State and home games against West Virginia and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State closes the season with a difficult 2 game road trip to TCU and Oklahoma.
If the running game and defense improve, Oklahoma State could be undefeated heading into the showdowns with TCU and Oklahoma. The Cowboys should be favored in each of the first 10 contests with the possible exception of a road trip to Baylor, even though the Bears are reeling from a scandal plagued off-season. I could see Oklahoma State winning 10 games again and perhaps making another appearance in a major bowl.
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