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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Offensively they're elite but can the defense take the next step?

  • Location: Stillwater, OK.
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Mike Gundy (13th year)
  • Last Years Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Alamo Bowl


Over a large chunk of the Mike Gundy era in Stillwater, elite QB-WR combos have been a constant. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon came agonizingly close to a National Championship Game berth, while Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant set the stage for Oklahoma State's rise. Add to that list the 2017 version: QB Mason Rudolph and wide out James Washington Jr. Both decided to hold off on the NFL for a shot at a Big 12 title and something more. Those two will lead one of the country's most explosive offenses in a conference without any great defenses. If the pair can lead the way, there is no reason to think a conference title or even Playoff berth isn't a real possibility.

Mason Rudolph
Offense: Mason Rudolph was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2014, but has evolved into one of college football's best quarterbacks. The massive, 6'5" signal-caller threw for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, while limiting his turnovers to just four interceptions. He has displayed an arm that can truly make all the throws, and decent mobility (six rushing touchdowns in 2016). The next step for the senior would be to up his play in big games. Rudolph hasn't been a disaster on the big stage by any means, but hasn't been able to get the Cowboys over the top. Sophomore Justice Hill was a notable surprise for Oklahoma State last year, coming out of nowhere to run for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns, giving the Cowboys their best rushing attack in years. Hill's explosiveness and elusiveness will be key in helping shape the OSU offense. He'll be joined in the backfield by redshirt freshman Ja'Ron Wilson and junior Jeff Carr, who should see some opportunities. The Cowboys may boast the best wide receivers corps in the nation, and it is led by Washington Jr. The senior managed 71 receptions, 1,380 yards and ten touchdowns, and was a serious Biletnikoff Award candidate (given to the country's best receiver). Washington isn't the fastest or most explosive, but he's a crisp route runner and has a wide catch radius. He is joined by a tremendous cast of supporting wide outs, including senior Marcell Ateman and junior Jalen McCleskey. McCleskey was second on the team, only behind Washington, with 812 yards and seven touchdowns. His quickness and versatility makes him a tough cover for any type of defender. Ateman was injured all of last season and took a medical redshirt but had 766 receiving yards in 2015 and is very reliable. Also expected to play a key role is LSU transfer Tyron Johnson along with senior Chris Lacy and junior Keenen Brown. Johnson never got the targets he needed to have a breakout season with the Tigers, but should have a big season in the Cowboys' wide-open offense. Lacy has flashed potential throughout his time in Stillwater, while Brown impressed over the spring and is certainly a breakout candidate. On the offensive line, Oklahoma State returns three starters with significant experience. Senior Brad Lundblade is a luxury to have as an experienced center who has a good relationship with Rudolph (key in a shotgun offense) while senior right tackle and sophomore guard Marcus Keyes are both All-Conference candidates. Crabtree is particularly talented, and has started every single game for OSU over the past two seasons. Left tackle is a concern for the 'Pokes, as Victor Salako departs. Cal grad tranfer Aaron Cochran saw plenty of snaps at the position during the spring and has the talent to take over the starting job, while junior college transfer Arlington Hambright could push him.

Chad Whitener
Defense: In the wide-open, pass-happy Big 12, having a great defense is obviously a significant advantage. Oklahoma State's defense isn't at that level yet but the defense is incredibly talented, and could have a special season. The Cowboys run a lot of different looks and are extremely creative, so it will be very intriguing to see who they use that talent in 2017. The defensive line doesn't have a distinguishable star like in years past, but does return plenty of experience. Junior end Cole Walterscheid had 28 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss a year ago and showed enough that Oklahoma State will lean on him heavily this year. On the other side, junior Jarrell Owens has the physical tools to be a force, but is still learning and rounding into a starting role. He did have three sacks last season and could have a big year. Ok. State will miss defensive tackle Vincent Taylor this season, as the athletic linemen departs after leading the Cowboys in sacks in '17, with seven. That significantly weakens their interior but there is young talent waiting in the wings. Junior Darrion Daniels has the athleticism and footwork to be a force this year, but will have to adjust to a starting gig quickly. Senior DeQuinton Osborne, JUCO transfer Fua Leilua and senior Vili Leveni are all expected to see snaps but will still have a tough time replacing Taylor's production. Linebacker Chad Whitener is a blessing for the Cowboys, and one of the better defenders in the conference. The senior's production fell off a little bit in '16 and after recording 93 tackles the year previously, but still played a major role in the defense. Playing at the critical middle linebacker spot, he should have another big year. He'll be joined in the linebacker corps by a number of unproven, but talented, defenders. Junior Justin Phillips had 42 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss last season, and has a very good feel for the game. Sophomore Calvin Bundage and junior Kenneth Edison-McGruder are the favorites to vie for the "Star" linebacker job. Edison-McGruder had 40 tackles in 2016 and displayed a knack for making plays. He could be a dangerous pass rush after bulking up this off-season. Meanwhile, Bundage is very raw but is a hard hitter who loves contact. There is not a ton of depth in the unit, which could push junior college transfer Patrick Macon and other newcomers into larger roles. The Cowboys strength on the defensive end may be their secondary, which is especially impressive at the safety slots. Senior strong safety Tre Flowers had 61 tackles a year ago and got his hand on a ton of passes, with seven pass breakups. Paired with senior free safety Ramon Richards, a converted cornerback, Oklahoma State has two excellent veterans who know their jobs. Richards is exceptionally important, picking off three passes last season and still helping out a ton in coverage. Cornerback is a relative concern, but Oklahoma State was impressed with the play of sophomore Madre Harper during the spring and the athletic corner could be a breakout candidate. Clemson grad transfer Adrian Baker was an important get for the 'Pokes; the former Tiger never played a big role on that defense but has all the tools to be a shutdown CB. Redshirt freshman Rodarius Williams and senior Malik Kearse, a former JUCO transfer, will also be expected to see plenty of snaps at cornerback.

Special Teams: Oklahoma State must break in a new kicker in 2017 after Ben Grogan moves on (19-25 field goals, 60-61 extra points). Grogan wasn't terrific, but proved to be pretty reliable throughout his time in Stillwater. Sophomore Matt Ammendola is the favorite to replace him, but newcomer Jake McClure could push him. Junior Zach Sinor should handle the punting duties after earning All-Conference honors last year.

Oklahoma has ruled the Big 12 with an iron fist over the past two seasons, but the return of Rudolph and Washington has the Cowboys believing they are the team to beat in the conference. They certainly can be, if Rudolph continues to grow and play better in the bigger games, and the defense can improve from being just mediocre to being a significant strength. Those are things that will have to be answered as the season goes on, but a couple things are certain: the Big 12 is pretty soft this year, and the team's non-conference schedule is very easy with the only exception being a road trip to Pittsburgh. That definitely bodes well for the Cowboys, who should be able to be firmly in the hunt for the Playoff all season long.

Player to Watch
Marcell Ateman, WR
While James Washington and Jalen McCleskey will get most of the attention at the receiver position, Ateman should not be overlooked. The sure-handed wide out had 544 yards over his first two seasons with OSU and 766 in 12 starts in 2015 before missing all of last season with injury. When fully healthy, the underrated receiver will play a big role for this offense and should have a superb final year.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)*
2013: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)*
2014: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)*
2015: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)*
2016: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)*

*= Bowl appearance

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