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College Football Preview 2019: 25. Oklahoma State Cowboys

25. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Loaded with offensive talent, Cowboys look like biggest challengers to an OU-Texas Big 12 Championship Game

Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Offense: Offense has long ruled the day for Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy and that was certainly the case a year ago, as the Cowboys were 13th in the country in scoring and averaged nearly 500 yards per game. Despite the graduation of Taylor Cornelius at quarterback, this unit looks like it could just be just as strong, maybe even better in some ways.

Who will be the next signal-caller to take command of the offense? It looks like essentially a two-man race between former Hawaii transfer Dru Brown and redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders. Brown is already pretty accomplished, starting two seasons for the Rainbow Warriors and recording 5,273 passing yards, sixth on their all-time list. With that being said, most around the program believe it is only a matter of time before Sanders takes control. The former four-star recruit is an ideal fit for this type of offense, with a huge arm and terrific mobility. He had a strong spring, and could be a major breakout candidate if he is able to fend off the grad transfer.

Breaking in a new feature back will also be of top priority for Oklahoma State but much like the QB spot, they have real upside waiting in the wings. Redshirt sophomore Chuba Hubbard filled in for the now-departed Justice Hill last year due to injury and really impressed. He finished the year with 740 yards and nine touchdowns, the most for any Cowboy freshman in the Mike Gundy era. With the dangerous passing attack always opening up holes, Hubbard can really cause chaos on an outstretched defense. He seems like another guy ready to fully burst on to the scene in a big way.

On the outside, Oklahoma State is equipped with their latest in a long line of wide receiver stars. Junior Tylan Wallace was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2018 after catching 86 passes for 1,491 yards and 12 scores. He doesn't have the size of former OSU studs Justin Blackmon and Dez Bryant, but is quicker and more dangerous with space. It will be a thrilling season in Stillwater if him and Sanders are able to connect as the coaching staff believes they will. Joining Wallace will be fellow junior Dillon Stoner, as well as tight end Jelani Woods. Stoner is a quality No. 2 behind Wallace (48 receptions, 603 yards in '18) who has more size, while Woods seems like he is primed for a huge season. He had two touchdowns last year, but will continue to prove himself as a red zone target.

With all the talent the Cowboys have at the skill positions, their O-Line consistently gets ignored but it should be a strength in 2019. New line coach Charles Dickey has three returning starters to work with, anchored by seniors Marcus Keyes & Johnny Wilson. The big concern will be at left tackle, where junior Dylan Galloway is the favorite to start but is rather inexperienced.

New offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson will take over play-calling duties after former OC Mike Yurcich left for Ohio State. Gleeson is well-regarded around the country as an innovative and creative offensive mind, whose previous stop was Princeton. He'll have fun with this current Oklahoma State offense, which has playmakers at every level.

Defense: The year-in, year-out question for Gundy and the Cowboys is the defense and whether it can do enough to win games. It was a group that struggled in 2018, allowing 267.1 yards per game through the air (118th nationally) and nearly 33 points per game (97th). The good news is that there is a bunch returning in the secondary, opening the door for a redemption year.

The secondary is led by cornerback A.J. Green, a veteran leader entering his final season in Stillwater. Green had 11 pass deflections in 2019 and did a superb job regularly covering opposing team's No. 1 guys. He'll need to have a big year if the pass defense is going to take any steps forward. Fellow corner Rodarius Williams is also a returning starter, although he struggled with consistency last season. Despite this, he did lead the team in INT's and is one of the unit's top playmakers. At safety, OSU is hopeful junior Malcolm Rodriguez can replicate his production from last campaign, as he is their leading returning tackler with 83.

Up front, Gundy and coordinator Jim Knowles will look for some new pieces to step up from an inexperienced group of characters. Defensive end Jordan Brailford is a lot bigger loss than some might realize, as he was a constant disruptor with 16 TFL in '18.

Senior end Mike Scott looks to be one of the favorites to step up, as he has spent most of his career with the Cowboys in a rotational role. Yet, it is a pair of transfers that most around the program are excited about, in Kyle Junior & Israel Antwine. Antwine started 11 games as a freshman for Colorado and has big-time talent, while Junior comes over from Bowling Green as a graduate transfer. They'll have to adjust to Big 12 football quickly in such a thin group.

Oklahoma State must also find a way to replace linebacker Justin Phillips, who led the team in tackles as the heart of the defense. In a 4-2-5 defensive set, the Cowboys rely on their 'backers to do a lot of different things, including coverage. Senior Calvin Bundage has proven he can do that, but has been a streaky player in his previous two seasons as starter. Bundage may be asked to rush the passer more in 2019 after recording eight tackles for loss last year. The favorite to start at Phillips' departed inside linebacker spot has to be senior Kevin Henry, although Devin Harper could compete for snaps once he returns from a spring injury.

Even though they put up poor numbers last season and lose some key pieces in the front seven, the Cowboys are optimistic the D can improve. One of the major reasons is more experience, as OSU leaned on a number of true freshman on the back-end a year ago. That, along with the crucial returns of guys like Green and Bundage will be huge going forward.

Special Teams: The good news here is that kicker won't be a problem at all, as Matt Ammendola returns. Ammendola currently sits sixth on the NCAA's active scoring list and comes off a season when he hit 16 of 22 field goals. Punter is a little bit more of a concern, as Gundy turned to 29-year old Tom Hutton to take the reigns.

Bottom Line: The Cowboys were one of the more confusing teams in the country in 2018, good enough to pound Boise State and upset Texas & West Virginia, but also suffering some bad losses. They should be able to establish more consistency this fall, with some impactful new additions and key returnees. Sanders really seems ready to lead what will be a thrilling offense but once more, the defense has to improve. Having veterans in the secondary will go a long way in deciding that. What will really help Oklahoma State is a favorable schedule that includes a breeze of a non-conference slate and archrival Oklahoma at home. They still might not have enough to overtake either OU or Texas to gain entry into the Big 12 Championship Game, but they should keep things interesting, while playing their way into a quality bowl.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big 12)
Offensive MVP: WR Tylan Wallace
Defensive MVP: CB A.J. Green
Breakout Player of the Year: QB Spencer Sanders
Impact Freshman: DT Sione Asi (JUCO)

Five-Year Trend
2014: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
2015: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)
2016: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)
2017: 10-3 (6-3 Big 12)
2018: 7-6 (3-6 Big 12)

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