Mired in Mediocrity.
Last season, Oklahoma State played the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It began promisingly with a closer than expected loss (37-31) against defending champions Florida State. J. W. Walsh's passing stats left much to be desired as he finished 15 of 27 for only 203 yards. In his second game of the season Walsh suffered a season ending broken foot, which brought on the Daxx Garman era.
Daxx led Oklahoma State to a five game winning streak over bottom-dwelling Big 12 teams, including a concerning 27-20 win over Kansas. Since I live here in Oklahoma, I heard first-hand the grumblings from the local media and sports fans over Oklahoma State's game plan -- specifically their offensive game plan. Both Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich came under scrutiny for their poor performance and inability to get their best offensive weapon, Tyreek Hill, the ball.
These grumblings became full-throated after the Cowboys lost their next five games by a combined score of 201-68, losing by an average of 26.6 points per game. However, a concussion to Garman in the Texas game forced Mike Gundy to pull Mason Rudolph's red-shirt and start him against Baylor. Rudolph immediately had an impact on Oklahoma State's offense, as he stood strong behind a porous Cowboy offensive line and displayed a leadership the Cowboys offense missed all season.
How Mike Gundy got his groove back
Gundy appeared to realize Mason Rudolph was his best option at QB, as he rolled with the true freshman through the remainder of the season. Not only did it save the Cowboys season, it may have also saved Gundy his job. Throughout the year Gundy had been surly, rude, and just plain odd in dealing with the media, especially leading up to Bedlam. There was speculation from many media members that Gundy would look elsewhere in the offseason, and that he had lost support of Oklahoma State's biggest donor, Boone Pickens.
All the negativity and criticism vanished after the Cowboys pulled a stunning upset against the Oklahoma Sooners when "Big Game" Bob decided it would be a great idea to re-punt to the most electrifying player on the field. A jubilant Oklahoma State team rode the high of winning Bedlam to a bowl victory over Washington. Mason Rudolph finished the season 49 of 86, throwing for 853 yards in only three games.
Gundy also became a more jovial person, going so far as to gather the Oklahoma media contingent together prior to the Cactus bowl a pose for a selfie.
Gundy Swag + Rudolph Swag = Big 12 Championship?
Not so fast. Oklahoma State ranked 58th in defensive S&P+, which was slightly better than average. Their defense does return seven starters, including standout DE Emmanuel Ogbah (11 sacks in 13 games last season). Ogbah will anchor a strong defensive line who, along with the linebacking corps, hopes to take some pressure off a relatively young secondary. Leading that young secondary will be free safety Jordan Sterns, who blocked two kicks last season and led the team in tackles with 103. If the defense continues to build on the strong play it showed down the stretch last season, a Big 12 title isn't too far out of reach for these Cowboys.
The other big question mark for Oklahoma State is who its playmakers will be on offense besides Mason Rudolph. The team lost its best offensive weapon in Tyreek Hill, booted off the team for beating up his pregnant girlfriend. That type of speed will be hard to replace, as the two returning running backs, Rennie Childs and Raymond Taylor, only averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry.
On the flip side, the passing game should be in good shape as their top two receivers, senior Brandon Sheperd (18.7 yards/catch) and sophomore speedster James Washington (16.2 yards/catch), both return. Unless a running game emerges out of nowhere, expect this team to rely on the passing attack much like Kansas State did a year ago.
Ah, yes. Prediction time. The time when I make a prediction for you all to scoff at after the game has been played. Well, I won't make you wait any longer. Oklahoma State will be coming off its first true road test of the season, going on the road to face Texas a week before playing Kansas State at home. Meanwhile, Kansas State gets a nice off-week to prepare for its opening conference game. While I expect Kansas State to be well prepared (duh), I think it's too much to ask for an unproven quarterback and offense to win its first conference road game. I'll settle on a final score of Oklahoma State 38, Kansas State 28.
Stay tuned as next week I break down the Oklahoma Sooners.