Oklahoma State was the least experienced team in 2014, but still managed to reach a bowl where they soundly defeated Washington 30-22. Coming off a pedestrian 7-6 season has the Cowboys primed to surprise many football pundits in 2015, especially with dynamic quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph was forced into action last season after both JW Walsh and Daxx Garman went down with injuries. Rudolph started the final three games where he led the Cowboys to upset wins over Oklahoma and Washington. Rudolph completed 57% of his pass attempts for 853 yards in those contests and will be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference this season.
Rudolph is also the beneficiary of a vastly more experienced wide receiving corp. in 2015, including seniors David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and Jeremy Seaton, Rudolph. Shepard led the team in receiving yards last season (787; 18.9), including compiling 301 yards in Rudolph’s three starts. Meanwhile, Glidden led the Cowboys in receptions (42) and finished second on the team with 598 yards (14.2).
The biggest question mark for Oklahoma State is in the backfield where the Cowboys lose both Desmond Roland (Bowl MVP; team’s leading rusher) and Tyreek Hill (second in rushing yards). Despite those losses, the Cowboys welcome Chris Carson to Stillwater. Carson was All-Conference as a JUCO last year with 1,994 yards and should win the starting job in the fall.
After posting a the worst rushing numbers under head coach Mike Gundy’s tenure last season (137 yards per game; 3.5 yards per carry), the Cowboys return 72 career starts in 2015 and should make a significant improvement on the ground. The addition of UAB transfer Victor Salako (23 career starts) further enhances the left side of the line.
Oklahoma State’s strength on defense is its linebacking unit, which returns the heart of the defense in Ryan Simmons. Simmons’ intensity on the field cannot be matched and he is clearly the leader of the Cowboys’ stop unit. The loss of Michigan transfer Josh Furman to the NFL Draft hurts, but the Cowboys return six of their top seven tacklers from last season.
I also expect significant improvement from Oklahoma State’s secondary, which allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.7% of their pass attempts last year. The Cowboys return seven of their top eight tacklers from last year’s disappointing unit and also welcome Indiana transfer Michael Hunter, who started 27 games for the Hoosiers.
With sixteen returning starters and much-needed stability at the offensive coordinator position (Mike Yurcich returns for his third season), Oklahoma State is a legitimate contender in the Big 12 Conference. Underestimating coach Gundy is a huge mistake as he has taken the Cowboys to nine straight bowl games and benefits from having five conference home games in 2015.