By Sam Agnitsch
Congrats Oklahoma, we finally made it out of July sports hell. The 2016 edition was exceptionally brutal, featuring meaningless summer baseball, Tiger Woods-less majors, and a certain decision from ex-restaurateur Kevin Durant. Dog days indeed. The good news is football is mercifully on the horizon with Oklahoma State kicking off September 3 against Southeastern Louisiana. Since some of us need our fix sooner, let’s hold off the withdrawals and indulge on some early previews/predictions. In part 1, we will take a peek at the offense.
Mike Gundy showed up to media day with a mullet. It was a bold an awe-inspiring power play from the Alpha member of the Gundy family. This move should not be viewed as a mid-life crisis, but as a beautiful catharsis for the utter collapse at the end of last season. Confidence breeds success, and for a program looking to firmly seal its place as a perennial top-15 this season, the coach has to have it in spades. There are a lot of horrific adjectives that accurately describe Mullet-Americans but unconfident is not one of them. Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich will have a spotlight on him as well. He could follow the OSU pattern and launch himself early as a potential head coaching candidate, similar to OC’s before him. However if the offense struggles early, especially with this talent, things will go south very quickly for the Gundy prodigy.
Protecting QB Mason Rudolph was obviously a problem last year (32 sacks allowed), almost as much as running the football (3.5 yards per carry). Not exactly what you want in an offensive line. In their defense, it can be hard adjusting when you have two qbs with wildly different skill sets. Mike Gundy made an emphasis on having a deeper rotation and said as many as 7 guys could see minutes, setting the table for more attempts at establishing the run game. It doesn’t take a genius to notice the struggles since line guru Joe Wickline’s messy departure in 2014. This bunch up front needs to rediscover that hard-nosed identity that’s been missing the last couple years. This year Cowboy faithful are hoping the combination of more experience, better depth, and improved running backs will solve what ails the o-line for 2016.
It was a very underwhelming but young group last year. Returning leading rusher Chris Carson was solid and Rennie Childs is a nice short yardage guy, but 2016’s backfield has to take pressure off the air attack if the ‘Pokes want to win the conference. Is Barry J. Sanders the answer? Who knows? In all honesty, we haven’t seen much of him in his 4 years at Stanford. Whether it was fit or simply being buried behind guys named Christian McCaffrey, all we have to dissect is 115 career attempts for 672 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 5.8 yards per carry though is awfully intriguing. Don’t be surprised to see speedster Jeff Carr or freshman Le’Darron Brown gets some opportunities, this race is wide open.
The group took an early hit with senior Marcel Ateman out indefinitely with a broken bone in his foot, although most around the program feel an October return is likely. Point blank, they’ll miss him, but have plenty of talent waiting in the wings behind him. James Washington looks to improve on his breakout 2015 campaign, roasting the Big 12 for 1000 plus yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 20 yard per catch average. Filling in for the injured Ateman will most likely be Senior Jhajuan Seales, or sophomore Jalen McCleskey, although Chris Lacy and Austin Hays will factor in as well. Basically, there’s no reason for the passing attack to take a step backwards. If they can bolster the o-line and running game, this offense could be top-5 in the country.
We’ll keep this part as brief as we can. This is Mason Rudolph’s team and the Pokes will go as far as he takes them. He’s no longer splitting snaps with J.W. Walsh and should see a massive increase in production because of it, assuming of course that he can stay upright. As we discussed earlier, protection will be key. Not only to provide time to get the ball downfield but more importantly to keep Rudolph off the injury report. Mason has a chance to make himself a lot of money this season, He has all the tools of a high NFL draft pick and then some. If he can show up in big games, raise his completion percentage a little bit (62% last season), and stay healthy for a full campaign, the first round (and a Heisman Trophy) may come calling. The backup competition is starting to heat up heading into August. Redshirt freshman John Kolar looks to have a leg up on Sophomore Taylor Cornelius but Gundy has eluded to freshman Keondre Wudtee also being in the mix.
Senior Ben Grogan returns after an impressive 2015 where he hit 16/20 FGs on the season. He has also been named to the 2016 preseason Groza watch list, an award that honors the nation’s top field goal kicker. Joining him in the kicking game is redshirt Sophomore Zach Sinor who averaged 40 yards per punt last season and showed nice touch pinning balls inside the 20-yard line. As far as the returning game, speed looks to be the weapon of choice. Sophomores Jalen McCleskey and Jeff Carr look to have a hold on the punt return and kickoff return duties respectively.