After another double-digit win season and more job offers from blue blood programs, head coach Mike Gundy decided again to stay put at his alma mater. Who would blame him? Oklahoma State returns a talented team for 2018. The team will be breaking in a new quarterback, but other than that the offense returns a lot of playmakers and firepower from a unit that finished fourth nationally in points per game, first in passing offense and second in total offense. Gundy announced before fall camp that Taylor Cornelius would be his starting quarterback this fall and senior Dru Brown would be the backup. The only problem Cornelius will have is his protection up front as the Cowboys return just two starters on the offensive line. One of those starters is left guard Marcus Keyes, who was first team All-Big-12 last season and started 26 consecutive games. The Pokes also return a 1,000-yard rusher who’ll take some of the heat off of Cornelius. On defense the Cowboys return seven starters, led by linebacker Justin Phillips
Team strengths: The offense and rush defense. The Pokes have one of the best running back duos in the country in Justice Hill and J.D. King. Both combined for 2,006 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Starting receivers Jalen McCleskey, Tyron Johnson and Dillon Stoner combined for 112 catches for 1,514 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cornelius is surrounded by weapons and it’ll make life easier for him in the pocket. Oklahoma State finished 38th nationally against the run on defense and return several players with experience and production. Phillips, Jordan Bradford, Trey Carter, Calin Bundage and A.J. Green combined for 244 tackles, including 34.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and 13 sacks. Expect the Pokes defense to have even better numbers the this fall.
Players to watch: Running back Hill, wide receiver McCleskey, linebacker Phillips, defensive end Bradford and cornerback Green. Hill rushed for 1,537 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 31 receptions and a receiving score earning first team All Big-12 last season. McCleskey caught 50 balls for 645 yards and five touchdowns. Phillips recorded 64 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Bradford was a force on the defensive front and tallied 57 tackles, including 10.5 from behind the line of scrimmage, five sacks and an interception, earning All Big-12 second team honors. Green led the defense with four interceptions and added 47 tackles, including 4.5 for loss.
The schedule: Durable. The Pokes welcome Boise State, Texas and West Virginia to Stillwater this year. The road games are no slouch, having to travel to Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU.
My take: The Cowboys have enough experience on both sides of the ball to win another 10 games. This time around it should be enough to clinch a berth in the Big 12 Championship game. Imagine that, potentially having Bedlam twice in one year.