Coach: Mike Gundy (84-44, entering 11th season; 84-44 overall)
2014 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Big 12; seventh in Big 12
Look back: After nearly knocking off defending national champion Florida State in the season opener, it looked like Oklahoma State might be able to make some noise in the Big 12 title race. The Cowboys followed a tightly contested 37-31 loss to the Seminoles with a five-game win streak. The victories, however, came against Oklahoma State’s weakest opponents and a barrage of potent Big 12 defenses nearly sealed a losing season for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State had to rally for a 38-35 overtime win at rival Oklahoma in the regular-season finale to post a 6-6 regular-season record and earn a bowl bid.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: OL Daniel Koenig, OL Chris Grisbhy, RB Desmond Roland, QB Daxx Garman, RB Tyreek Hill, DT James Castleman, DT Ofa Hautau, LB Josh Furman, SS Larry Stephens
Top returnees: WR Jhajuan Seales, OL Paul Lewis, TE Zac Veatch, FB/TE Jeremy Seaton, QB Mason Rudolph, WR Austin Hays, OL Zachary Crabtree, WR David Glidden, OL Michael Wilson, WR Marcell Ateman, WR Brandon Sheperd, DE Jimmy Bean, LB Ryan Simmons, CB Kevin Peterson, LB Seth Jacobs, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, FS Jordan Sterns, CB Ramon Richards, SS Tre Flowers
Strengths: Quarterback Mason Rudolph has generated the most buzz among his coaches and teammates. Daxx Garman started nine games for the Cowboys last season, but his 12 interceptions and other issues contributed to the Oklahoma State midseason skid. When Garman suffered concussion symptoms, Rudolph stepped in and nearly led his team to an upset of Baylor. The freshman earned the right to start key wins over Oklahoma and Washington.
“He’s the leader on our offense,” Gundy told reporters during his preseason Big 12 football media day press conference. “He’s worked hard this summer. He’s shown signs of toughness.”
Rudolph will have help, with receivers David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and James Washington anchoring arguably the deepest position on the Oklahoma State roster. Junior-college transfer running back Chris Carson was named the preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year and should add to a balanced attack.
Weaknesses: Oklahoma State suffered through growing pains last season, tying for No. 122 nationally in fewest returning starters. The Cowboys are hoping players learned from the many mistakes they made last season.
The team ranked No. 110 out of 125 NCAA-recognized teams in passing defense (269.20 pass yards allowed per game), No. 92 in scoring defense (31.2 points allowed per game) and No. 91 in total defense (432.0 yards allowed per game).
The offense has typically moved at a rapid pace under coach Mike Gundy, but it sputtered before Rudolph took over at quarterback. The team ranked No. 99 in rushing offense (136.6 yards per game), No. 53 in passing offense (242.2 yards per game) and tied for No. 73 in scoring offense (27.6 points per game).
The offense gave up too many turnovers and the defense didn’t generate enough to help the team keep up with surging Big 12 teams, ranking No. 109 in turnover margin (-0.62).
Outlook: Oklahoma State’s toughest games once again fall near the end of the regular season, giving the Cowboys time to work together and improve. If Rudolph can continue to thrive despite greater scrutiny from opposing teams and the Cowboys’ defensive can live up to expectations, Oklahoma State could make some noise near the top of the Big 12 standings.
Sept. 5 at Central Michigan
Sept. 12 Central Arkansas
Sept. 19 Texas-San Antonio
Sept. 26 at Texas
Oct. 3 Kansas State
Oct. 10 at West Virginia
Oct. 24 Kansas
Oct. 31 at Texas Tech
Nov. 7 TCU
Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Nov. 21 Baylor
Nov. 28 Oklahoma
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com