Our ranking: No. 19 OKLAHOMA STATE
Coach: Mike Gundy (104-50, entering 14th season; 104-50 overall)
2016 record: 10-3 overall, 7-2 in the Big 12 (second in Big 12)
Look back: The 2016 Oklahoma State season was overshadowed by feelings of “what if.” A controversial loss to Central Michigan, which officials later agreed should have counted as a Cowboys win, in the second week of the season knocked Okklahoma State out of the top 25 rankings. An early conference loss to Baylor and a season-ending loss to Oklahomadenied the program another shot at a Big 12 championship.
The team bounced back from the brutal Central Michigan loss and drop from the rankings Sept. 17 to finish the season ranked No. 11, the program’s highest postseason ranking since 2011.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: WR Jhajuan Seales, OL Michael Wilson, OL Victor Salako, S Jordan Sterns, DT Vincent Taylor, CB Ashton Lampkin, LB Jordan Burton, DT Motekiai Maile
Top returnees: QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill, WR James Washington, OL Zach Crabtree, OL Brad Lundblade, S Tre Flowers, CB Ramon Richards, LB Chad Whitener, DE Cole Walterscheid
Strengths: Oklahoma State’s forte under Mike Gundy has been offense. The scheme emphasizes quickness and agility and led by senior QB Mason Rudolph, who put together a career-best season in 2016. He passed for 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Rudolph could wrap his career among the top quarterbacks in Big 12 history.
The Cowboys are the only team in the country to return a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in 2017. Justice Hill became the first Oklahoma State tailback to rush for 1,000 yards since Joseph Randle in 2013. Hill was just one of three players to carry the football 200 times, making him a durable asset.
James Washington has become Rudolph’s go-to guy at receiver, leading the way with 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s joined by Jalen McCleskey, who posted a team-high 73 receptions in 2016.
Weaknesses: The defense allowed more yards per game (446) than it has since 2011, but the group was great at creating turnovers. That said three of the team’s top five tacklers are gone, leaving LB Chad Whitener as the top returning tackler (71). The front line returns just one starter in Jarrell Owens, but it features a lot of talent.
The secondary has a pair of returning senior starters in Tre Flowers (61 tackles, 7 pass breakups) and Ramon Richards (64 tackles, 3 interceptions).
Outlook: The pieces are in place for Oklahoma State to make a big push for its first conference championship since 2011. The challenges are road contests against Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia as well as the rivalry game at Oklahoma. The Cowboys haven’t beaten Sooners since 2014.