When the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Missouri State Bears take the field in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Thursday night, we’ll get our first glimpse of OSU with someone other than Mason Rudolph as starting quarterback in four years. That’s not the only big change taking place for the Pokes.
James Washington, one of the most explosive receivers in college football for the last two years, joined Rudolph on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in the offseason. Another productive target, Marcell Ateman left for the NFL as well.
Head coach Mike Gundy also dismissed veteran defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer after his unit collapsed in 2017. Former Duke coordinator Jim Knowles is now implementing his schemes.
With so much new about the Cowboys, starting the season with an FCS team should give them a solid dress rehearsal for when their season starts in earnest.
Missouri State at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Thursday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Introducing... Taylor Cornelius
Cornelius, a fifth-year senior, waited patiently to get his shot behind center at OSU. He doesn’t have the same gifts as a QB as his predecessor Rudolph, but his age and experience in the system spearheaded by Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich should help smooth out any early choppiness in the offense. If the Cowboys don’t move the ball efficiently in game one, that’s not a good sign for the rest of the season.
2. Finding new targets
Washington and Ateman combined to catch more than 130 balls for 2,700 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2017. The Cowboys now have to identify go-to receivers from a group of steady role players from past seasons. Senior Jalen McCleskey has played steady ball throughout his career, but junior Tyron Johnson looks like the most explosive option. Cornelius will have the opportunity to get comfortable with all of his pass catchers versus a defense that shouldn’t put up much resistance.
3. Defensive execution
In running up a 3-8 record in 2017, Missouri State’s offense tended to stall out against the better competition on its schedule. (The Bears’ losses included games in which they put up zero, nine, 10 and 11 points). In other words, this won’t be much of a barometer for OSU’s new defense under Knowles. Any weak spots that emerge Thursday probably deserve more attention than the areas in which the Cowboys excel.
The lowly Bears put a scare into in-state rival Missouri in their season opener last year – at least for about a half. They may hang around with Oklahoma State for a quarter or two in this game, but the end result should be a decisive win for the home team. More importantly, the Cowboys will be looking for a crisp performance to build on. A date with Boise State looms large in week three.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 52, Missouri State 17
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.