Mike Gundy and the Cowboys will take the spring to focus on finding replacements for departed defenders
Among the more surprising stats in college football, Oklahoma State has won at least 10 games in five of the last seven seasons. Mike Gundy’s rep these days is all about his mullet, but he deserves more recognition among the elite head coaches in the sport.
This spring, he and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will turn their attention to shoring up a defense that lost four of the top seven tacklers from last season. If they can identify capable replacements during the offseason, the Pokes could challenge for the top of the Big 12 in 2017.
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1. Replenishing the defensive interior
The Cowboys lost their best defensive player when tackle Vincent Taylor declared for the NFL Draft following his junior season. The first-team All-Big 12 performer led the team in 2016 with 13 tackles for a loss. More importantly, as a 310-pound space eater in the middle, Taylor commanded so much attention from opposing offensive linemen that it opened up playmaking opportunities for his teammates.
Motekiai Maile, OSU’s other primary defensive tackle, graduated, which makes the hole in the middle even bigger.
2. A lot of change on the offensive line
Ever since Joe Wickline made his ill-fated move to join Charlie Strong at Texas, OSU has struggled to find stability coaching the offensive line. Gundy canned Greg Adkins in February and almost immediately lured Josh Henson back to Stillwater to oversee the big uglies. (Henson had left OSU for a job at Arizona State a month earlier.) That made four offensive line coaches for the Cowboys in five years.
Henson’s first priority this spring will be replacing left tackle Victor Salako, a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2016. He’s also looking for someone to step in for departed veteran Michael Wilson.
3. Rotation at running back
OSU found a future all-conference runner last season in Justice Hill, as the freshman topped 1,100 yards in his debut campaign. Hill’s slight stature (5-10, 185) means identifying a solid section option to share the rushing load and step up in case of injury is paramount for Gundy and his new running backs coach John Wozniak.
The top returning rusher behind Hill, junior Jeff Carr, tallied a grand total of 12 carries last year. Needless to say, the door is open this spring for a new face to claim his place as Hill’s backup.
4. Big shoes to fill at linebacker
As is the case on the defensive line, the Cowboys have a serious hole in the linebacker corps following the graduation of Jordan Burton and Devante Averette.
The good news for defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is that he still has Chad Whitener, a second-team All-Big 12 pick last season. The bad news is that the rest of the returnees have yet to really distinguish themselves.
5. Replacing Jordan Sterns
Another key defender gone. In the secondary, it’s Sterns, the Cowboys’ standout safety.
Sterns led the team in tackles for three straight seasons while patrolling the middle of the field. His on-field savvy might be missed more than his production.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Oklahoma State in the Big 12
Oklahoma State will generate some well-earned attention this offseason as a challenger to its in-state rival for supremacy in the Big 12. The Cowboys might even find a few backers touting them as contenders for a bid to the College Football Playoff. The return of quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington for another year rightfully amped up the expectations for this team.
Gundy has such a strong track record of overachieving that it’s certainly possible to see him – and not Bob Stoops – hoisting the conference championship trophy in December.
The hits to the defense are substantial, though. OSU has plenty of offensive firepower, but the Pokes will need a number of inexperienced players to grow up in a hurry on the other side of the ball to put together another season of double-digit wins.
— 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.