Oklahoma State and Central Michigan closed last year on opposite ends of the spectrum. Coming off the upset win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma, the Cowboys secured a winning season (7-6) with a victory in the Cactus Bowl against Washington that showcased what Oklahoma State fans have to look forward to in coming years (more on that later).
Central Michigan provided the country with one of the year’s best games against Western Kentucky in the Bahamas Bowl, pulling off one of the greatest plays in the sport’s history, but eventually fell to the Hilltoppers by one point in crushing fashion.
To kick off the year, Oklahoma State will make the rare trip up north to visit the Chippewas in what should be a special night as new CMU head coach John Bonamego returns to the sidelines following his cancer treatment this offseason.
Oklahoma State at Central Michigan
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Oklahoma State -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mason Rudolph coming out party?
Those outside of Big 12 country may not be fully aware of Rudolph just yet, but fans were shown glimpses at the end of last season of the potential for this strong-armed 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback. Head coach Mike Gundy decided to burn Rudolph’s potential redshirt following four straight losses in which the offense averaged just 10 points a game. During the final three games, Rudolph displayed poise beyond his years, throwing six touchdowns and averaging over 280 yards passing per game in that span. Coming into this year, Rudolph will once again be surrounded by the promising trio of receivers — James Washington, Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden — that combined for 109 catches in 2014. This passing game is likely to have success against a below-average secondary for CMU that needs to replace two starters.
2. Central Michigan still in search of playmakers
Quarterback Cooper Rush is back for a third season as the starter, but the pieces surrounding him will look much different from last season. At receiver, Titus Davis and his 200-plus career catches departed after leading the Chips in receiving in each of his four seasons with the school. Senior Jesse Kroll and junior Anthony Rice are the leading candidates to assume starting roles, with promising youngsters Mark Chapman and Corey Willis waiting in the wings. CMU is also breaking in a new running back in 2015 with Thomas Rawls now with the Seattle Seahawks. Junior Martez Walker is expected to start out of the gate, but sophomore Devon Spalding is likely to factor into the mix when 100 percent healthy. The Chips like the pieces they have in place, but will it be enough to keep up with a potent Oklahoma State offense?
3. Can Central Michigan withstand the Cowboys' pass rush?
If Central Michigan is to make this a game, Rush is key — hence why keeping him upright will be paramount. The Oklahoma State pass rush did not live up to its talent level in 2014, amounting for just 33 sacks despite two studs at end in Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean. Part of that was the youth inside, but the Cowboys think they have two promising tackles in Vincent Taylor and Motekiai Maile that should help clog the middle to allow for Ogbah and Bean to do what they do best — get after the quarterback. CMU is breaking in a new right tackle so it would not surprise to see Ogbah lining up on the right side for much of the game to harass Rush.
Oklahoma State will have a decided advantage in talent at nearly every position on the field on Thursday. While talent usually isn’t the end all, be all as we have seen plenty of times in college football, it will be in this matchup despite the feel-good story surrounding Bonamego being back on the sidelines. Expect Central Michigan to keep it close for a quarter with the aid of a raucous crowd hyped up by a Power 5 team visiting Mount Pleasant, but then for the Cowboys to blow it open in the second half with the help of a pick six from Kevin Peterson.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Central Michigan 20
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.