The Cowboys rank No. 14 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2017.
Offense should not be an issue for Oklahoma State this season with quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington leading what should be a prolific attack whether the Cowboys decide to throw or run the ball. The defense returns only five starters, but it’s not short on athleticism and the coaching staff is optimistic about the unit’s potential. Oklahoma State has some tough tests, but the schedule for the most part should only help the Cowboys stay in the thick of the Big 12 race.
Previewing Oklahoma State Football’s Offense for 2017
Quarterback Mason Rudolph considered a jump to the NFL following last season but returned, giving Oklahoma State a premium triggerman for what should be an electric attack that feeds optimism for a special season.
The Cowboys return seven starters on offense, none more important than Rudolph, who enters 2017 as the nation’s No. 2 active leader in career passing yards per game (300.5), boosted by last year’s total of 4,091 yards, with 28 touchdowns against four interceptions.
And Rudolph has weapons in waves, led by game-breaking receiver James Washington, whose 19.4 yards per catch in 2016 led all FBS receivers with at least 70 receptions. Washington, with 26 touchdown catches through three seasons, leads all active Power 5 conference receivers with 2,923 career yards.
Beyond Washington, Jalen McCleskey and Marcell Ateman are multi-year starters with a combined 15 career touchdown receptions, while Chris Lacy starred in place of the injured Ateman last fall and produced both in the passing game and as a devastating downfield blocker. Then there’s Tyron Johnson, an LSU transfer and former five-star recruit who wowed coaches as a playmaker in the spring. “It’s pick your poison,” Washington says.
Running back Justice Hill returns after rushing for 1,142 yards, topping all FBS freshmen and earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and consensus Freshman All-America honors. Three starters are back on the offensive line. Cal graduate transfer Aaron Cochran should provide a boost at tackle.
Previewing Oklahoma State Football’s Defense for 2017
The defensive line should be a strength, with an abundance of quality ends, including all-conference candidates Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford (if he's healthy). Darrion Daniels, entering his junior year, showed in the spring that he could be ready for a major breakout.
Smart and savvy linebacker Chad Whitener enters his third season as a starter, and safety Tre Flowers is a rangy playmaker with 200 tackles and 17 pass breakups in his career. Ramon Richards, who’s started 23 games at cornerback, shifts to the other safety, leaving a cast of young and talented — yet inexperienced — players bidding to fill both corner spots. The addition of Clemson graduate transfer Adrian Baker alleviates some of the concern at cornerback. The scenario is similar on both sides of Whitener at linebacker. The overall success of the defense hinges on the development of the next men up.
Previewing Oklahoma State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Punter Zach Sinor is a weapon, flipping field position both with length and an ability to pin opponents deep. The Cowboys ranked No. 1 nationally a year ago in opponent starting field position. A new kicker is needed, with Matt Ammendola set to battle incoming scholarship freshman Jake McClure. A boost in the return game is also needed, and Johnson may provide it.
There are a lot of optimistic references to 2011 in Stillwater, with the look of this team bearing an obvious resemblance to that squad — at least on paper — with the array of offensive playmakers and the promise of an opportunistic defense.
Now, can it look and perform like that squad, which won the Big 12 and finished decimal points out of the national championship game?
The Cowboys will have to manage trips to Pittsburgh and West Virginia, but the rest of the schedule sets up nicely. And they’ll have to find a way to beat Oklahoma, which has blocked their path the past two seasons. “That’s all we talk about around here,” Rudolph says. “That’s all we’re focused on. So, yeah, that’s a goal, the goal.”
NATIONAL RANKING: 14
BIG 12 PREDICTION: 3
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