The Cowboys have a few questions to address to make a run at the Big 12 title
Oklahoma State enters spring practice in good position for the 2020 season. Coach Mike Gundy’s squad returns 19 overall starters, including quarterback Spencer Sanders, running back Chuba Hubbard, and receiver Tylan Wallace. A defense that improved last year brings back nearly everyone from the starting lineup and is expected to take another step forward in 2020. Oklahoma is the favorite to win the Big 12, but Oklahoma State is a dark horse team to finish in the top 10 and should be a trendy pick to reach the conference title game this season.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oklahoma State's Spring Practices
1. Development of Spencer Sanders
Oklahoma State has produced its share of standouts at quarterback under coach Mike Gundy and high expectations surrounded Sanders going into the 2019 season. After using a redshirt year in 2018, Sanders connected on 62.8 percent of his throws for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns. He tossed 11 picks but ranked second among Big 12 passers by connecting on nine passes of 50 or more yards. Sanders also added 628 yards and two scores on the ground. While Sanders had a solid debut in 2019, a late-season thumb injury forced him to miss the final two regular-season contests and record only two rushing attempts in the Texas Bowl. The Texas native has to perform better against conference opponents after tossing nine scores to 10 picks in seven Big 12 games last year. Experience will help with many of the ups and downs Sanders faced in 2020 and spring practice is a good place to work out some of those kinks.
2. Finding Chuba Some Help
Make no mistake: Chuba Hubbard is one of college football’s top returning players for 2020. Last season, the Canada native accounted for 328 carries (for 2,094 yards) or roughly 58 percent of Oklahoma State's rushing attempts. Add in Sanders' work on the ground (628 yards on 139 carries) and those two combined for 83 percent of the carries for the Cowboys in 2019. Hubbard is going to have another huge year but keeping the junior fresh late in games or over the second half of 2020 is a priority. LD Brown (221 yards), Dezmon Jackson, and Deondrick Glass (eight) need to show they are capable of handling bigger roles in 2020.
3. Solidifying the Offensive Line
Oklahoma State’s offensive line did its job last year, opening up lanes for rushers to average 5.3 yards per carry and surrendering a reasonable 26 sacks over 13 games. Drastic changes aren’t needed up front, but more improvement would only help the Cowboys’ chances of winning the Big 12. Left tackle Dylan Galloway, guard Bryce Bray and right tackle Teven Jenkins are back as full-time starters. Two spots must be filled and one is likely to go to West Virginia graduate transfer Josh Sills. The departures of left guard Marcus Keyes and center Johnny Wilson leave voids to fill, and the coaching staff hopes to find the right mix this spring.
4. More Defensive Improvement
Jim Knowles had an uneven debut in his first season calling the plays for Oklahoma State’s defense in 2018. The Cowboys surrendered 32.5 points a game, 6.04 yards per play, and 34 plays of 30 yards or more. However, fast-forward to 2019 and there were signs of progress. Oklahoma State gave up 26.8 points a contest, held teams to 5.8 yards a play, and allowed 26 plays of 30 yards or more. Another jump on the stat sheet should be coming for 2020, as Knowles’ group only loses one full-time starter in cornerback A.J. Green. With the starting lineup largely set, experience dotting every level of the depth chart and this being the third year of Knowles’ scheme, the 2020 season should see Oklahoma State’s defense take another step forward.
5. Filling Out the Secondary
As mentioned above, the defense is set to return largely intact for 2020. However, Knowles has to find a second starter at cornerback to team with Rodarius Williams. A.J. Green finished his eligibility in Stillwater after a productive senior campaign, recording 49 tackles, one interception, and five pass breakups in 13 games. Williams was just a step ahead of Green on the stat sheet with 58 tackles and six pass breakups. Tre Sterling, Kolby Harvell-Peel and Jarrick Bernard are back to form a strong trio at safety, but Bernard could slide to cornerback to add depth and competition. Sophomore Thomas Harper is another option for Green’s old spot, and extra competition is coming this summer in the form of Missouri graduate transfer Christian Holmes.