When determining the greatest seasons in Oklahoma State football, you don't have to go far down the list to get to 2021. The Cowboys finished No. 7 in the final AP Top 25, bettered only by the 2011 team that ended the year No. 3 and the 1945 squad that wound up fifth.
Now, head coach Mike Gundy is tasked with keeping the ball rolling and that could be challenging considering that he will have to manage some significant roster turnover. But many way-too-early rankings have the Pokes in the top 15, if not the top 10, so expectations will remain high.
Oklahoma State begins spring drills this week and here is a look at some important aspects for the Cowboys as they begin their practices.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oklahoma State's Spring Practice
1. Receivers taking a step forward
The Cowboys only lose one wide receiver, but that one is Tay Martin. The second-team All-Big 12 selection not only caught 80 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 scores, but he also took pressure off all the other pass catchers. This spring, the Oklahoma State staff would like to see Brennan Presley develop into a No. 1 target and guys like Blaine Green and John Paul Richardson become major contributors. Also, keep an eye on touted early-entry freshman Talyn Shettron, who chose the Cowboys over the rival Sooners.
2. Running back battle
The loss of Jaylen Warren could be as impactful as that of Tay Martin. In his one season in Stillwater after transferring in from Utah State, Warren rushed for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns. The spring will help determine whether the Cowboys will rely on one primary ball carrier or if it will be a committee approach. Dominic Richardson is the most experienced of the returnees, though he will get pushed by redshirt freshman Jaden Nixon and early-enrollee Ollie Gordon.
3. The defensive coordinator change
After four years as the Cowboys' DC, Jim Knowles decided to take the same job at Ohio State. Experience is not lost, however, as Gundy hired former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. Mason spent last season at Auburn and got the Vanderbilt job based on his successful run as the coordinator at Stanford. While Mason plans to keep things similar in terms of how the Cowboys' defense operates, the players will have to get used to his scheme tweaks this spring.
4. Finding leadership on defense
Oklahoma State lost six of their top eight tacklers including four players that combined for 345 stops. No departure is bigger than that of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, the unquestioned heart and soul of the defense. Much like at receiver, the next wave of talented defenders has to take charge. Brendon Evers, Brock Martin, and Tyler Lacy have played a lot of football during their careers and the return of Trace Ford helps from an experience factor as well. Plus, Collin Oliver is coming off of a fantastic debut in which he earned Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in addition to Freshman All-American recognition from several outlets.
5. The back seven
Of the players mentioned that could fill the leadership void on defense, none play linebacker or in the secondary. The two projected starting linebackers – Mason Cobb and Kamryn Farrar – combined for just 21 tackles last year. Safety Jason Taylor is now in his fourth year and Kori Black, Jabbar Muhammad, and Thomas Harper were part of the defensive back rotation last fall, but replacing Kolby Harvell-Peel, Christian Holmes, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, and Tanner McCallister won't be easy.
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– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.