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As the bulbs at Kelly/Shorts Stadium awaken from their summer slumber, cameramen rush to set up their equipment, and reporters frantically take notes, Oklahoma State and Central Michigan will be warming up to play each other for the very first time on Thursday night.

DATE & TIME: Thursday, Nov 3rd @ 6:00 PM CST
WHERE: Kelly/Shorts Stadium (Mount Pleasant, Michigan)
FORECAST: Isolated thunderstorms, Wind 7-12 mph, Game Temp 81°F
TV: ESPNU / WatchESPN
BETTING LINE: Oklahoma State -24.5 (O/U 54.5)

Oklahoma State Cowboys

After suffering a five-game skid in 2014, things didn’t look good for the Pokes. Starting QB Daxx Garman (after QB JW Walsh suffered a season ending injury early in the season) suffered an injury against Texas triggering Mason Rudolph to shed his red shirt. With just three games left on the season, the Cowboys were still seeking bowl eligibility. After a tough loss at Baylor, the only avenue for the freshman to lead Oklahoma State to their ninth consecutive bowl game went straight through Norman. Rudolph and company pulled off the win in shocking style, and the Cowboys went on to beat Washington in the Cactus bowl.

There are high hopes in Stillwater, OK, right now. Even Mike Gundy is quoted as saying, “I’m as excited about our football team as I’ve been since I’ve been here.”

Oklahoma State Players To Watch

Mason Rudolph – You could argue Rudolph got a season’s worth of experience in just three games for the Cowboys in 2014. It would be difficult to dream up a tougher scenario in which to introduce a young quarterback to college football. Mason exceeded expectations though, and is now ready to lead his offense.

Emmanuel Ogbah – Ogbah is one of the top defensive ends in all of college football, if not the very best. There has already been talk of Ogbah possibly cracking a top 5 overall selection in the NFL draft per Todd McShay of ESPN. The defensive standout terrorized QB’s in 2014 racking up 11 sacks for a total loss of 78 yards for opposing offenses. Watch for him to disrupt the CMU offense in a major way.

Brandon Sheperd – Sheperd burst onto the scene out of nowhere last year racking up 737 yards and five touchdowns. This includes a 156 yard, two touchdown thrashing of the OU defense in the Bedlam Game. If Sheperd can stay healthy (he was recently sidelined with a dislocated finger, but is expected to play in tomorrow’s opener), Big 12 fans will be hearing a lot of “Rudolph to Sheperd” in 2015.

Oklahoma State’s Keys To The Game

Finish – Mike Gundy will have his squad ready for tomorrow. The Cowboys will look to use their dominate speed to overwhelm the Chippewas. However Central Michigan has proven they have the ability to comeback quickly. Let this soak in for a moment. In the Bahamas Bowl last year, the Chippewas trailed 49-14 in the 4th quarter. They went on to lose the game 49-48 after a failed two-point conversion.

Get Mason Rudolph Comfortable – While he gained much-needed experience at the end of last season, Rudolph has still only seen action in three games. Expect OC Mike Yurcich to give his young QB some easier routes to throw to early in the game to get him settled. Quick slants, screens and short-outs will get Mason off to a confident start. Once he gets the ball into his play maker’s hands, he’ll be reminded he doesn’t have to do it all himself.

“The Triple C Threat” – Oklahoma State’s top three running backs are Rennie Childs, Chris Carson and Jeff Carr. These three can, and will, do a lot of damage to opposing defenses and will be able to take pressure off of their quarterback if needed. Given the diversity of talent in this group, I’m expecting more “ground and pound” from the Cowboys this year than we’re used to seeing.

What Oklahoma State Fans Want To See

A clean, dominant performance on every side of the ball. As a whole, the Pokes are bigger, stronger and faster than Central Michigan. The Cowboy faithful want to be able to sit back and not have to worry about this one. Also, State fans should want to see a calm Mason Rudolph leading his offense down the field with poise and precision and very few mental errors mixed in.

Central Michigan Chippewas

Central Michigan has brought a breath of fresh air to their program this season after hiring John Bonamego from the Detroit Lions. There shouldn’t be too many radical changes on either side of the ball though. Much of the previous assistant coaching core remains in place.

The 2014 campaign was streaky for Central Michigan. They suffered a three-game skid early, but bounced back to finish the season 7-5 with a trip to the Bahamas. And as I mentioned above, went on to lose one of the wildest comeback efforts in the history of college football.

Central Michigan Players To Watch

Cooper Rush – Quarterback Cooper Rush has good accuracy combined with good decision-making and a strong arm. He’s the total package. In 2014 he had a 63.6 completion percentage while throwing for 3,157 yards, 27 TD’s, and 13 picks. .

Nick Beamish – The center of the Cowboys’ defensive line has some depth concerns, and Beamish will be a test for them. The senior center is a favorite to be an All-MAC First Teamer, and is on the Rimington Award watch list for the second straight year. As a four-year starter, he makes for an excellent veteran asset to lead the rushing attack.

Tony Annese – As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Annese fought his way into the starting lineup, and the junior safety has been developing ever since. He is on the Thorpe Award watch list and logged two interceptions in his first two starts returning them both for 34-yard touchdowns.

Central Michigan’s Keys To The Game

The Surprise Factor – Given the change in head coaching, the Cowboys won’t have any film to see of John Bonamego’s version of the Chippewas. Throwing some plays in that were out of character for the 2014 team may serve to confuse the Pokes, thus neutralizing their superior speed.

Create Turnovers – As previously mentioned, Rudolph doesn’t come with a lot of in-game experience under his belt. If the Chippewas can get some hits on him early, they could rattle him into throwing a pick or two. Central Michigan will have to have turnovers to have a chance. If CMU wants any chance to win, they’ll need extra possessions.

Long Drives – Even if they are able to get to Rudolph, they would still have the Cowboy’s stable of running backs to deal with. One way to counter that is to keep them off of the field. Central Michigan will need to have long, sustained drives capped off by touchdowns. If they can do that they could possibly wear down the defense.

What Central Michigan Fans Want To See

Turnovers. This is the key to any big upset. Turnovers lead to frustration and doubt on the opposing sidelines. The Chippewas have some play-makers, especially in the secondary. Some QB sacks and some tipped balls could be just what Central Michigan needs to maybe get a snowball effect going. Plus, it seems like Bonamego has the team’s attention and is a better fit for the school than his predecessor. If the Chippewas come out and play inspired football for 60 minutes, fans will have a lot to be excited for regardless of the outcome of this game.

Prediction For The Game

The nearly 25-point favorite Cowboys will simply be too much for the Chippewas to handle. There are too many ways this Oklahoma State team can do damage and Central Michigan won’t be able to keep up. I expect the Chippewas to have some creative play calling and very aggressive blitz packages in attempts to throw Mason Rudolph off of his game. However, Gundy and his cast know that style points count and they’ll be ready to handle their business.

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