The madness of March is in full swing, but football teams all across the Big 12 are going back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills are the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear and go through practices.
As we turn our attention to what those practices might mean, we’ve been giving a preview of each Big 12 team and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the offseason.
Up next is a team looking to replace a wealth of offensive talent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Last season, Oklahoma State looked dominant on their way to another ten win season, but not playing on a bigger stage than the Camping World Bowl left some fans disappointed.
Gone are several offensive starters from a team that ranked No. 14 in the final polls, but head coach Mike Gundy didn’t waste much time in looking towards next season.
Gundy let go of long time coordinator Glenn Spencer and hired six new coaches before signing day in February. He also managed to grab a graduate transfer from Hawaii who’s thrown for over 5,000 yards at the Division I level.
Expectations are higher now at Oklahoma State, so no one is expecting a major step back. With so much talent gone, though, what are realistic expectations for the Pokes next season? How things shake out over the course of the next month or so could determine the answer.
PRACTICE BEGINS: TUE, MARCH 27th
SPRING GAME DATE: SAT, APRIL 28TH
LOCATION: BOONE PICKENS STADIUM (STILLWATER, OK)
The most urgent question mark for the Pokes is at quarterback. Taylor Cornelius is a redshirt senior and was Mason Rudolph’s backup last season, so he would logically be the next man up. At 6’6” tall, Cornelius is lanky but has shown some athletic ability in garbage time play. There have also been flashes of arm strength from the upperclassman, whom Gundy nicknamed “Corn Dog.”
The biggest unknown for Cornelius is that he’s had very limited in-game reps against quality competition. The same could be said of last year’s third string quarterback, Keondre Wudtee. Wudtee has the ability to make plays with his legs, but there are lingering questions about how good of a passer he can be.
There are other quarterbacks on the roster who could step up, but all of them will get more competition in the fall when Hawaii graduate transfer Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders, a heralded true freshman, both begin practicing with the Cowboys.
Either newcomer could win the starting job, giving these other signal callers the chance to make a real impression before summer comes along.
If the Pokes hope to throw the ball as frequently in 2018 as they have in years past, they’ll also need to fill in some spots at wide receiver. Tyron Johnson, a redshirt junior, averaged 16.3 yards per catch last season, so he could be expected to step into James Washington’s role.
Dillon Stoner was impressive as a redshirt freshman last season with over 500 yards receiving, so he is also likely to land a starting spot. Other than that, the main concern for the Cowboys is finding depth in the position group. One name to look out for is Tylan Wallace, who only caught a few balls last season as a true freshman, but could be another great receiver to come out of Stillwater.
All told, the offensive line will probably be the most inexperienced unit for Oklahoma State next season. While there is some in-game experience coming back at guard, the center and tackle positions are a bit of a mystery.
Redshirt senior Johnny Wilson played at center last season in place of the injured Brad Lundblade, so he’s a likely starter there.
At tackle, Canadian Shane Richards will be a redshirt senior and will probably step up on one side. The other tackle spot will be interesting to watch. Dylan Galloway was a backup last season who’s seen game action, but there are other players on the roster who could push for playing time.
Exactly how the offensive line sorts out depends upon the whims of the NCAA, however. Offensive guard Larry Williams was a starter going into last season, but an injury sidelined him just three games in. Williams was a redshirt senior last season and is waiting to hear back on whether the NCAA grants him a sixth year of eligibility.
As intriguing as the offense is for the Pokes, the defense might generate even more interest. In January, Gundy fired long time coordinator Glenn Spencer and brought former Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles on board to replace him.
Knowles had been the defensive coordinator at Duke since 2010. While there, he managed to steadily improve the quality of the defense at a school that is not traditionally known for it’s football prowess.
According to Football Outsiders, since 2013 Duke never ranked under 60th in S&P+ under Knowles (for context, the Cowboys did so only once in that time). With a bit of an upgrade in talent, will Knowles be able to take the Oklahoma State defense to new levels?
There are veterans for him to lean on, but Knowles will also have to break in less experienced players.
The Cowboys will have to replace a defensive tackle and an end on one side of the defensive line, which has new position coach in Greg Richmond.
Richmond with have some upperclassmen with game experience to work with. Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid will both be redshirt seniors who could step in on the outside. Though not starters last year, each has seen their share of live snaps.
At defensive tackle, look for either Enoch Smith, Jr. or Trey Carter to grab a starting position. Smith came on late and made some plays in Oklahoma State’s bowl win last December.
Knowles will coach the linebackers in 2018. He will only need to fill two spots there for his 4-2-5 defense, so expect returning starters Calvin Bundage and Justin Phillips to solidify their places there.
The secondary will have more questions. Expect Kenneth Edison-McGruder to be asked to play the “bandit” safety position, which provides more run support, as he was a starting linebacker in last year’s defense.
There are returning starters at corner, but two other starting safeties will need to be found.
Redshirt junior Za’Carrius Green was a backup there last season, so he could very well be the starting “rover” safety for Knowles. He might get competition from sophomore Malcom Rodriguez, who was a championship wrestler in high school.
At “strike” safety, true sophomore Thabo Mwanki has the most experience out of the remaining candidates with one start under his belt. Sean Michael Flanagan, a two-way player in high school, is an early enrollee true freshman who could push for playing time at the position.
Overall, the Cowboys have their share of issues to work out in spring on both sides of the ball. The quarterback battle will garner plenty of attention, but don’t look for any kind of definite answer there until fall. After being in the upper tier of the conference last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pokes fall to the middle of the pack.
Multiple players will have to raise their level of play across the board, however, for Gundy’s team to keep that from happening. If they can make big enough strides over the course of 15 spring practices, the 2018 Cowboys might not look so different after all.