A year ago, Oklahoma State had high expectations heading into the season with many believing that the Pokes would eventually face rival Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. While the Pokes managed another 9-win regular season, they fell shy of their preseason goals.
Heading into 2018, Gundy has made a change on the defensive side of the ball, by hiring new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Duke. Knowles will bring a new look to the Cowboy defense, but there are plenty of other unanswered questions for the Pokes. Losses of NFL-caliber talent leave Gundy with enough unknowns on both sides of the ball to warrant skepticism about this year’s team and what expectations should be.
How does the schedule influence how we see Oklahoma State heading into this season? To get a better idea, here we look at their 2018 schedule.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – Missouri State
SEP 8 – South Alabama
SEP 15 – Boise State
SEP 22 – Texas Tech
SEP 29 – at Kansas
OCT 6 – Iowa State
OCT 13 – at Kansas State
OCT 27 – Texas
NOV 3 – at Baylor
NOV 10 – at Oklahoma
NOV 17 – West Virginia
NOV 24 – at TCU
Highly Likely Wins: Missouri State, South Alabama, Kansas
The Pokes have one of the easier non-conference lineups in the Big 12, mostly owing to two teams against whom they will probably be double digit favorites.
One of those opponents is FCS foe Missouri State. For context, the Bears were beaten by in-state rival Missouri, who started out 1-5 last season, by a score of 72-43.
In addition, Oklahoma State also takes on a South Alabama team at home that the Cowboys managed to rout last season on the road. It makes good sense to think that the line on this game will be over twenty points.
The remaining layup on the schedule is the Jayhawks. When the Pokes take on Kansas, they’ll play their first conference road game. Even though the game’s in Lawrence, this one still projects as a fairly comfortable victory for Oklahoma State until KU shows they can be competitive on the football field.
Likely Wins: Baylor, Texas Tech
There are two conference games that Oklahoma State should expect to win, but both could get tricky if the Cowboys don’t play up to their usual level.
The Pokes get the Red Raiders in Stillwater for their first conference test. Especially given the way things seem to be trending for Kliff Kingsbury, expect the Cowboys to be double digit favorites at home.
When Oklahoma State travels to Waco later in the year, they could be facing a Baylor team that may be on the brink of bowl eligibility. That may give the Bears a little something extra to fight for. However, it’s probably not reasonable to think of this as a single possession game – if the Bears did manage to win this one, it would almost certainly be a big upset.
Toss Ups: Boise State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU
The overwhelming majority of Oklahoma State’s games this season look to be Toss Ups. There’s uncertainty right now as to just how good Mike Gundy’s team will be, and these seven games should provide that answer.
An early test for Oklahoma State will be against the Boise State Broncos, a team that is perennially elite in Group of Five conferences. They are projected to be a Top 25 team when they come to Stillwater early in the season, so this will be a highly anticipated matchup. This game could easily come down to the wire.
In conference play, Oklahoma State will probably be favored in is their matchup against Iowa State. The Cyclones have to come to Stillwater, so look for the home team to have an edge there. However, the Pokes would be wise not to overlook Matt Campbell’s squad, and something is building in Ames.
Other conference games will depend on how the season plays out – Texas and West Virginia both have to travel to Boone Pickens Stadium, but those teams are each thought to be a possible Big 12 title contender. Are they legit contenders, or is this just preseason hype? The Mountaineers haven’t shown that they can get over the hump, and well for Texas, we wouldn’t blame you for taking your time to buy in. Still, as it looks now, these two foes will be stiff competition for the Pokes.
The Cowboys will also be tested plenty on the road, where they could be slight underdogs. Kansas State, Oklahoma, and TCU will all be tough teams for the Cowboys to take on, especially considering that all three of those teams handed Mike Gundy’s guys their only losses last season, and the Sooners and the Frogs are the preseason favorites to win the conference.
All in all, Oklahoma State thus projects to have a fairly high number of games that could go either way for them. That could certainly translate into a really good season, but it’s easy to lose multiple close games.
Likely Losses: None
It is difficult to project how things will go for the Pokes next fall, especially given so much change on offense. If Oklahoma State has a season where they really struggle to find their rhythm throughout, there could be a game against one of their Toss Up opponents that see the Pokes as an underdog by more than a possession.
At this point, though, that kind of step back under Gundy can’t be predicted with any certainty. One of the Cowboys’ road games in conference are the most likely candidate, but a lot will depend on how the season plays out.
Highly Likely Losses: None
There are no games on the schedule for Oklahoma State where they should expect to be significant underdogs. Mike Gundy has a history of success in Stillwater, one that makes it difficult to project Oklahoma State to lose to any of the teams on their schedule by double digits.
Predicted Wins: 7-9
Projecting Oklahoma State to win about eight games feels the most right at this point in the offseason. There are good reasons to be either optimistic or pessimistic about the Pokes’ chances.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Oklahoma State takes a step back to a 7-5 regular season in 2018. For one, the Pokes play the majority of their conference games on the road. There are definitely some potential losses in that slate. Then there’s all the uncertainty about replacing so much production offensively. Gone are Mason Rudolph and James Washington, two of the best to ever play in Stillwater. Is it really that easy to just reload and not expect some kind growing pains along the way?
However, given that there are no clearly elite teams in the Big 12, there is also good reason to believe that Oklahoma State can win about the same amount of conference games as they did last year.
Believing that Gundy gets his team to 9 wins again next season means having a lot of faith in the head coach and his staff’s ability to evaluate and develop talent. But he has a solid track record of doing just that, and getting 9-10 wins in what many thought to be a down season.
The Cowboys also have one of the best running backs in the country in Justice Hill, and a new defensive coordinator who could improve that side of the ball enough for them to grind out nine wins.
The Pokes have a lot of Toss Ups listed here, precisely because there are so many question marks about this team. It is certainly feasible that they surprise, but it also seems likely that they struggle against a top quality Boise State team and of their conference opponents. Either way, Oklahoma State will still be a tough team to contend with in 2018.