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The Oklahoma State Cowboys look forward to the 2016 football season anxious to prove that the 10-game win streak they opened last season with was no fluke, and that the three-straight losses they closed the season with doesn’t define them.

A big part of what defines their upcoming season will be just how well they can improve on offense. Last season the passing game was solid behind quarterback Mason Rudolph, but sub par offensive line play, and lack of a difference-maker at running back, left a lot to be desired in rushing attack.

Headed into 2016 the Cowboys lose just four seniors with starting experience. The biggest of which is easily J.W. Walsh. OSU’s “super backup” quarterback. The Cowboys’ Walsh package was not only effective, but was crucial boost to the inept run game. In the red zone, Walsh ran the ball 38 times for 13 touchdowns. Oklahoma State was ninth in the nation in red zone efficiency and J.W. Walsh was a big part of that. The Cowboys’ offense won’t have that crutch in short yardage situations now that J.W. Walsh has taken a position as a graduate assistant on TCU’s staff.

Also gone are slot receiver David Glidden, breakaway threat Brandon Sheperd and Cowboy Back Jeremy Seaton.

Will The Offensive Line Improve?

The biggest need going into 2016 is undoubtedly improvement in the run game, and for OSU that has to start up front. The good news is Mike Gundy and staff made the offensive line a priority in their latest recruiting class, signing seven O-line recruits. The headliner of that class is offensive tackle Tramonda Moore of John Marshall HS (Oklahoma City, OK). Moore was the top rated prep athlete in the state and the No. 7 offensive tackle in the nation per ESPN.

However, the newcomer with the biggest chance to make an immediate impact may be JUCO-transfer guard Larry Williams, who started his career at East Carolina. At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, his size and experience should earn him a chance to top the depth chart. Especially since the guard position has been a key weakness for OSU over the last couple of seasons. The additional depth and increased competition should drive improvement up front.

The offensive line will also have a bit more consistency in leadership now that coach Greg Adkins is in his second year at OSU. Think about this, Adkins is the third o-line coach 2016’s seniors have played under. Having his first full year at OSU under his belt, and some of his own recruits, will help him do some of the things he just wasn’t able to last year.

Will Anyone Step Up As A Play-Maker In The Back Field?

Last season Chris Carson, Rennie Childs, and Jeff Carr were all serviceable backs, but they aren’t the type of back that can turn a five yard run into 15 or 20. No, a five yard run is a five yard run for them. They just aren’t going to make too many people miss. Raymond Taylor showed a couple of flashes at the end of last season, but the Cowboys are still looking for someone to step up as a play-maker. They return their entire running back group from last year, but with their lack of consistency, the position should be an open competition.

Three new faces on campus will have a chance to show Gundy and staff that they can be the guy for the Pokes. The Cowboys signed a couple of freshman in Justice Hill from Booker T. Washington HS (Tulsa, OK) and La’Darren Brown from Desoto HS (Desoto, TX). Of course though, the biggest name arrives in the summer. Barry J. Sanders (yep, the son of that Barry Sanders) will transfer to OSU for his final year of eligibility after he graduates from Stanford in June.

Sanders never fully realized the success many anticipated at Stanford. Mostly because he was stuck behind Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey – the guy that broke his dad’s record. Sanders only carried the ball 51 times for 315 yards and four touchdowns last season, but averaged 6.18 yards per carry. His numbers are surprisingly similar to Raymond Taylor, who worked his way up the depth chart towards the end of last season. Taylor carried 47 times for 297 yards and four touchdowns (6.32 average).

Sanders should get a chance to start and people around Oklahoma know about his play-making abilities from his time at Heritage Hall HS (Oklahoma City, OK).

Can The High-Powered Attack Keep Firing?

Although they finished ninth in the conference in rushing last season, the Cowboys still managed to average 39.5 points per game thanks to a high-powered passing attack. That attack, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, returns a deep receiving corps featuring the Big 12’s leading returning receiver in James Washington.

Deep-threat wide out Marcell Ateman also returns as well as Jhajuan Seales, Jalen McCleskey, Austin Hays and Chris Lacy. To say the Cowboys are loaded at receiver is an understatement. There’s no reason to believe that, barring injuries, the Pokes won’t pick up where they left off, and that should frighten a few secondaries around the league.

The biggest concern for the passing attack will be keeping Mason Rudolph healthy. With Walsh no longer providing services as an experienced backup, should Rudolph go down, the Cowboys will have to rely on either redshirt freshman John Kolar or redshirt sophomore Taylor Cornelius. Kolar was a highly touted recruit, but said to be a year away by those attending practice.

The absence of Walsh begs another question for the Cowboys; will Gundy look to fill his red zone roll with someone else, or he finally hand the reins over to Mason Rudolph full-time? A lot of that depends on how the running game improves in spring and fall camp along with whether or not Gundy feels there’s a quarterback on the roster that can fill that large of a role. Afterall, Walsh was a fifth year senior who had won the starting job more than once.

2016 Could Be A Big Year For The Cowboys

The schedule is working against them this year as most of their tougher games will be on the road, but with a lot of talent coming back, if OSU’s line can improve and someone can make plays out of the backfield, OSU’s offense could be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Stay tuned for an Early Look at Oklahoma State’s Defense.