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2021 Season

Big 12 Spring Wrap-Up: Pokes Will Have Talent And Experience, But Key Questions Remain

The defense should be as good as it’s ever been, but how will the offense shake out?

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Getty Images - Brian Bahr

Spring football is drawing to a close throughout the Big 12, and teams have started gaining more clarity as to what their 2021 squads are going to look like. As they head into summer workouts, we’ll get into some tentative impressions of all the teams, providing a projection of offensive and defensive starters for the upcoming season (returning starters in bold) as well as some post-spring observations.

Oklahoma State has solidified its position as a top program in FBS, and the Pokes are used to finding themselves in conversations about the Big 12 title. That was the case last year, when Oklahoma State was one win away from qualifying for the Big 12 championship. The Pokes will go into the 2021 season with what is likely a strong defense, but they’ll be looking for some development on the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Mike Gundy’s certainly got enough talent in place to possibly to compete for a title berth, but this could also be a season where Oklahoma State looks to retool and rebuild for the future.

Projected 2021 Oklahoma State Depth Chart

OFFENSEDEFENSE
LTJake Springfield (So.)DETrace Ford (Jr.)
LGJosh Sills (Sr.)DTIsrael Antwine (Sr.)
CDanny Godlevske (Sr.)DTCollin Clay (So.)
RGCole Birmingham (So.)DETyler Lacy (Jr.)
RTHunter Anthony (Sr.)LBDevin Harper (Sr.)
WRTay Martin (Sr.)LBMalcolm Rodriguez (Sr.)
WRBrennan Presley (So.)CBJarrick Bernard-Converse (Sr.)
WRBraydon Johnson (Sr.)STanner McCalister (Sr.)
CWLogan Carter (Jr.)STre Sterling (Sr.)
RBL.D. Brown (Sr.)SKolby Harvell-Peel (Sr.)
QBSpencer Sanders (Jr.)CBChristian Holmes (Sr.)

Defense Will Likely Carry This Team Again

It’s odd to say that a program that is normally so productive offensively will rely on its defense in 2021, but that’s how this year’s Cowboys are shaping up. The Pokes were sound last season, and allowed conference opponents to complete only 56.4 percent of their passes. Not only that, but on many occasions last year, Oklahoma State’s defense stepped up to come up with key turnovers or actually put points on the board, putting the team on its shoulders when the offense was struggling.

With eight starters back, expect to see a top level defense coming out of Stillwater once more. If there’s a weaker area of play for this unit, though, it comes in Oklahoma State’s ability to defend opposing ground games. The Pokes gave up less than 3.5 yards per carry in only four games, so defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will certainly have some items on his to-do list.

Sanders’ Development Will Be Integral

The offensive side of the ball saw its share of issues in 2020, despite improving in a few respects. The Pokes averaged 443.7 yards per contest in Big 12 games, and were able to move the ball between the 20s better than a lot of squads in the conference. Turnovers and struggles in the red zone kept the Cowboys from really being able to separate in games in 2020, and for a variety of reasons, the offense never took the next step that was expected headed into the season.

Quarterback issues played into that, as Spencer Sanders continued to have problems with turnovers, and the sophomore signal caller actually finished with a slightly lower passer rating than he had in 2019. As the first string quarterback, Sanders has continued to flash athleticism and a strong arm, but decision-making continues to be something for him to work on. With a lot of new faces at the skill positions, the junior really needs to get better there.

The Skill Players Will Have To Be Sorted

Of all the teams that project to be in the top half of the Big 12 this year, Oklahoma State has the most unknowns, particularly on offense. Big name stars seem to always emerge and provide fireworks for Gundy’s teams, but there’s some uncertainty over who exactly the next guys up might be. L.D. Brown and Dezmon Jackson definitely had their moments, wracking up almost 1,000 yards combined. Will this season be more of a committee approach, or will either Brown or Jackson emerge as a “go-to” back? Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren could push them for playing time, so there may not be a clear-cut “RB1” by the time the first game rolls around.

Names especially need to emerge among the receivers. Braydon Johnson leads all returning pass catchers with 248 yards from 2020, but an obvious NFL Draft pick is not eminent amongst that group. The Pokes have a good track record with this position group, so it’s likely that they find an some all-conference level performers, but it could take some time for that cornerstone player to emerge.

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