Mike Gundy has become a popular man in Stillwater, Okla.
The Oklahoma State football coach, now entering his 14th season in the role with the Cowboys, will attempt to lead the team to its fourth consecutive 10-win season in 2018. But he’ll have to do it without some of the biggest stars from the past three seasons — namely quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington. Oklahoma State lost both ends of the duo to graduation after the 2017 season.
That’s why several experts aren’t high on the rattlesnake hunting, mullet-sporting coach to oversee the same success that he has been accustomed to for the last seven to eight seasons.
247Sports college football writer Brad Crawford predicted on Friday that Oklahoma State will be the most disappointing Big 12 football team during the 2018 season — at least based on what fans have been used to seeing at Boone Pickens Stadium in recent years.
“Mike Gundy has earned the benefit of the doubt after three consecutive 10-win seasons, but he’s not getting there this fall — even with a soft schedule prior to the meat of the Big 12 slate. The Cowboys basically have two months to get it going offensively after adjusting to life without Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Marcell Ateman before battling Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU over the final five weeks of the season. All four of those squads should finish with a better record than Oklahoma State in the top-half of the league standings.”
A shift in the Big 12 power rankings
As far as replacements go for Rudolph, the bread and butter of the offense for Oklahoma State last season, Gundy will have several options.
Incoming freshman Spencer Sanders, who was named the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017, is a viable dual-threat option for the Cowboys, but will have plenty of work to do when it comes to learning the Oklahoma State offense. Another player in the starting quarterback race is graduate transfer Dru Brown, who is set for his first season in Stillwater after transferring from Hawaii. Brown passed for 5,273 yards over the last two years with the Rainbow Warriors.
But no matter who wins the starting job, there won’t be any shortage of hurdles to overcome. West Virginia is one of the few teams out of the Big 12 that is set to return its starting quarterback from 2017 season, with Will Grier returning to Morgantown, W. Va. for his senior campaign. Grier passed for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns last season before going down with a finger injury vs. Texas. David Sills V, who led West Virginia in receiving yards last season, is also set to return.
No doubt about it, the Mountaineers will be one of the biggest challenges for Oklahoma State and the rest of the Big 12 to deal with this fall. The good news — the Cowboys get Dana Holgorsen and Co. on home turf opposed to making the long trek out to Morgantown.
While Oklahoma and TCU also lose their 2017 starting quarterbacks, both of their projected 2018 starters did see some action last fall. Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray, who transferred out of Texas A&M following the 2015 season, flashed his talent with a 66-yard run on the first snap vs. West Virginia last season — a game which he started for one series after Baker Mayfield was disciplined for obscene gestures at Kansas. TCU’s favorite for the starting job, rising sophomore Shawn Robinson, led the Horned Frogs to a 27-3 victory in his lone start of 2017 at Texas Tech — playing in place of an injured Kenny Hill.
Texas could be a wildcard, as the Longhorns — like West Virginia — will travel to Stillwater in 2018. While Texas has received plenty of offseason hype, it hasn’t quite equated with the reports from the practice field. Coach Tom Herman has repeatedly voiced concerns about too many fumbles from the backfield. The starting quarterback job in Austin is also up in the air between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger.
From the preseason outlook, there’s set to be a lot of parity in the Big 12 this fall, and that could be the saving grace for the Cowboys as they seek to compete for the conference crown. But without the same weapons on offense from 2017 to work with, it’s bound to be an uphill battle.
Oklahoma State kicks off the 2018 campaign with a home game vs. Missouri State. The Cowboys begin Big 12 play vs. Texas Tech on Sept. 22.