There's no denying the biggest concern for Oklahoma State coming into 2016. How will the running game improve?
The Cowboys were able to play to their strengths on offense (for the most part) finishing with the seventh ranked passing attack in the nation (second in the Big 12 behind Texas Tech). Unfortunately, they were unable to run the ball on a consistent basis, which put increased pressure on the passing game. It also helped to wear down the defense since the Pokes were unable to sustain drives and eat up clock when they needed.
There are three main factors that contribute to a good rushing attack (or a bad one for that matter): running back play, run blocking and play calling.
The play calling we will leave for another time. I actually think Mike Yurcich should be applauded for what he was able to do with a sub par rushing attack. As far as the offensive line goes, the Cowboys return all of the lineman that got any playing time last season. At running back, they return all of their contributors and it is reported that Barry J. Sanders, son of former Cowboy and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, could transfer to OSU for his final season of eligibility.
Since signing day is just over a week away. Let's look at some of the incoming recruits who may be able to help with the run game.
The Pokes currently have two running backs committed for the 2016 class: Justice Hill (Booker T. Washington/Tulsa) and La'Darren Brown (Desoto, TX).
Even without Sanders, the Cowboys return backs Chris Carson, Rennie Childs, Raymond Taylor and Jeff Carr. Carson and Childs weren't able to make as big of an impact as hoped. Taylor showed some flashes late in the year. Carr comes back as a true sophomore, looking to realize his potential as a shifty play maker. However, those four combined for just 1,237 yards. At this point, you have to think the position will be a wide open competition come spring.
Hill, a three-star prospect from Booker T. Washington HS in Tulsa, OK, was the Pokes' first commitment of the class. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound back rushed for 1,858 yards and 30 touchdowns his senior year, averaging 10.26 yards per carry. Rivals has Hill as the No. 8 prospect in the state and the 32nd ranked running back in the nation.
Hill holds offers from Louisville, Houston and Kansas but it there was no question where he wanted to end up. Hill was asked about potentially playing for OSU.
"That would be exciting because they are my favorite football team. I'm a lifelong fan of the Cowboys."
The three-star, 5-foot-8, 170-pound all-purpose back from Desoto, TX, rushed for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 7.55 per carry and caught 10 passes for 168 yards. Brown is ranked as the No. 19 running back in the nation by Rivals and 112th recruit in the state of Texas.
Brown also holds offers from Arizona State, Oregon State and SMU.
Of course, for their ground game to really improve the Cowboys will need to get better up front. Last season, the Pokes had a pretty shallow rotation on the line. There are some lineman that should get a chance to compete in the spring that weren't quite ready this time last year, and you don't normally see true freshman contribute. But the Pokes have a few recruits that may get a chance to compete.
Here are the current OL commits in the 2016 class:
Larry Williams - Guard
Williams started his collegiate career at Eastern Carolina but was dismissed for violating team rules before his sophomore season. He decided to take the juco route and transferred to Hutchinson Community College. At 6-foot-5, 339-pounds, Williams should compete for a starting spot at guard, a key weakness for the 2015 Pokes.
Tyler Brown - Center
A three-star in-state recruit from Lexington, Brown holds offers from a number of schools including: Arizona State, Houston, Mizzou and TCU. At 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds the high school center could compete for a job behind Brad Lundblade (center) or at guard depending on how he looks this spring.
Teven Jenkins - Tackle
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound three-star tackle from Topeka, KS also holds offers from Kansas State, Louisville, Mizzou and Nebraska. With Victor Salako and Zachary Crabtree returning as starters, Jenkins may be a candidate for redshirt but I don't think anything is out of the question for Adkins' group.
Matt Kegel - Tackle
Kegel, the three-star former Minnesota commit flipped to Oklahoma State last month and should add much needed depth on the line as a whole. At 6-foot-6, 303-pounds, his size and skill may give him a chance to compete for early playing time.
Kegel also holds offers from Iowa State and Pitt.
Dylan Galloway - Tackle
At 6-foot-5, 271-pounds, Galloway would be another good candidate to redshirt in 2016. The three-star tackle from Coppell, TX holds offers from Arkansas State, Nevada and UTSA.
Aside from Williams, most of these o-line recruits will probably lack for playing time next season. But current Cowboys like Brandon Pertile and Deionte Noel should get their shot to compete for snaps this year. Competition along with depth should facilitate the biggest improvements for the Pokes in 2016. Last season, there were basically five guys that were going to get a chance to play. The o-line will have another year of experience and some added depth. It's up to Greg Adkins and the rest of the coaching staff to get better production on the field.