After a disappointing end to what looked to be a historic 2015 season, the Cowboys head into the fall with loads of optimism.
Mason Rudolph, now a junior, looks to finally take the reigns of this offense and although they lost some big names on defense, Oklahoma State is one of the most experienced teams in the nation.
But everything hinges on one simple question: Can Oklahoma State run the football?
There are reasons for optimism in that department. The Pokes return everyone up front and add several possible impact players, namely Larry Williams and Marcus Keyes.
Let’s not forget the prodigal son, Barry J. Sanders. The recent Stanford grad is ready to remind people why he was such a prized recruit out of Heritage Hall and dispel any rumors that he rides on name alone.
All of these things could come together. If they do, the Cowboys could have one of the top offenses in the country. Like 2011 numbers. Like Mason Rudolph gets to keep all his touchdowns and gets invited to New York City numbers.
But what if it doesn’t? What if the running game stalls early? What if the spring game was actually a preview of what we will see in the fall? What if Barry J is just a name?
Can Mike Gundy leave the ball in Rudolph’s hands for better or worse? Should he?
We witnessed it time and time again last year. The offense stalled on first down and then a four yard gain. Now it’s third and long and Rudolph is forced to make a fantastic play... which he does.
Next thing you know, the Cowboys are in the red zone and Mason Rudolph is speeding to the line. Hurry up offense? Yeah, but more "Hurry up, offense. We need to snap this thing before I get called to the sideline."
Enter "the Walsh-dozer", "the Walshing Machine", "J-Dub", whatever you called the Super Cowboy and Super Backup, he was the calming force that seemed automatic at the goal line. And he was very effective.
But even if the team-first sophomore would never admit it, you would catch a blip of disappointment in Rudolph’s eyes as he trotted off to join his head coach on the sideline.
Trust can be a funny thing, especially when it's tested...
No issues here. No drama. He’s not built that way. That’s part of what makes "Mase" a good leader. It’s about the team, not me.
But don’t think for one minute that while sometimes necessitated those herky jerky substitutions didn’t affect Rudolph. It would anyone.
It was a tough spot for Gundy. You need to win but you don’t want to stifle the growth or confidence of your franchise QB. While support is near an all-time high for the alum head coach and should be, there was a time not too long ago when things weren’t so rosy in Stillwater. That all changed with a true freshman QB and re-punt. Thanks Bob.
That’s college football. Win. That’s it.
If the Pokes go out this year and lay a couple early eggs, the groans will reprise. It’s the nature of the beast. The cost of success.
Things did work out for the most part. The Cowboys coasted well skipped to a 10-0 start before stumbling late, but ended up making a New Year’s Six Bowl and now look poised to compete for the Big 12 again this year.
But if the offense stalls in Waco, if the Cowboys punt on consecutive drives, pay attention to Mike Gundy’s countenance. Will he leave the ball in Rudolph’s hands? In Yurcich’s hands?
It may seem like a moot point. After all, J.W. Walsh is in Ft. Worth, teaching all of OSU’s signals to Gary Patterson. But there has been speculation that either redshirt freshman John Kolar or true freshman Keondre Wudtee could fill a similar role. Could we see one of them tossed out there?
Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. But trust can be a funny thing, especially when it's tested. If it's me, I'd want to see the ball in the hands of my playmaker. Mason Rudolph is not an underclassman anymore. If he's your guy, let him be your guy. He's earned it.