ESPN has spent the last couple weeks ranking the position groups for each team in the Big 12. It’s been an interesting series to see where each group ranks for OSU in comparison to all of the other Big 12 teams.
We’ve decided to gather them all up and see where OSU ranks overall.
Quarterback: No. 2
Only two Power 5 QBs -- Mayfield and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett -- have more starting wins than Mason Rudolph, who boasts a career record of 22-6. Backup QB, however, is becoming a perilous predicament for the Pokes. John Kolar, Keondre Wudtee and true freshman Jelani Woods all struggled in Oklahoma State's spring game, leaving walk-on Taylor Cornelius as the favorite to back up Rudolph again in the fall.
The case could easily be made for Rudolph at No. 1, especially considering what he’s going to have to work with at wide receiver. Rudolph isn’t perfect, but he’s been outstanding with an “ok” run game and questionable line play for the past couple years. With improvements at both positions, Rudolph now has everything he needs to be the best QB in the conference, if not college football.
Running Back: No. 5
The Cowboys are thin here but remain in the top half of the league largely because of Justice Hill, the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year in 2016 who rushed for 1,142 yards. Look for Canadian newcomer Chuba Hubbard to complement Hill, along with senior Jeff Carr. And we already like incoming freshman J.D. King out of Georgia, mainly because his mom is a noted advocate of the Mike Gundy mullet.
Justice Hill is the first ray of sunshine after a storm. The storm being the three year run where OSU didn’t have a reliable No. 1 running back. Now they have a top guy. The next step is finding a true back-up to compliment him like Chris Carson did down the stretch last season. My money is on one of the new guys, Hubbard or King, or both, to take the bulk of the carries behind Hill and finally provide the one-two punch at running back OSU has been missing for a few years.
Wide Receiver: No. 1
Quarterback Mason Rudolph said this spring that LSU transfer Tyron Johnson was Oklahoma State's best receiver in space with the ball in his hands. Considering the other components of the Cowboy receiving corps, that's an incredible compliment and underscored just how deep this Cowboy wideout unit will be.
There may not be a deeper position in the entire Big 12 than what OSU has at receiver. It’s ridiculous. Washington, McClesky, Ateman, Lacy, Stoner, and Johnson could all be WR-1s and 2s on any team. This is like Scrooge McDuck-level wealth.
Offensive Line: No. 5
Depth is lacking, but the Cowboys solidified their starting unit with the addition of graduate transfer Aaron Cochran from Cal. He will replace Victor Salako and mesh with returning starters Marcus Keyes at left guard, center Brad Lundblade, right guard Larry Williams and Zachary Crabtree at right tackle. If these guys stay healthy, Oklahoma State’s line could rank next fall in the top three to four of the Big 12.
The addition of Aaron Cochran is huge, but the real question is what kind of development can new offensive line coach Josh Henson get out of the existing players. That will be the most important thing is the development (and health) of Keyes, Lundblade, Williams, and Crabtree.
Defensive Line: No. 3
The Cowboys boast one of the deepest units in the league, especially at end, where they have five reliable and experienced options in Cole Walterscheid, Jarrell Owens, Tralund Webber, Jordan Brailford and Vili Leveni. To replace Vincent Taylor inside, Oklahoma State is hoping Darrion Daniels can take a big step forward in his third season.
The depth is there, the question is, is there a star in the starting line-up. The last two seasons the defensive line has been anchored by an NFL draft pick; Emmanuel Ogbah and Vincent Taylor. The question now is who will step up? Walterscheid and Owens are the top returning players in the group as far as production. If Darrion Daniels can turn into the player many think he will be, OSU will be just fine on the D-Line.
Linebacker: No. 3
Lots of options exist for the Cowboys, despite the departures of Jordan Burton and Devante Averette. Senior Chad Whitener is back in the middle, and Oklahoma State coaches expect at least one star to emerge from the group of Justin Phillips, Calvin Bundage and Kenneth Edison-McGruder. Phillips is especially versatile and could play alongside his backup, Kevin Henry. Linebacker should rate as the Pokes’ strongest defensive position group.
Outside of quarterback and receiver I think this is OSU’s best and deepest position group. I have a lot of faith in Justin Phillips and Chad Whitener to carry this group. Both were outstanding last season and Phillips should be even better.
Defensive Backs: No. 5
The Cowboys landed one of the more high-profile grad transfers this spring in former Clemson cornerback Adrian Baker. Baker should help shore up the biggest question on the Oklahoma State defense, while allowing the Pokes to keep Ramon Richards as a cover safety, which could go a long way in bolstering coordinator Glenn Spencer's pass defense.
OSU’s biggest question mark. It all comes down to whether or not moving Ramon Richards was the right move. It was a bold one, but as smart as Gundy is (and he really is ahead of the curve guys) I have to believe he and the staff know what they’re doing here. However, if this experiment fails, OSU could be in for a looooong season.
Special Teams: No. 2
While making plans for QB Mason Rudolph’s Heisman campaign, the Cowboys may want to promote Zach Sinor, too -- for the Ray Guy Award. The junior punter rates as a serious weapon with his powerful leg and precision. His 35 punts downed inside the 20-yard line last year led the FBS. Jalen McCleskey is also back as a threat on returns.
If you average all the rankings, allotting a No. 1 ranking 10 points, a No. 2 ranking 9 points, etc... here are how the teams should rank heading into the season.
No. 1 Oklahoma State Cowboys (62)
No. 2 TCU Horned Frogs (59)
No. 3 Kansas State Wildcats (58)
No. 4 (tie) Oklahoma Sooners (57)
Texas Longhorns (57)
No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers
No. 7 Baylor Bears
No. 8 Iowa State Cyclones
No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks
No. 10 Texas Tech Red Raiders
There are some really interesting observations to make here:
- OSU only finished first in one category, wide receiver, but didn’t have a single position ranked in the bottom half of the league. The Cowboys are the only team that can say that.
- The difference between second and fifth place is two points. From a talent standpoint, the top of the league is pretty even across the board.
- OSU had the top rated offense based on the rankings as well, topping OU by one point and TCU by two.
- As far as defense goes, Texas had the highest ranked (26 points) followed by TCU (23), and three teams tied at third; OSU, OU, and KSU (22).
- I would love to see where the ESPN crew ranked the coaching staffs for each school.
- I don’t think Texas will win the Big 12 this year. However, if Herman can get the quick turnaround Longhorns fans are hoping for, they could certainly cause chaos, including handing a top Big 12 teams a loss that knocks them out of playoff contention.
- Do we really think TCU is the second best team in the Big 12 this year? Everyone has pegged OSU, OSU, and KSU as the top teams. Maybe the Horned Frogs will be the surprise team of the year. It will all depend on quarterback play, which just so happened to be their second lowest ranked position at No. 6. Also, their second ranked receiving corps won’t matter much if they get poor play from Kenny Hill again.
- If you really think about it, Texas Tech in last place makes complete sense. Mahomes was the reason the Red Raiders even won five games last season. Do you really think they’ll reach a bowl game now that he’s gone?