With the start of the college football season growing ever nearer, excitement about what could be an historic season for Oklahoma State is growing. With that in mind, it’s time to start looking at Oklahoma State’s 2017 schedule.
When: Saturday, October 14, Time: TBD
Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Oklahoma
2016: 7-6, 3-6 (Big 12)
Key Returners: QB Zach Smith, RB Terence Williams, LB Taylor Young, DL K.J. Smith, DB Travon Blanchard.
Key Losses: QB Seth Russell, RB Shock Linwood, K.D. Cannon, LB Aiavion Edwards, DB Orion Stewart, OL Kyle Fuller, DB Patrick Levels
The 2017 Baylor Bears are a difficult team to preview for. Many new faces will see playing time for Baylor, but perhaps the biggest of all new faces is head coach Matt Rhule. Rhule is a big reason why it’s hard to get a good read on this year’s Bears. How will his style of football — specifically on offense regarding tempo — mesh with what we’ve seen Baylor produce these past few years. Perhaps the biggest statistic to keep in mind; Rhule’s Temple offense averaged under 69 plays a game last season compared to nearly 85 for Baylor. Will Rhule adapt to the high-flying Big 12 way of life, or will he try to install a more physical, clock-chewing brand of football demonstrated by Temple?
The Cowboys let one slip away last season in Waco. Trailing 28-24, Oklahoma State seemed destined to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Justice Hill fumbled on the Baylor 1-yard line, ultimately sealing the deal. Ironically, it was also the start of the Justice Hill Era as Hill rushed for 122 yards and a score. The Bears did a good job of slowing up Mason Rudolph, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 279 yards, one interception, and no touchdowns.
Players to Watch
Like many Big 12 offenses, Baylor’s success all starts at quarterback. The Bears have been blessed recently with great quarterback play, from Heisman Trophy winner RGIII, to Bryce Petty, and most recently Seth Russell. But now the Bears have a little bit of quarterback controversy heading into the season. A lot was asked of freshman quarterback Zach Smith last season, but he performed admirably by throwing for 1,526 yards, 13 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He appeared in 10 games, but started the last four. His competition is Arizona transfer Anu Solomon, who put up monster numbers in two years at Arizona. In 2014, Solomon threw for 3,793 yards, 28 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. In 2015, he threw for 2,667 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Solomon has faced injury problems in the past, but the senior could give Baylor firepower and experience from under center from week one.
Defensive line was a major sore spot for Baylor last year. Four sophomores and one freshman joined All-American K.J. Smith on the defensive line last year. With six defensive lineman returning, including an All-Big 12 threat in Smith, the Bears should greatly improve from their weakest position on defense last year. First-year defensive coordinator Phil Snow also migrated from Temple to Baylor, which could have been just as big of a win for Baylor as the hiring of Rhule. Snow’s defense at Temple was physical, hard-hitting, and efficient. With the upgrade in coaching, the defensive line could see a major improvement from last season.
This is a big game for Oklahoma State, specifically Mason Rudolph. Baylor remains the lone Big 12 team Rudolph has not beaten, and I think 2017 is the year he changes that. Baylor has some weapons on offense and defense to keep up in the Big 12, but they are still reeling from all the off the field issues from the past years. Oklahoma State is looking to snap a three game losing streak to Baylor, and I fully expect for that streak to be snapped.
Oklahoma State is the more complete team than Baylor. Under Rhule and Snow, the Baylor defense might surprise some people with how good they are. But only elite defenses will be able to slow down Oklahoma State’s offense this year, and the term “elite” does not pertain to Baylor’s defense. It’s quite possible Baylor will put up points again this year, but the Bears do not have a Corey Coleman or a KD Cannon at receiver, and they don’t exactly have a Bryce Petty or Seth Russell at quarterback. Running back Terence Williams is returning from a 1,000 yard season, but he is currently recovering from a shoulder injury, and it’s serious enough where he might not even be healthy by Oct. 14. Oklahoma State simply has the more complete team and a quarterback with revenge on his mind.