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Countdown to Kick-Off: 5 Questions For the 2018 Season

Special teams, running QBs, and when will we see Spencer Sanders among my Q’s for 2018

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NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

We are just FIVE days away from the start of Oklahoma State’s 2018 season. Along with a LOT of anticipation, fans have a lot of questions heading into the season.

There are five in particular

Will the Special Teams Show Improvement?

In case you forgot, last year Oklahoma State’s special teams were one of the worst in the country. They finished ranked 126th out of 130th in efficiency

For years, special teams was a strength for OSU, a weapon many seasons. Now? It’s a liability. Gone are the days of winning field position and scaring opposing teams with dynamic punt and kick returners.

There were a few upsides. The Cowboys punt and kickoff return coverage was pretty solid (except for that kick-off returned for a TD by Kansas State.)

Last season, Gundy coached special teams. This season, it will be a combination of special teams analyst M.K. Taylor — who can’t technically coach the team — and graduate assistant Patrick Cushman, who can. Taylor was a deep snapper for Alabama, who usually have great special teams. He’s got plenty of special teams experience. The question is, will it be enough to turn special teams’ back into a positive this season?

How High Can Justice Hill Rise this Season?

The 2018 Oklahoma State Cowboys have a new face; Justice Hill.

One of the three best running backs in the Big 12, and the leading returning rusher from last season, we all know how big the junior back will be for OSU this season.

But while he is a pre-season All-Big 12 back and has put together back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons including as a freshman, nationally, he’s still receiving little recognition.

After leading all freshmen with 1,142 rushing yards during the 2016 regular season and topping the Big 12 with 1,347 yards and 14 TDs on the ground during the ’17 regular season, can Hill show even more improvement as the Cowboys’ best weapon? And if so, will the national sports media finally take notice?

How Long Will the new Defense Need to Take Hold?

No matter how smart a coach is, no matter how much the players buy in, anytime you’re installing a new defense time is required for it to fully take hold.

Sometimes its a few game, sometimes it’s a full season. The question for Oklahoma State is, how long before the players completely grasp the 4-2-5 scheme.

DC Jim Knowles will have the players ready for game one. He said as much after the OSU Media Golf event in July.

“They will go into the first game knowing everything they need to know for that game,” said Knowles. “Will it continue to grow and move forward as the season progresses? absolutely.”

The question is, how quickly will that growing happen. OSU has time to learn and adjust with games against Missouri State, South Alabama, and Kansas early. But the second half of the season could be brutal, and in a Big 12 known for putting up points, they’re going to need their defense running smoothly to survive it. That goes doubly if the offense is struggling at quarterback.

How successfully the season goes, to me, is riding on just how quickly the players can play the 4-2-5 scheme without having to “think” about it.

How Much Will Taylor Cornelius Run?

In an interview on the Doug Gottlieb show earlier this month, Coach Gundy discussed quarterback Taylor Cornelius’ running ability.

“He can really run,” said Gundy. “He’s probably a pretty legitimate 4.7 kid, but he’s so tall, he takes really big strides. So I’m kind of excited about the ability to have him keep the ball and make a play, 6-7 times a game, just enough to keep people honest. And I think that’s going to be a really good part of our game on offense this fall.”

Despite guys like Mason Rudolph and Brandon Weeden, the Cowboys seem to like quarterbacks who can move. Zac Robinson, Clint Chelf, and J.W. Walsh are the names that come to mind. None had Rudolph or Weeden’s arm, but all three had better legs.

Rudolph ran more last season than I expected — thinking of those Texas Tech runs especially — but will the coaching staff let Cornelius rely on his legs more like Walsh or more like Rudolph? Based on Gundy’s comments, I hope it’s the former.

How Long Until we See Spencer Sanders?

Cornelius will start game one of the season, but freshman phenom Spencer Sanders is going to see the field at some point in 2018. It’s inevitable. The question is, when does it happen and in what capacity?

Is it in mop up duty against Missouri State, South Alabama, and Kansas?

Does something (knock on wood) happen to Tyler Cornelius that forces Sanders into the line-up?

At the moment, Sanders is third on the depth chart at quarterback, meaning Dru Brown will be next in line if the Cowboys need to turn to someone else. And while I have absolute faith that Gundy wants to redshirt Sanders this year, the new redshirt rule makes me believe the freshman phenom is going to see the field in real-game action at some point.

The only question now is, when and in what capacity? Will his appearance be just to wrap up a blown-out opponent or in minutes that matter? I don’t the answer, but I can’t wait to find out!