The 2021 season produced two new title contenders in the Big 12 Conference as Baylor and Oklahoma State faced off in the Big 12 Championship Game. The conference announced plans to replace Texas and Oklahoma in 2025 by adding Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and BYU in 2023. The 2022 season will be the last season of the Big 12 Conference as it’s been known for the last decade.
There will inevitably be more seismic shifts this season after UCLA and USC announced intentions to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference. Whether the Big 12 adds more schools or has more members poached by other conferences remains to be seen, but this will be the last year with just 10 member institutions in the conference. Next up in the Big 12 preseason power rankings is the Oklahoma State Cowboys. You can read previous installments of the series below.
No. 3 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State made a run to the Big 12 championship game a year ago after beating Baylor and Oklahoma at home to secure the top spot in the conference after the regular season. OSU will have to face Baylor and OU on the road this season, making the path back to Arlington a little more complicated.
The Cowboys will also have to deal with turnover on a defensive unit that ranked as one of the best in all of college football last season. Expectations are high in Stillwater this season and the results of the road games against Baylor and Oklahoma may determine if the season is a success or not.
OSU lost more talent in the transfer portal than it gained. The losses of cornerbacks Tanner McCalister (Ohio State) and Jarrick Bernard-Converse (LSU) hurt the secondary. Mike Gundy wasn’t able to replace that talent in the secondary through the transfer portal, but Gundy did replace departed defensive coordinator Jim Knowles (Ohio State) with Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
Spencer Sanders returns for another year captaining Oklahoma State’s offense. It will be Sanders’ fourth full season as the starting quarterback. There was definite improvement from Sanders last year, though he did struggle when the offensive line struggled.
Backup quarterback Shane Illingworth transferred to Nevada in the offseason and has the talent to be a starting quarterback. Unfortunately for Illingworth, that opportunity never materialized at Oklahoma State. That means Gunnar Gundy and true freshman Garret Rangel will fill the backup quarterback role this season. Gundy will get his shot if anything happens to Sanders. Rangel has plenty of talent, but he will be the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option, much like Illingworth was for a few games early in 2020.
Oklahoma State’s situation at running back is similar to 2016 when the Cowboys used as many as five different players before Justice Hill and Chris Carson seized the majority of the reps. Dominic Richardson should be the day one starter as the player with the most experience. Richardson looked good against TCU last season, but so did everybody else on offense. Redshirt freshman Jaden Nixon is included in that group as he ripped off a long touchdown run against the Horned Frogs in limited action.
Texas A&M transfer Deondre Jackson joins Richardson and Nixon as a player with little experience. Jackson recorded just three carries in two seasons at Texas A&M. Behind those three players are true freshmen Ollie Gordon and CJ Brown. I am excited to see Gordon play and I think he could contribute right away. I got to watch Gordon play in high school and he came into Stillwater with a body nearly ready for college football.
I would bet that Richardson, Nixon and Gordon are the three players getting carries by the end of the season. Either way, this group needs to find a playmaker before making the trip to Waco for the first conference game of the season. Somebody needs to step up in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The wide receivers are young and talented, but lack a clear top option for Sanders to throw to. Sanders liked to spread the ball around last year, but he had a top option in Tay Martin. Brennan Presley returns for his junior year and will be a star in the slot, but the Cowboys need a threat on the boundary. Offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn is one of the best at developing receivers, so youth at receiver isn’t the biggest concern for Dunn on offense.
That option might be Brayden Johnson, who missed all of 2021 with an injury and returns as a super-senior. Jaden Bray, Bryson Green, Rashod Owens and John Paul Richardson all contributed last year despite being freshmen. All will be expected to play a big role this season, but at least one needs to fill Martin’s role. If one of those guys can’t step up, true freshman Talyn Shettron could be the guy. Shettron should get a decent amount of snaps regardless.
Blaine Green will be the primary receiving threat at cowboy back after contributing as a true freshman last season. Braden Cassity returns and will be used as a blocker from the cowboy back position.
Gundy hammered the transfer portal to help address the offensive line. Oklahoma State has to replace Josh Sills and Danny Godlevske up front. Cole Birmingham will move from left tackle to left guard so Caleb Etienne can slide into the starting lineup at left tackle. Hunter Woodard returns at right tackle. There is returning experience at center as both Preston Wilson and Joe Michalski have played the position.
Jake Springfield has plenty of experience at tackle, but Oklahoma State could also go with a newcomer. Junior college transfer Tyrone Webber enrolled early and should play a role. USC transfer Casey Collier and Vanderbilt transfer Jason Brooks Jr. will get a shot to play and could eventually start. There is depth along the offensive line, but Gundy needs to figure out which combination of five guys plays the best together. He will have three games to figure that out before having to face Baylor.
Oklahoma State is losing eight starters from one of the best defensive units in college football a year ago. Replacing players such as Malcolm Rodriguez won’t be possible. Gundy has said as much. Addressing the linebacking corps and secondary will be important, but Mason does inherit one of the most talented defensive line groups in the country.
Collin Oliver is the star of that group after a breakout freshman season. Oliver was named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last year and should only get better this season. Brock Martin and Tyler Lacy return on the defensive front, and Trace Ford returns after missing the 2021 season with an injury. Brendon Evers, Tyren Irby, Kody Walterscheid and Sione Asi all return and have experience as well.
That group will need to get pressure and live in the backfield because there are plenty of new faces behind them. The Pokes will have an entirely new look at linebacker after Rodriguez and Devin Harper graduated to NFL draft picks. Mason Cobb has impressed Gundy and the coaching staff and figures to play a big role. So does junior college transfer Xavier Benson. Lamont Bishop will also get his shot to play after playing in a reserve role the last few seasons.
The secondary is in better shape with more returning experience than the linebackers have to work with. Korie Black and Jabbar Muhammad played a decent amount last season as the coaching staff anticipated those guys taking over full time at cornerback this season. Jason Taylor II will lead the secondary as the most experienced returning safety.
The other two starting spots in the secondary will be up for grabs for a number of guys. Seniors Thomas Harper and Trey Rucker will get their shot to claim the spots. Redshirt freshman Kendal Daniels was a top recruit and will get a fair shot and claiming a spot as well. Kanion Williams and Sean Michael Flanagan have mostly played on special teams, but figure to get a few snaps and an opportunity to prove themselves.
A relatively easy non-conference schedule works for and against the Cowboys. All three games are at home and only one is against a power five opponent. One on hand, OSU should get a chance to rotate in plenty of players and figure out who the best 11 are on each side of the football. On the other hand, OSU doesn’t get to ease into the conference schedule. There are two must win games for the Cowboys to get back to Arlington: Baylor and Oklahoma.
Baylor will get BYU on the road in non-conference and plays four games before meeting OSU on Oct. 1. The Bears travel to Ames for a game with Iowa State on Sept. 24 while Oklahoma State has a bye week. Time will tell if that will work in Oklahoma State’s favor or not. The Pokes do get Texas at home for homecoming, but will have to play Kansas State on the road for the Wildcats’ homecoming. The actual travel isn’t bad as OSU will only play games in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.
Oklahoma State Cowboys Schedule 2022
|September 1||Central Michigan||W|
|Spetember 10||Arizona State||W|
|September 17||Arkansas- Pine Bluff||W|
|October 1||@ Baylor||L|
|October 8||Texas Tech||W|
|October 15||@ TCU||W|
|October 29||@ Kansas State||W|
|November 5||@ Kansas||W|
|November 12||Iowa State||W|
|November 19||@ Oklahoma||L|
|November 26||West Virginia||W|
|Overall Record||10-2 (7-2)|
I think every game on Oklahoma State’s schedule is winnable. I don’t think Oklahoma State will win every game. Playing Baylor and Oklahoma on the road will be tough. Making it back to Arlington for the Big 12 championship game will be even tougher. Even if OSU splits with Baylor and OU, navigating the rest of the Big 12 schedule won’t be easy.
Ultimately I think OSU’s season will come down to the offensive line and Spencer Sanders. If the offensive line protects Sanders, especially against BU and OU, the Cowboys should be fine. I am not as concerned about playmakers emerging at running back, receiver, and in the secondary. The offensive line and linebackers will need to perform for this team to have a chance at a return trip to Arlington.
Disclaimer: I will be posting my picks weekly on Tallysight once again this year. This is just my best guess as of July and these picks are subject to change once I see what actually ends up playing out on the field.