With just a week until Oklahoma State kicks off its 2019 season, it’s time to take a real hard look at the team that will be taking the field in orange and black this year.
So to prepare everyone — OSU and non-OSU fans alike — here are five important things to know heading into the Cowboys’ Week 1 match-up against Oregon State.
Most important player on offense
You could argue it is junior wide receiver Tylan Wallace. We don’t know if there’s another guy as talented as the 2018 Biletnikoff finalist that’s ready to step in if OSU were to lose him. That said, with guys like “Mister Reliable” Dillon Stoner, up and comers like Landon Wolf and Cowboy Back Jelani Woods, and experienced graduate transfer Jordan McCray, OSU has a loaded receiving core to back Wallace up.
You could argue it is redshirt sophomore running back Chuba Hubbard. Last season when leading rusher Justice Hill went down with injury — and then bypassed the rest of the season so he could prepare to do THIS in the NFL — Hubbard was ready to step in and take his place, running for more than 100 yards in three of the last four games. This year, there is no known commodity behind Hubbard. LD Brown is the backup after being the fourth stringer entering 2018. Behind him is Jahmyl Jeter, an almost afterthought addition to the 2018 recruiting class, who has had some buzz since bowl prep. Then you add in a JUCO player in Dezmon Jackson and a four-star true-freshman in Deondrick Glass that’s expected to redshirt. It’s an interesting and talented group that has yet to prove anything. The four backs behind Hubbard could more than cobble together a successful running game.
That’s why, to me, the answer is right tackle Teven Jenkins. At this point, it sounds like the Cowboys are confidently about seven deep on the line. That’s.. a little shy of what you’d like. Losing your best and most versatile lineman would be a huge blow. Just remember at the difficulties OSU had last season when guys went down. The Cowboys figured it out, but it was ugly for awhile. They’re still building up the offensive line depth, and it’s better, but not there yet.
Throw in the fact that there’s going to be a new starting quarterback — who is yet to be decided — and it’s vital for the Cowboys to take another step forward on the offensive line. The O-line as a whole is important, but that means their best player in the group, is even more so. And that player is Teven Jenkins.
Most important player on defense
My initial answer here was senior cornerback AJ Green, one of the best cover corners in the Big 12. The secondary is going to be OSU’s strength on defense this season, and he’s the leader of it. If he did go down, there’s depth and talent OSU has accumulated behind him to handle the season.
As important as the secondary is, if your defensive front can’t put pressure on the quarterback, it won’t matter how good the corners and safeties. A half-decent QB with 3-4 seconds to stand in the pocket will almost always eventually find an open receiver. Or in this era of college football, run for a first down.
That’s why the focus has to be on the guys who can get to the QB. I would say a defensive lineman, but the answer is senior linebacker Calvin Bundage — for two reasons.
Bundage is the most athletically gifted defensive player. When he is focused and disciplined he can wreck an opposing offenses’ game plan. He’s one of the best playmaker and makes hits that make you go...
He can wreck OSU when he gets undisciplined and lets his emotions get the best of him. The defensive line is going to need time to gel. The linebacker core is OSU’s second weakest position group on defense. The Cowboys need to be able to keep him in the game as much as possible. If he becomes a liability, like he has in the past with boneheaded penalties and mistakes, it puts the entire front seven in a compromising position.
While Bundage has dealt with a back injury during the offseason, he was cleared to return to practice. Whether or not he starts against Oregon State remains to be seen, but that doesn’t diminish his impact.
Biggest change from 2018 to 2019
There are two ways to go here: on and off the field.
On the field
The Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 campaign that saw some highs with beating four ranked opponents (Boise State, Texas, West Virginia and Missouri) and some low-lows with blow-out losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State.
So what was the cause for OSU’s extreme inconsistency? A lack of discipline.
Last season was the most penalized team of the Mike Gundy era, averaging 6.8 penalties and 70.54 penalty yards a game. For the most part, OSU won when it avoided penalties and lost when it didn’t.
That’s why discipline has been such a focus for the team this fall. Just look at those shirts.
It’s a focus that should pay off, with a more disciplined team that commits fewer penalties. That should come from a few things; the renewed focus, an improved offensive line, and the defense not spending as much mental energy just trying to learn and adapt to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles scheme.
Off the field
There are two big changes; one is offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, who was hired away from Princeton. I could wax poetic about how exciting his offensive wrinkles are going to be once added to OSU’s scheme, but I’ll let Bill Connelly explain why you should be excited.
Or you could travel down this rabbit hole.
And while I’m excited about Gleeson, I’m even more excited about offensive line coach Charlie Dickey, who came over this offseason from Kansas State. The Wildcats were always known for good O-lines when they were at their peak. For the first time since Joe Wickline left Stillwater back in 2013, OSU is on the road to having not only a well stock o-line room, but a more consistently reliable one.
During his 10 years with the Wildcats, the K-State o-line racked up three All-America honors and 23 All-Big 12 honors, including 11 first-team.
Most important game
It’s not Bedlam.
This is no longer an OSU program that can claim a 5-7 season successful just because they beat their hated in-state rival. The 2014 win was awesome and left fans with warm fuzzy feelings at the end of the year, but no one would call that 7-6 monstrosity a “good season.”
At this point, Bedlam can be claimed the “most important game” in years when OSU is in the running to make the Big 12 title game. This isn’t that year.
We actually discussed this topic on my show, the Ten12 podcast. My claim is still the same; it’s TCU.
These are two teams picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, but two teams a lot of the media seem to like. TCU received 57 points in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, good enough for 31st in the “rankings.” Some voters even had them over Iowa State.
For OSU, I’m seeing more and more media members rate them as underrated and a pick to surprise. To me, OSU and TCU are battling to be this season’s Big 12 dark horse contender.
The match-up against the Horned Frogs may be in Stillwater, but it comes at the end of OSU’s three-game stretch featuring Baylor at home and Iowa State on the road. Facing two of the three best defenses in the Big 12 (and arguably the top two this season) in back-to-back weeks is a big ask, even for an offense as potent as OSU’s usually is.
If the Cowboys want a shot at making Bedlam nationally relevant at the end of the season, outside of playing “spoiler,” the TCU game is going to be hugely important.
OSU’s regular season record will be...
It’s been my prediction since Big 12 Media Days, and I’m sticking to it. I see likely losses to Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma and likely wins over Oregon State, McNeese, Tulsa, Kansas, and Kansas State.
That gets them to 5-3 and leaves four toss-up games: at Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU and at West Virginia.
This is “Year 0” for Neal Brown in Morgantown, and while it’s never an easy place to play and I expect Brown to have the team playing the best they will all season by Week 13. OSU escapes with a win.
As for the two home games, I’ll give OSU a win over Baylor on homecoming. The off-week should help them prepare for a rematch with Charlie Brewer. After a loss to Iowa State, OSU will bounce back in a game where they’re a home dog and claim victory against TCU.
The Cowboys tend to drop a game they shouldn’t (they did it like 4 times last season), and it often comes early in the season. That makes a road game at Texas Tech the most likely culprit for the fourth regular-season loss.
With an 8-4 season and fifth place Big 12 finish under their belts, the Cowboys head to Houston for the Texas Bowl on Friday, Dec. 27 against a SEC team (let’s go with Mississippi State or Auburn).