Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.
Today’s team: No. 22 Oklahoma State (Related coverage: A numbers game — What impact will Barry Sanders Jr. have on OSU?)
The Cowboys will contend if … they put together a stronger offensive line after big-time disappointment the last few years to upgrade a rushing attack that ranked 114th nationally in 2015, and if they can generate an effective pass rush out of Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens after losing their top two defensive ends, one a first-round NFL pick.
INSIDE THE COWBOYS
Coach: Mike Gundy (12th year, 94-47)
2015: 10-3, 7-2 in the Big 12; lost to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl 48-20
Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense
The key game: Dec. 3 at Oklahoma
Hello: RB Barry Sanders Jr. (Stanford transfer), OL Larry Williams, OT Tramonda Moore (OSU’s only 4-star recruit), OL Tyler Brown (a TCU flip), LB Calvin Bundage
Goodbye: DE Emmanuel Ogbah (Cleveland Browns) and DE Jimmy Bean, who combined for 18.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. “I can’t rubber-stamp those guys,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said after the spring.
Spring cleaning: Oklahoma State should press Oklahoma as a top contender in the Big 12, but needs to solidify the offensive line; the Cowboys averaged only 3.6 yards a carry in 2015. Victor Salako and Zach Crabtree man the tackle spots, and guard Mike Wilson brings a toughness to that unit. … QB Taylor Cornelius, a former walk-on, had an impressive spring and is pressing for the backup position. … The Cowboys started strong last year — 10-0 — before getting crushed by Baylor, OU and Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. They were outscored 151-78 in those three games.
Passing: Mason Rudolph, 264-424-3,770 yards, 21/9 (1st)
Rushing: Chris Carson, 131-517-4 (1st)
Receiving: James Washington, 53-1,087-10 (1st); Marcell Ateman, 45-766-5 (3rd)
Tackles: S Jordan Sterns, 108 (1st); LB Jordan Burton, 98 (2nd)
Sacks: DT Vincent Taylor, 5 (3rd)
RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (9)
Offense: TE Blake Jarwin (1st team), WR James Washington (2nd), K Ben Grogan (honorable mention),
Defense: S Jordan Sterns (2nd), LB Jordan Burton (honorable mention), DT Darrion Daniels (honorable mention), P Zach Sinor (honorable mention), DT Vincent Taylor (honorable mention), LB Chad Whitener (honorable mention)
- Rudolph could be the best quarterback in a conference that’s packed with elite throwers, and his chemistry with deep threat James Washington (1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns) probably will be the most explosive in the Big 12. In fact, the Cowboys are as strong at receiver as any team around with Marcell Ateman (17.2 yards a catch) and Jhajuan Seales.
- All five starters are back on the offensive line, but is that necessarily a good thing? Senior running back Chris Carson, the preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year last season, produced just 517 yards. Much more is expected up front, and immediate help from Williams and the two freshmen should allow for more competition in the line and better depth.
- Is there a team in the league that has a better track record at kicker than Oklahoma State? Senior Ben Grogan already ranks fourth in school history with 316 points, just 55 shy of current Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey. Throw in top punter Zach Sinor, who nailed 31 punts inside opponents’ 20 last year, and the Cowboys are an elite special teams club.
Oklahoma State's 2016 schedule
|Date||Opponent||Last yr's result (if played)|
|Sept. 3||Southeastern La.|
|Sept. 10||Central Michigan||W, 24-13|
|Sept. 24||at Baylor*||L, 45-35|
|Oct. 1||Texas*||W, 30-27|
|Oct. 8||Iowa State*||W, 35-31|
|Oct. 22||at Kansas*||W, 58-10|
|Oct. 29||West Virginia*||W, 33-26|
|Nov. 5||at Kansas State*||W, 36-34|
|Nov. 12||Texas Tech*||W, 70-53|
|Nov. 19||at TCU*||W, 49-29|
|Dec. 3||at Oklahoma*||L, 58-23|
|* Big 12 game|
Oklahoma State: The last 5 years
|2015||10-3 / 7-2||— / 20th||Sugar Bowl, L|
|2014||7-6 / 4-5||— / —||Cactus Bowl, W|
|2013||10-3 / 7-2||13th / 17th||Cotton Bowl, L|
|2012||8-5 / 5-4||19th / —||Heart of Dallas Bowl, W|
|2011||12-1 / 8-1||9th / 3rd||Fiesta Bowl, W|
|Total||47-18, 31-14||5 bowl games (3-2)|
2015 NATIONAL RANKS
Scoring: 14th (39.5 ppg)
Scoring defense: 88th (30.5 ppg)
Passing yards: 7th (353.2 ypg)
Rushing yards: 114th (126.8 ypg)
TOP 25 SO FAR …
No. 22: Oklahoma State
No. 21: Coming Sunday. Want a hint? This was the final opponent Mack Brown faced as Texas’ coach.
1 school: ACC (23-Louisville); Big 12 (22-Oklahoma State); Pac-12 (25-Washington State); Mountain West (24-Boise State)