The 2020 college football season is two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.
Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.
No. 16 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are as loaded on the field as Mike Gundy’s program is volatile off of it. The Big 12’s longest-reigning coach faced a team mutiny in June over his poor fashion decision — wearing a One America News T-shirt, which went viral, during the heat of the country’s summer of political and racial unrest — and the coach, in true Gundy style, acknowledged he’d been a “dumbass.” Was his apology enough? An internal review over his behavior allowed Gundy to keep his job. Was that enough for the program to heal? Eighteen starters return, including an elite running back and an elite wide receiver, most of the offensive line, literally all but one starter on defense, and a schedule that makes Texas and Iowa State come to Stillwater. But beyond the politics, there are potential cracks. Spencer Sanders could be the next big thing in this conference or another middling OSU quarterback who’ll have good games and not so good games. If his game elevates from his injury-shortened redshirt freshman season, the Cowboys will be major players in the Big 12 race. But either way, they travel to Norman this year. And Gundy is 2-13 all-time against Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State wasn’t ranked in our preseason poll last year.
About the Cowboys
2019: 8-5, 5-4 in the Big 12; lost 24-21 to Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl
Coach: Mike Gundy (129-64, all in 15 years at Oklahoma State)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 10 defense
Shoes to fill: CB A.J. Green
As far as X’s and O’s go, things were progressing without any major hiccups until the June protests and program unrest. The coronavirus pandemic scuttled spring football and very well may take away the season opener against Oregon State; the Pac-12 is expected to announce that, like the Big Ten, it’s canceling non-conference games. OSU has already called off its annual Fan Day on the first Saturday of August. … Not a single Cowboy was taken in the NFL draft; of course, 18 starters coming back played a big part in that. … Former WRs coach Kasey Dunn was promoted to offensive coordinator. He’ll be calling the plays. The associate head coach has been around since 1962. … OT Dylan Galloway, who was expected to be one of the anchors of the offensive line, retired from football after earning his degree. But help is coming in the form of West Virginia graduate transfer Josh Sills, a guard. Other transfers include LSU wide receiver Dee Anderson (who’s 6-5) and Missouri cornerback Christian Holmes. … Fourteen players tested positive for COVID-19 in June; OSU had tested 110 football players since they returned to campus.
Passing: Spencer Sanders (led team), 155-247-2,065 yards, 16 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Chuba Hubbard (1st), 328-2,094-21; QB Spencer Sanders (2nd), 139-628-2; LD Brown (3rd), 40-221-2
Receiving: Tylan Wallace (1st), 53-903-8; Dillon Stoner (2nd), 52-599-5; Braydon Johnson (3rd), 23-491-4
Tackles: LB Malcolm Rodriguez (1st), 103; LB Amen Ogbongbemiga (2nd), 100
Sacks: LB Amen Ogbongbemiga (1st), 5; DT Cameron Murray (2nd), 3.5
Interceptions: S Kolby Harvell-Peel (1st), 5
Offense: RB Chuba Hubbard (off. player of the year; 1st team); QB Spencer Sanders (off. freshman of the year); WR Tylan Wallace (2nd); OL Teven Jenkins (hon. mention); WR Dillon Stoner (hon. mention); TE Jelani Woods (hon. mention)
Defense: S Kolby Harvell-Peel (1st); LB Amen Ogbongbemiga (2nd); LB Malcolm Rodriguez (2nd); DT Israel Antwine (hon. mention); DE Trace Ford (hon. mention); S Tre Sterling (hon. mention);
Special teams: P Tom Hutton (hon. mention)
Gundy’s scorching hot seat: Gundy, who’s gone 129-64 over the past 15 ears, came thiiis close to getting let go over allegations of his behavior. It was a rocky summer. There was the OAN T-shirt fallout, the subsequent player revolt and damaging allegations from former Colorado linebacker Alfred Williams that Gundy, as OSU’s quarterback during the 1989 season, used racial slurs against Williams and other players during a game. OSU conducted a 17-day internal investigation; Gundy was allowed to keep his job but took a $1 million pay cut and had to promise to change his ways leading the program. “This wasn’t about a T-shirt,” Cowboys athletic director Mike Holder said. “This was about a lot of things.”
One more time: Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace easily could have jumped to the NFL and likely would have gone quite high in the draft, but both decided to come back for 2020. Had Wallace not suffered an ACL injury and missed the final four games, he very well may be in the NFL right now; the 2018 Biletnikoff Award runner-up was closing in on 1,000 yards when he was injured. He still finished as a Biletnikoff finalist, anyway. Hubbard, meanwhile, was the Big 12’s offensive player of the year and led the country in rushing, the 16th best single rushing season in FBS history.
Shifting lines: Galloway’s retirement announcement has thrown the offensive line into fix-it mode. He was one of three returning starters up front the Cowboys were counting on. The addition of Sills, who started two years at guard for West Virginia, will help settle things down, but that second tackle spot opposite Tevin Jenkins now is a hold that needs to be filled. There’s better depth at guard and center. The other tackle spot may be filled by Jacob Farrell, Hunter Anthony, Cole Birmingham or Eli Russ. The line will be charged in helping Sanders as much as possible; last year he was the Big 12’s offensive freshman of the year and set a freshman school passing record, but he also committed 16 turnovers (11 interceptions, five lost fumbles).
2019 national stat rankings
Where Oklahoma State ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Cowboys ranked in 2018.
Scoring: 35th (2018 — 13th)
Scoring defense: 61st (97th)
Total offense: 21st (10th)
Total defense: 82nd (112th)
Passing: 71st (10th)
Pass defense: 102nd (117th)
Rushing: 17th (46th)
Rush defense: 67th (87th)
Red zone offense: T-16th (18th)
Red zone defense: 95th (9th)
Turnover margin: T-70th (117th)
Time of possession: 95th (118th)
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 16: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Our No. 15 team. Want a hint?
This school plays Notre Dame for the “Jeweled Shellelagh,” a traveling trophy.