STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Even by Oklahoma State’s lofty standards, this year’s offense should be exceptional.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington are back for their senior seasons. Rudolph is statistically one of the best quarterbacks in school history, and the school is pushing him as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Washington was an All-Big 12 pick last season, and he is expected to be a top contender for the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top receiver. With that skill and experience leading the way, Oklahoma State is confidently expecting big things.
“We talk about team goals,” Washington said. “We want to win the Big 12 championship, but it’s not going to happen if we don’t take things day-by-day. We have to work on individual things and work on team skills.”
Oklahoma State finished 10-3 last season and routed Colorado in the Alamo Bowl , increasing the level of excitement around the program heading into the offseason. Coach Mike Gundy said the Cowboys are aware that outside expectations also are higher than usual.
“People think we’re supposed to have a good team, and there’s a lot of conversation about it and our players don’t really concern themselves with it,” Gundy said. “I think at some point they kind of gotten used to it, which is good.”
Here are some things to watch from Oklahoma State this season:
Washington is just one of many talented receivers on the roster. Marcell Ateman is back after missing last season with an injury. He caught 45 passes for 766 yards and five touchdowns in 2015. Tyron Johnson, who started his college career at LSU and sat out last season, established himself as one of Rudolph’s favorite targets during the spring. Jalen McCleskey is on the Biletnikoff watch list. Chris Lacy, who caught 31 passes last season, is back, too.
“We would like to think that’ll put stress on a defense, but we’ll find out,” Gundy said, “I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that we’re two-and-a-half deep with guys that we’re comfortable putting out there in those positions.”
Hill was the nation’s top freshman rusher with 1,142 yards last season, and the speedster looks better than ever. He added some power to his game in the offseason and impressed Washington.
“I don’t know if you saw the video of him squatting 565 pounds — the kid is only 195 pounds — so that’s ridiculous,” Washington said. “He’s showing younger guys, ‘Look, I can do this, so you can too if you just work hard.'”
Oklahoma State lost a stunner to Central Michigan early last season that took the Cowboys out of the race for the College Football Playoff, so they ought to be focused during non-conference play. In league play, the Cowboys get Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State at home and visit Texas and West Virginia. Oklahoma State has lost to Oklahoma in games that decided the Big 12 title the past two seasons, including last season’s 38-20 loss in Norman .
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has gotten a lot of mileage out of his throwback hairstyle, but he knows it will backfire if the Cowboys fail on the field.
“I told them all the stuff that’s gone on with me and the marketing and all that — that stuff only works when you’re winning,” Gundy said. “If my hair is long, and we’re losing it’s not near as fun. People are going to say, ‘Cut your hair’ all the time. It’s all based on their success, and I think they understand that side of the game.'”
Tackle Zach Crabtree (34 career starts) and center Brad Lundblade (27) lead the way. Guards Marcus Keyes and Larry Williams have starting experience, and Cal transfer Aaron Cochran, a tackle, has 16 career starts.
“When we talk about experienced players, we’re talking about guys that have played on the road in tough spots when it’s hot and loud and everything is going against you, and they’ve still found ways to be successful,” Gundy said. “It helps that we have those guys who have been around.”
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