Football season is officially here. Fall training camp for Oklahoma State begins on Friday and as of Thursday, the season is just 30 days away.
I’ve got five thoughts before we strap in for the stretch run leading up to the season on everything from position battles, season expectations and hair styles.
Let’s do this.
1. QB1 primed for a leap
Spencer Sanders the last two seasons has been more than viable as a starting-level QB in the Big 12. He’s an electric factory in the open field with his legs. When dialed in, he can unleash Phil Mickelson-like bombs down the field to create explosive plays. If needed, he can extend plays with his mobility, too, a facet of his game that’s been exceedingly useful as OSU has dealt with injuries and attrition along the offensive line.
Sanders has yet to make the proverbial “leap,” though. He can still make silly passes in bad situations that make you groan from the couch. Sometimes he forces things that aren’t there instead of being patient and playing for the next down.
The 2021 season might be his moment, though. He’s played in 20 career games to this point in his career. He’s got the experience, he’s gained valuable reps throughout spring and now he’s seemingly improved as a more mature, poised play-caller, too.
“We’ve been very impressed and excited about Spencer’s development,” Mike Gundy said at Big 12 media days. “My personal opinion is last year the spring ball that he missed and summer conditioning because of COVID set him back. And I feel like in the two months that we watched him over spring ball, he’s developed more than he has in two years.”
2. RB by committee
The old adage, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback,” rings true in 99% of situations in college football (unless you have J.W. Walsh and Mason Rudolph, of course). However, it doesn’t necessarily cross the positional bridge to running back, and in the case of OSU that should be a good thing. OSU has multiple ball-carriers it is comfortable with giving carries to in big moments.
While not having a bellcow back on paper seems like it could indicate that there could be an issue with the talent in the RB room, well, to quote some 53-year-old from Midwest City, “That ain’t true!”
“It’s interesting, for the first time in awhile, we really feel like we have four or five players that we could hand the ball to and we’re very comfortable with them in the game,” Gundy said last month of his running back room. “LD [Brown] was fantastic. Dez [Jackson] would come in and make plays. Then we’d put a freshman [Dominic Richardson] in, and he made plays for us. So now we have four or five guys that will get quality reps in August. And I’m excited because that position takes a lot of abuse physically. That’s the one position where you can get really beat up. And we can take some of that off those guys.”
OSU’s RB room is diverse in its specialties: LD Brown is First Team All-Fast; Dezmon Jackson is probably who you’d hand pick from the position if you needed a body guard; Sanders described Jaylen Warren as a “speedy bowling ball”; and Dominic Richardson is explosive and shifty with power to boot. It’s a luxury to have so many players who can do so many different things. It should allow for OSU to always have fresh legs this season at the position.
“Hopefully, we’re not handing it to one guy 18 or 20 times a game,” said Gundy. “Hopefully, we’re letting four guys carry it 10 or 12 times a game. Should be beneficial for them, their future and our football team.”
3. Rooting for the reverse Samson
If you’re superstitious, then perhaps Mike Gundy showing up to Big 12 media days last month without a mullet is worrisome to you. Or, maybe, it’s encouraging. OSU has won one Big 12 title with Gundy rocking the clean look and zero with the mullet. I’m just sharing a fact.
Either way, it’s … a change. For the first time in a few years, Gundy will start the season without his signature mullet.
“It should grow back,” he said on SiriusXM radio last month. “I went in about a month ago, and I told Kathy, she’s cut my hair for about 20 years, I said, ‘Just cut it so I don’t have to cut it until the season.’”
Samson’s hair was cut and he lost his strength. Maybe Gundy’s hair was cut and it served as a sacrifice for the greater good of OSU football. The reverse Samson!
4. Strength in the trenches?
Successful OSU teams of year’s past have most frequently been good, if not great, in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Good at pushing and paving holes for running backs on the OL while providing the QB protection, good at getting after the QB and applying pressure on the other end. This team has the makings of a successful one.
On the offensive line, health appears to be the key factor. Last year the team was riddled with injuries and three potential starters — Bryce Bray, Jacob Farrell and Dylan Galloway — either transferred or retired before the season. It led to a lot of “butt whippings,” as Gundy gracefully put it last month. He thinks that helped OSU long-term, though.
“We’re already better just by depth chart,” said Gundy. “We’re already better. We haven’t played a game yet. We’ve got some depth. And hopefully, we can stay healthy.”
On the defensive line, experience is the winning recipe. Tyler Lacy, Israel Antwine and Brendon Evers all have starting experience. Trace Ford is reportedly doing well after an ACL tear last season. Freshman Collin Oliver looks really good. They go two-deep at tackle and end pretty comfortably with the third unit players talent-wise worthy of big roles.
5. Season-long expectations
OSU has won eight or more games eight times in the last decade (since 2011), with 2018 and 2014 serving as the lone exceptions. So the over seems like a decent bet to cash. However ….
The schedule is pretty rough! Aside from two home games against Missouri State and Tulsa to open the season, where OSU will be favored by double digits, these are the few I’ve circled as potential traps:
- at Boise State (Sept. 18)
- at Texas (Oct. 16)
- at Iowa State (Oct. 23)
And that doesn’t factor in some really tough home bouts against TCU on Nov. 13 or against OU on Nov. 27. Here’s my back-of-the-napkin projections for the regular season:
- Missouri State (Sept. 4): Win (1-0)
- Tulsa (Sept. 11): Win (2-0)
- at Boise State (Sept. 18): Win (3-0)
- Kansas State (Sept. 25): Win (4-0)
- Baylor (Oct. 2): Win (5-0)
- at Texas (Oct. 16): Loss (5-1)
- at Iowa State (Oct. 23): Loss (5-2)
- Kansas (Oct. 30): Lol … (6-3)
- at West Virginia (Nov. 6): Win (7-3)
- TCU (Nov. 13): Loss (7-4)
- at Texas Tech (Nov. 20): Win (8-4)
- OU (Nov. 27): Loss (8-5)