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OSU Football: Cowboys must rebuild in 2018

Oklahoma State athletics
With more than 2,600 yards under his belt, running back Justice Hill could be OSU’s bread-and-butter man in 2018.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma State’s football season ended in disappointment with a 10-3 record and 14th ranking in the final polls. Coach Mike Gundy led the Cowboys to their third straight 10-win season, but still short of expectations of winning a Big 12 Conference title and possibly getting to the College Football Playoff. Heck, Sports Illustrated got the orange faithful excited by picking OSU to finish fourth in 2017.

OSU’s 2018 version is likely to center around its all-conference running back Justice Hill. Most of the skill players from last season’s offense have graduated. Gone are quarterback Mason Rudolph, Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver James Washington, and receiver Marcel Ateman.

Rudolph was the nation’s leading passer (377.2 yards per game), and MVP of the Pokes’ Camping World win over Virginia Tech. He also is the all-time passing leader in OSU history. Chris Lacy, the team’s sixth-leading receiver also graduates, and combined with Washington and Ateman, the Cowboys must replace 47 percent of total receptions, 59 percent of receiving yards and 58 percent of scoring by receivers.

Sophomore Dillon Stoner and senior Jalen McCleskey, should be the top returnees for 2018. The duo combined for 94 catches 1,221 yards and 11 TDs. The Pokes signed three receivers last December, most notable is C.J. Moore, a four-star prospect from Tulsa Union.

Senior Taylor Cornelius and sophomore Keondre Woodlee will battle for the quarterback job but will be pushed by incoming freshman Spencer Sanders from Denton, Texas. Sanders is a dual-threat quarterback and a four-star prospect, who threw for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for more than 1,400.

Hill will be a junior this year, and he led the Big 12 Conference with 1,467 rushing yards in 2017. He also scored 15 TDs. With a total of 2,609 career yards, he is 116 yards from cracking OSU’s top 10 career rushing leaders. Sophomore J.D. King should be a reliable backup again as he picked up 474 yards last year.

Only two linemen return to the front wall—junior guards Marcus Keyes (AP all-Big 12) and Johnny Wilson. Two all-conference linemen—center Brad Lundblade and tackle Zachary Crabtree have graduated, as well as Aaron Cochran, the other tackle. Oklahoma State signed five O-linemen last December, all three-star prospects.

Hunter Anthony a 6-7, 320 behemoth from Tuttle will enroll this semester and could be the odds-on favorite to take one of the tackle spots.

The defense was the Cowboys bane by allowing an average of 29.4 points (85th nationally) and 409.3 yards per game (79th). They were decent against the run (140.7; 38th) but gave up 368.6 passing yards to rank 117th.

OSU returns seven starters to the D including linebackers Justin Phillips and Calvin Bundage. The duo combined for 118 tackles, 15 stops for loss, including 5.5 sacks. Phillips also picked off two passes and forced three fumbles in 2017. Chad Whitener, the team’s second-leading tackler (76) has graduated.

The front four should be solid with the return of three starters. Tackle DeQuinton Osborne graduated but tackle Trey Carter and ends Cole Walterscheid and Jordan Brailford are back. The trio combined for 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage including 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and 12 quarterback hurries.

One-half of the secondary returns but the two best players a year ago are gone—safeties Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards. Flowers was the teams leading tackler and Richards was fourth. Both had two interceptions apiece. A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams should lock down the corner slots again this year. Green led the Pokes with four interceptions.

OSU loaded up on defensive backs during last month’s signing, and five of the seven signees are listed at 6-foot-2. Jarrick Barnard of Shreveport, La. and Sean Michael Flanagan will reenroll early, and both are expected to make a push for the starting safety jobs. Linebacker Blake Barron of Rockwall, Texas also is expected to enroll early.

The kicking game should be in good shape for 2018. Senior punter Zach Sinor averaged 43.1 yards per kick last season. Seven of his boots went for 50 yards or more. Junior Matt Ammendola was perfect on his PATs but sporadic by hitting 23 of his 29 field goal tries. He did connect on 11 straight FGs to finish the season. Ammendola will again handle kickoff duty.

The return game was not electric. Junior Tyron Johnson and sophomore L.D. Brown were the main kickoff returnees, and they combined for an average of 20 yards per return and no scores. The same for the punt return unit. The Pokes averaged 4.9 yards per return with no touchdowns. Stoner is the incumbent starter to return punts, but that might change as his receiving duties are likely to increase in ’18.

Two prognosticators have the Pokes in the Top 25 on their Way Too Early Top 25 Rankings—Sporting News has them picked to finish 20th while CBS Sports has them at No. 23.

The Cowboys’ non-conference slate includes two cupcakes (Missouri State and South Alabama) and Boise State. MSU is an FCS team, and South Alabama finished 4-8 in 2017 including a 44-7 defeat to OSU. The Broncos, 11-3 last year, could provide a test for OSU. Boise won last year’s Mountain West Championship and the Las Vegas Bowl.

 

Sept. 1 Missouri State – Stillwater

Sept. 8 South Alabama – Stillwater

Sept. 15 Boise State – Stillwater

Sept. 22 Texas Tech – Stillwater

Sept. 29 @ Kansas

Oct. 6 Iowa State – Stillwater

Oct. 13 @ Kansas State

Oct. 27 Texas – Stillwater

Nov. 3 @ Baylor

Nov. 10 @ Oklahoma

Nov. 17 West Virginia – Stillwater

Nov. 24 @ TCU

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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