Mike Gundy spent the better part of the offseason using his mullet to promote the Oklahoma State “brand”, but as a coach entering his 13th season with the school, he’d like nothing more than for his offense to take center stage for the rest of the year. Buoyed by perhaps the most electric trio of offensive playmakers in the Big 12, the 11th-ranked Cowboys begin their quest for a third consecutive 10-win season on Thursday when they host Tulsa.
Mason Rudolph is the Big 12’s leading returning passer and running back Justice Hill is the league’s second-leader rusher, while preseason All-American James Washington is considered by some draft analysts as the top senior receiver in the country. Along with defending national champion Clemson, the Cowboys were the other FBS team last season to boast a 4,000-yard passer (Rudolph), a 1,000-yard rusher (Hill) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Washington). Although school record-setting quarterback Dane Evans, American Athletic Conference-leading rusher James Flanders and two 1,000-yard receivers (Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson) have all moved on to greener pastures, the Golden Hurricane still possess a fair amount of their own firepower from the nation’s sixth-highest scoring offense from 2016. Senior running back D’Angelo Brewer finished third in the AAC in rushing with 1,425 yards, while Justin Hobbs and Keenan Johnson hope to become the third set of Tulsa receivers in as many years to top 1,000 yards.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Oklahoma State -18.
ABOUT TULSA (2016: 10-3): Sophomore Chad President and freshman Luke Skipper are locked in a tight competition to replace Evans, who threw for 11,680 yards and 84 touchdowns in his career with the Golden Hurricane. A preseason candidate for the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards, Brewer is coming off a season in which had ran for over 100 yards six times and should benefit from an offensive line that returns four of five starters. Tulsa lost its top two tacklers from a season ago in linebackers Trent Martin and Matt Linscott, but head coach Philip Montgomery likes what he has on the defensive line and in the secondary, especially defensive end Jeremy Smith (team-high 13.5 tackles for loss).
ABOUT OKLAHOMA STATE (2016: 10-3): Rudolph enters the season ranked in the top six among active FBS players in five career categories: passing yards (8,714; third), passing yards per game (300.5; second), passing yards per attempt (9.1; second), pass efficiency (154.12; third) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (55:17; sixth). Washington’s 26 career receiving touchdowns is the highest total among all active FBS players heading into 2017, while his 2,923 career receiving yards and 19.2 career yards per reception lead all active receivers from Power 5 conferences. Cornerback Adrian Baker, a graduate transfer from Clemson, should give the Cowboys a lift at cornerback in a secondary led by preseason All-Big 12 free safety Tre Flowers, who has 200 career tackles and is one of only five starters returning on defense.
1. Washington is only of only three Cowboys with 10 or more receiving touchdowns in multiple seasons and one of five with multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
2. Tulsa set a school record in 2016 with eight 300-yard rushing games.
3. Hill’s 1,142 yards rushing last season led all FBS freshmen and was the fifth-best single-season effort from a freshman in Big 12 history.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 48, Tulsa 24