Oklahoma State came within inches of winning the Big 12 title and likely claiming a spot in the College Football Playoff last season.
The 12th-ranked Cowboys believe they can go further this season after a heartbreaking 21-16 loss to Baylor in the conference title game last December. They finished last season with a 12-2 record and No. 7 final ranking and take high hopes into this season.
“I feel like we have so much talent in so many areas,” quarterback Spencer Sanders said. “Hopefully, we can come together and get to that Big 12 championship game like we did last year and take it all the way.”
Sanders is back for his fourth season. He’s already among the school’s all-time statistical leaders in several categories, and he’s coming off a monster game in the Fiesta Bowl. He passed for 371 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 125 yards in a 37-35 win over Notre Dame.
Last season, one of the nation’s best defenses carried much of the load for the Cowboys. This season, Sanders believes the team will be more balanced. He’s one of 10 offensive starters returning.
“It’s time to show people what this offense can do,” he said. “We have to take care of the little things so that when the big things come, the little things take care of the big things.”
Sanders will get help from Dominic Richardson. The sophomore gained 239 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving last season. He spent his previous years learning from star running backs Chuba Hubbard and Jaylen Warren. Now, he’s ready to shine.
“There is a little bit of pressure, but not as much because I’ve been working to this point for a long time,” Richardson said. “I knew one year this would come and now, this is the year.”
The defense should be stout again despite losing linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and safety Kolby Harvell-Peel — both all-conference selections. Defensive lineman Collin Oliver and safety Jason Taylor II are preseason All-Big 12 picks.
It all leads to high hopes for a Cowboys program that beat Oklahoma last season for the first time since 2014.
“This is a different team, but we still are capable and have the players to go just as far if not farther than we did last year,” safety Thomas Harper said.
NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Derek Mason has taken over as defensive coordinator now that Jim Knowles has gone to take the same position at Ohio State. Mason was defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2021. He was the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2014 to 2020 and was defensive coordinator at Stanford before that.
“It’s been smooth,” linebacker Mason Cobb said. “I love the way he coaches. He coaches everyone the same, from walk-ons to starters. I love how we are doing things.”
The Cowboys lost All-Big 12 receiver Tay Martin, but Brennan Presley is positioned to be the next great Oklahoma State wideout. He had 50 catches for 619 yards and five touchdowns last season, including 10 catches for 137 yards against Notre Dame.
He might not be the only Presley who puts up numbers. Younger brother Braylin, a true freshman, is a four star receiver.
The Cowboys should have no problem pressuring quarterbacks this season with a dynamic defensive line that should rank among the nation’s best.
Oliver led the Big 12 with 11.5 sacks as a true freshman last season. Brock Martin, a second-team all-conference pick last season along with Oliver, had nine sacks. Tyler Lacy had 11.5 tackles for loss. Trace Ford, a dominant pass rusher who missed last season with an injury, is back.
Redshirt freshman Gunnar Gundy — coach Mike Gundy's son — is a reserve quarterback for the Cowboys. Coach Gundy said he lets quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay handle the teaching.
“It’s best for me to stay away from them and let (Rattay) coach him and let him function throughout the day,” coach Gundy said. “I don’t know if I’m right because it’s the first time I’ve done it, but I just stay away and let it all take place.”
Oklahoma State opens Sept. 1 against Central Michigan and then gets a home game against Arizona State on Sept. 10. In league play, the toughest matchups are Oct. 1 at No. 10 Baylor and Nov. 19 at No. 9 Oklahoma.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP