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1. After the fall
Your track record determines your benefit of the doubt. If Alabama lost 18 starters one year, we'd still assume a top-10 performance. If Oregon lost all 11 starters on offense, we'd still assume prolific point totals. And if Kansas returned its entire two-deep, we'd still assume losses.
Oklahoma State returned just seven starters heading into 2014. The Cowboys had to replace a quarterback (Clint Chelf) who'd dominated down the stretch. They lost three of their top four receivers, four of their top seven offensive linemen (and renowned offensive line coach Joe Wickline), four of their top six linebackers, six of their top eight defensive backs, and both of their stud return men.
My response to all of this? Steadfast belief: "The Cowboys get the benefit of the doubt until they prove they don't deserve it."
And it wasn't just me. The stats saw the same thing. Despite the lost starters, OSU was projected 18th last May, one spot behind perceived national title contender Oklahoma. The stats pretty much nailed Oklahoma, which finished the season 19th.
OSU, meanwhile? 75th. Just a little bit off.
The offense cycled through three quarterbacks because of injury and ineffectiveness, and the run game collapsed. The defense had to do some shuffling in the back. The 'Pokes began fine (5-1 with a tight loss to defending national champion Florida State), then collapsed, losing five conference games in a row by an average score of 40-14.
The span from mid-October to late-November was OSU's worst since either Mike Gundy's first season in 2005 (1-7 in conference, average score: 40-21) or Bob Simmons' last season in 2000 (1-8 finish with a 28-6 loss to Southern Miss and a 58-0 loss to Texas Tech). It proved the floor for Gundy's program was far lower than I (or most) had perceived, and it caused a bit of an existential crisis in Stillwater. Had Gundy lost his touch? Was recruiting producing the same talent as before?
Luckily, the Cowboys didn't wait until 2015 to begin the rebound. After the dusk of a 28-7 home loss to Texas, and after a loss at Baylor dropped them to 5-6, OSU fell behind Oklahoma, 35-21, in Norman in the fourth quarter. But freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph hit Brandon Sheperd for a 43-yard score, and return man Tyreek Hill ripped off a 92-yard score with just 45 seconds left to force overtime. Ben Grogan's 21-yard field goal sealed both the comeback win and bowl eligibility, and Rudolph threw for 299 yards in a 30-22 Cactus Bowl win over Washington.
Instead of a limp 5-7, OSU ended up 7-6 and found its quarterback of the future. Instead of simply surviving, Oklahoma State got gangrene, spent six weeks in the hospital, THEN survived. The depth of the fall was disturbing, but we already saw signs of recovery, and now youth becomes experience. How far is the bounce back?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 75|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|30-Aug||vs. Florida State||15||31-37||L||63%||7.6||47%|
|1-Nov||at Kansas State||26||14-48||L||14%||-25.1||0%|
|Points Per Game||27.6||76||31.2||94|
2. A late rally is better than no rally
At few points in the first 11.5 games did OSU look like the top-20 team it was projected to be. There were just too many new players in important positions. But through six games, the 'Pokes were still playing like a top-40 team, which, considering quarterback J.W. Walsh got hurt early, was an accomplishment.
Unfortunately, opponents figured some things out. With all-or-nothing Daxx Garman at quarterback, backed by a bad running game, OSU's offense grew woefully inefficient. And the green secondary was repeatedly exposed. The result was a sustained run of awful play, one that began even before the wins stopped.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 73% (~top 35 | record: 3-1)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 7 games): 28% (~top 90 | record: 2-5)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 84% (~top 20 | record: 2-0)
There was indeed a rally.
The run game never came around -- starting back Desmond Roland averaged just 3.5 yards per carry over the final three games of his career -- but Mason Rudolph improved in a hurry. After completing 13 of 25 passes with two interceptions against Baylor, he went 36-for-61 (59 percent) for 572 yards, four scores, and two picks against OU and Washington. He developed a rapport with receiver Brandon Shepard (12 catches, 254 yards, 3 TD in the last two games).
And while the defense wasn't amazing, it was better.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.4%||103||Succ. Rt. +||95.5||85|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.2||59||Def. FP+||102.0||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||65||Redzone S&P+||95.7||77|
|Q1 Rk||67||1st Down Rk||79|
|Q2 Rk||58||2nd Down Rk||90|
|Q3 Rk||115||3rd Down Rk||45|
3. Dreadful inefficiency
When you can't run, and your quarterback is more comfortable throwing bombs than outs, you are going to struggle with three-and-outs and turnovers.
Daxx Garman showed massive potential, averaging 19 yards per completion in his first three appearances, with eight touchdowns to two picks. But when defenses adapted, and when the run game never really came around, Garman's production dropped like a rock.
- Garman (first 3 games): 56% completion rate, 19.0 yards/completion, 9% TD rate, 2% INT rate
- Garman (next 6 games): 54% completion rate, 10.8 yards/completion, 2% TD rate, 5% INT rate
It was all situational. His passer rating was 148.8 on third-and-10 or more, as his cannon was occasionally able to bail OSU out of trouble. But in the red zone, he was just 11-for-25 for 70 yards and a 112.3 rating. He took too many sacks, and OSU found itself in second- or third-and-long too frequently.
His passer rating was below 120 in each of his final six appearances and was below 100 three times, and then he suffered a concussion against Texas. Instead of starting a walk-on, Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich elected to remove Mason Rudolph's redshirt two games before the finish line. The gamble paid off, and with Rudolph looking so good, Garman saw the writing on the wall and transferred to Maryland.
Of course, part of Garman's problem was that he wasn't getting help from the run game. Only 31 percent of Desmond Roland's and Rennie Childs' carries gained five or more yards, and when they got a rare open-field opportunity, they didn't do much with it.
Quarterbacks and Tyreek Hill were the only things keeping OSU from even worse run efficiency numbers, and now Hill's gone, kicked off the team because of domestic assault allegations after his OU heroics.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Mason Rudolph||6'4, 220||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8977||49||86||853||6||4||57.0%||8||8.5%||8.5|
|J.W. Walsh||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9430||20||36||233||1||1||55.6%||1||2.7%||5.9|
|John Kolar||6'4, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8987|
4. Mason's the man (maybe)
When your first career win comes in Norman, you will probably struggle to corral expectations. The Rock Hill, S.C., product was disappointed that he couldn't complete his redshirt season, but his performance against OU and Washington set the table for a three-year starting run.
The run game is still scary, but at least Rudolph will have experience around him. Just about every receiver returns, as do six linemen with starting experience (42 career starts), seven if you include UAB transfer and two-year starting tackle Victor Salako.
The shuffling was a constant, but there are some likable pieces here. Most likable of all: there are no seniors. Whatever Rudolph becomes, he could have an increasingly continuous line in front of him.
The questions are how quickly the line can become something helpful, and which running back can become the most helpful. Childs is back, and redshirt freshman Sione Palelei has potential, but all eyes are on two JUCO transfers, particularly Chris Carson, once a Georgia commit.
Of course, while Rudolph is clearly OSU's man in the future tense, he still has to win the job. Senior J.W. Walsh had a few impressive moments in 2013 and nearly engineered an upset of Florida State in the season opener before he was lost for the season with injury. At the very least, he could add a mobile threat in red zone and short-yardage situations, and he could still win the job outright, too.
|Rennie Childs||RB||5'10, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8573||78||294||3||3.8||3.0||33.3%||0||0|
|Raymond Taylor||RB||5'8, 195||Jr.||NR||NR||18||70||0||3.9||4.7||38.9%||0||0|
|J.W. Walsh||QB||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9430||14||107||2||7.6||8.2||42.9%||1||1|
|Mason Rudolph||QB||6'4, 220||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8977||6||18||0||3.0||0.8||50.0%||2||1|
|Brandon Sheperd||WR||6'1, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.9002||4||69||0||17.3||15.8||75.0%||2||1|
|Caleb Muncrief||WR||5'8, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7659|
|Sione Palelei||RB||5'10, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8660|
|Chris Carson||RB||6'2, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8869|
|Todd Mays||RB||6'0, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8469|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Brandon Sheperd||WR||6'1, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.9002||63||39||737||61.9%||16.6%||60.3%||11.7||262||11.8||102.5|
|James Washington||WR||6'0, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8451||62||28||455||45.2%||16.4%||59.7%||7.3||89||7.2||63.3|
|David Glidden||SLOT||5'8, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8444||61||42||598||68.9%||16.1%||62.3%||9.8||97||9.9||83.1|
|Jhajuan Seales||WR||6'2, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115||38||18||278||47.4%||10.0%||60.5%||7.3||46||7.1||38.7|
|Marcell Ateman||WR||6'4, 210||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9006||35||20||268||57.1%||9.2%||62.9%||7.7||21||7.6||37.3|
|Austin Hays||SLOT||6'2, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||17||9||57||52.9%||4.5%||47.1%||3.4||-56||3.3||7.9|
|Chris Lacy||WR||6'3, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472||16||4||47||25.0%||4.2%||56.3%||2.9||-16||2.9||6.5|
|Jeremy Seaton||FB||6'2, 250||Sr.||NR||NR||15||13||162||86.7%||4.0%||73.3%||10.8||13||9.3||22.5|
|Blake Jarwin||TE||6'5, 242||Jr.||NR||NR||11||5||107||45.5%||2.9%||45.5%||9.7||42||12.0||14.9|
|Kameron Doolittle||SLOT||5'8, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8500||4||2||40||50.0%||1.1%||50.0%||10.0||15||10.9||5.6|
|C.J. Curry||WR||6'2, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8819||3||2||18||66.7%||0.8%||66.7%||6.0||-6||5.2||2.5|
|Zac Veatch||TE||6'4, 270||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8609|
|Keenen Brown||WR||6'3, 205||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8932|
|Jordan Frazier||TE||6'5, 255||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7973|
|Jalen McClesky||WR||5'10, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8362|
5. All the receivers you need
If the running game isn't a liability, and if the pass protection improves (or Rudolph gets better at making timely reads), the receiving corps is good enough to lead a major offensive rebound. Of the 10 players targeted by at least 10 passes last year, only Hill is gone.
Brandon Sheperd averaged 11.7 yards per target as a first-time No. 1 last season, and slot receiver David Glidden became a nice possession weapon for a team in desperate need of efficiency. And youngsters James Washington (four catches for 114 yards vs. Baylor), Jhajuan Seales (four for 75 vs. Iowa State), and Marcell Ateman (six for 130 against Texas Tech) -- all either freshmen or sophomores last year -- flashed big-play potential, albeit with iffy catch rates. Plus, now four-star redshirt freshman Keenen Brown is awaiting his turn. All the run game has to be is competent, and the passing game could be spectacular.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Victor Salako (UAB)||LT||6'6, 315||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||23|
|Paul Lewis||C||6'3, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8634||13|
|Zac Veatch||RG/TE||6'4, 270||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8609||12|
|Michael Wilson||LG||6'6, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9032||8|
|Zachary Crabtree||RT||6'7, 305||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8569||8|
|Jesse Robinson||RG||6'6, 310||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8364||2|
|Brad Lundblade||C||6'3, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115||1|
|Jack Kurzu||OL||6'4, 305||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8348||0|
|Jaxon Salinas||RG||6'4, 305||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8327||0|
|Lemaefe Galea'i||LG||6'5, 325||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8336|
|Matthew Mucha||LT||6'6, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8210|
|Vaimoe Sekona||OL||6'4, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631|
|Brandon Pertile||RT||6'6, 310||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8275|
|Johnny Wilson||OL||6'3, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8591|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.8%||48||Succ. Rt. +||110.8||29|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.7||78||Off. FP+||101.0||51|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||86||Redzone S&P+||101.2||59|
|Q1 Rk||107||1st Down Rk||48|
|Q2 Rk||25||2nd Down Rk||69|
|Q3 Rk||60||3rd Down Rk||81|
6. Same personality, more youth
In 2013, new OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer had exactly the tools he needed to fulfill his philosophy. As with Pat Narduzzi at Michigan State (now Pitt), Phil Bennett at Baylor, Bud Foster at Virginia Tech, and other increasingly successful defensive minds, Spencer seeks aggression, even if it comes with allowing some big plays.
Play mean football, force mistakes and three-and-outs, and live with the occasional big gainer.
His first OSU defense was the perfect combination of speed and experience. The Cowboys put up strong efficiency and havoc numbers but had so many seniors in the back seven that they really didn't allow big plays either. OSU improved from 43rd to ninth in Def. S&P+ and helped the Cowboys improve from eight to 10 wins despite early-season offensive issues.
In 2014, the mentality remained the same, but the defense got much younger. The result: a little bit less efficiency and a lot more big plays allowed. After allowing 44 gains of 20-plus yards in 2013 (15th in the country), the 'Pokes allowed 58 (70th) in 2014. After allowing 10 gains of 40-plus (29th), they allowed 17 (91st). This still wasn't a BAD defense, but there were too many mistakes to be consistently successful.
Youth becomes experience, however. OSU now returns five of its top eight linemen, six of seven linebackers (plus a couple of intriguing transfers), and five of six defensive backs. Interior defense could be an issue following the loss of tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau and linebacker Josh Furman, but those are pretty much all the losses. Spencer should be able to do figure out what to do with this group.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||6'4, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528||13||42.0||5.4%||17.0||11.0||0||5||1||0|
|Jimmy Bean||DE||6'5, 250||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8615||13||35.5||4.6%||6.5||3.5||0||1||3||0|
|Trace Clark||DE||6'4, 257||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8701||13||14.0||1.8%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Vili Leveni||DT||6'3, 290||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8153||13||11.5||1.5%||4.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Vincent Taylor||DT||6'3, 300||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8944||10||10.5||1.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Victor Irokansi||DE||6'3, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8478||9||2.0||0.3%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Davis||DT||6'3, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8738|
|Ben Hughes||DT||6'3, 310||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8839|
|Jordan Brailford||DE||6'3, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8879|
|Jarrell Owens||DE||6'3, 265||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8735|
|Trey Carter||DE||6'4, 267||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807|
|Motekiai Maile||DT||6'4, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8706|
|Darrion Daniels||DT||6'3, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9032|
|Louis Brown||DE||6'6, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8707|
|Taaj Bakari||DT||6'2, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8489|
7. Got tackles?
Junior end Emmanuel Ogbah enjoyed one of the most impressive breakout campaigns you're ever going to see. He had four sacks as a freshman reserve in 2013, and he and Jimmy Bean were tasked with raising their game last fall; Bean did alright, with 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, but Ogbah was a stud. He sacked Jameis Winston twice in the season opener, then racked up nine more and broke up five passes in the following 12 games.
Even with the loss of the Cowboys' best blitzer, Furman, it's hard to worry much about the OSU pass rush as long as Ogbah is on the field.
Meanwhile, in Ryan Simmons and Seth Jacobs, OSU boasts a pair of dual-threat linebackers; they combined for 16 non-sack tackles for loss (which suggests good run instincts) and 11 passes defensed. With a trio of well-regarded sophomores (including former four-star recruit Gyasi Akem) and two transfers -- Stephen F. Austin-by-way-of-JUCO strongsider Jordan Burton and former California signee Chad Whitener -- OSU has more linebackers than it will be able to use.
The tackle position, however, could slow the front seven down. The linebackers can only do their jobs if the tackles are occupying blockers, and losing James Castleman and Ofa Hautau leaves OSU unknown at the position. Sophomores Vili Leveni, Vincent Taylor, and Ben Hughes all come well-regarded, and Leveni showed major play-making potential last year. [Update: Leveni will miss the 2015 season with an Achilles tendon injury.] Plus, two newcomers -- JUCO transfer Motekiai Maile and four-star freshman Darrion Daniels -- could have an immediate impact. None of these players are seniors; in fact, Bean and Simmons might be the only two senior contributors in the front seven.
So as with so much of the offense, OSU has a metric ton of players to be excited about for 2016 and beyond. But there's always the chance for growing pains at tackle in 2015.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ryan Simmons||MLB||6'0, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8778||13||81.0||10.4%||12.0||2.0||0||4||0||0|
|Seth Jacobs||WLB||6'2, 225||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8819||13||74.0||9.5%||6.0||0.0||2||5||2||0|
|Jordan Burton (SFA)||SLB||6'3, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8373||11||55.0||7.4%||3.5||0.0||1||2||1||0|
|Justin Phillips||SLB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8451||8||14.0||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kirk Tucker||LB||6'2, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600||13||13.0||1.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gyasi Akem||SLB||6'1, 215||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9127||10||8.5||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Devante Averette||WLB||6'0, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463||3||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kris Catlin||LB||6'1, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8049|
|Chad Whitener (California)||MLB||6'1, 240||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8426|
|Josh Mabin||LB||6'2, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8737|
|Kevin Henry||LB||6'1, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8904|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jordan Sterns||FS||6'1, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8658||13||81.0||10.4%||5.5||0||0||4||2||0|
|Kevin Peterson||CB||5'11, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8627||13||52.0||6.7%||1.5||0||2||11||0||0|
|Tre Flowers||SS||6'3, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367||12||50.0||6.4%||2||0||0||3||0||0|
|Ramon Richards||CB||6'0, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8251||13||37.0||4.8%||2||0||3||4||0||0|
|Jerel Morrow||SS||6'0, 190||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8816||13||11.5||1.5%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Deric Robertson||FS||6'2, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8389||11||7.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Hardeman||CB||5'9, 178||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8879||10||5.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darius Curry||CB||6'1, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8587||4||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ashton Lampkin||CB||5'11, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8559||4||3.5||0.5%||0||0||2||3||0||0|
|Miketavius Jones||CB||5'10, 175||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR|
|Dylan Harding||FS||6'2, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8299|
|Antwan Hadley||DB||6'3, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8100|
|Kenneth McGruder||S||6'1, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8742|
8. Freshmen become sophomores
When you go from corners Justin Gilbert and Tyler Patmon and safeties Daytawion Lowe, Lyndell Johnson, and Shamiel Gary in 2013 to a load of freshmen and sophomores, you're going to suffer a dropoff. There's simply no way around it.
OSU fell from 12th in Passing S&P+ to 63rd, and the drop would have been more precipitous if the pass rush hadn't been such a pleasant surprise. Opponents were far more comfortable passin.
- 2013: 54% completion rate, 10.9 yards/completion, 3% TD rate, 4% INT rate
- 2014: 61% completion rate, 12.7 yards/completion, 5% TD rate, 3% INT rate
OSU's secondary got even younger as the season progressed. After a titillating start (five passes defensed in four games), Ashton Lampkin was lost for the season with injury. Senior safety Larry Stephens missed five games in the middle of the year, as well. Freshmen like corner Ramon Richards and sophomores Tre Flowers and Jerel Morrow got more playing time than expected, and the results were predictably up and down.
But last year's freshmen and sophomores are this year's sophomores and juniors, and OSU returns just about everybody, including Lampkin. Toss in JUCO transfer Antwan Hadley, and you've got a crowded depth chart. The pass defense should improve quite a bit.
|Ben Grogan||6'1, 186||Jr.||41-41||17-20||85.0%||5-8||62.5%|
|Brandon Sheperd||KR||6'1, 195||Sr.||6||21.3||0|
|Brandon Sheperd||PR||6'1, 195||Sr.||2||3.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||11|
|Field Goal Efficiency||41|
|Punt Return Efficiency||52|
|Kick Return Efficiency||10|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||62|
9. So many field goals
Oklahoma State had another good special teams unit; this is nothing new. The Cowboys have ranked 12th or better in special teams efficiency in five of the last seven years, which is nearly unprecedented in such a small-sample enterprise.
Tyreek Hill was OSU's latest great return man, Kip Smith's punts were high and long enough, kick coverage was a little shaky but not too costly, and Ben Grogan showed off a powerful leg on field goals, making five of eight from beyond 40 yards.
The biggest problem, however, was related to Grogan: he was asked to attempt 28 field goals. Only eight teams attempted more. OSU's efficiency issues bled into a problem finishing drives, and Grogan was asked to bail the 'Pokes out and salvage three points too many times.
Without Smith and Hill, it might be difficult for OSU to produce another high ranking here. But at least the Cowboys have Grogan. Maybe this year they won't ask him to do quite as much.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|3-Sep||at Central Michigan||91|
|10-Oct||at West Virginia||40|
|31-Oct||at Texas Tech||53|
|14-Nov||at Iowa State||86|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||34.9% (12)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||33 / 32|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-8 / 2.6|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-4.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (7, 8)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||6.6 (0.4)|
10. One hell of a November
Stillwater on ice
Stillwater on ice
One way or another, Oklahoma State is going to play a major role in the Big 12 race.
First, if the run game rebounds to a mediocre level and defensive tackle isn't a major drag, the Cowboys could use their friendly odd-year schedule and make a title run themselves. The four highest-projected teams in the conference all visit Stillwater.
But even if the Cowboys are still too flawed, what are the odds of them losing to all four of those top teams at home?
OSU gets TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma all on November 7 or later. The Cowboys have outscored TCU by 36 points in the two Stillwater meetings since TCU joined the Big 12, OU and OSU have split their last four meetings, and Baylor hasn't come within 28 points of the Cowboys on Lewis Field since losing 24-10 in 1998.
Any or all of the conference's primary contenders could suffer a late-season loss in northern Oklahoma.
It's hard for me to see OSU rebounding all the way back into the top 20 (mainly because, wow, does the run game have a lot to prove), but it's also hard for me to see the 'Pokes remaining too far down. The passing game and a good defense should get the Cowboys back into the top 40 at least, and the schedule is all sorts of friendly.
OSU has attended nine straight bowls under Gundy, and after keeping the streak alive by the skin of their teeth, the 'Pokes should clear that bar pretty easily. And if anybody from the bottom half of the league is going to make a sudden title run, a la TCU last year, it's almost certainly going to be Gundy's squad.