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Is Oklahoma State still a top-15 program? We'll find out in 2016.

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One of the country's most dangerous passing games can help demonstrate OSU's back on track. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the Big 12 so far!

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. It's a big year in Stillwater

Few teams have been as consistently good in recent years. The Cowboys have won 9+ games in five of the last six seasons (and it took three tight losses to prevent it in the other season). The 'Pokes were an unlikely overtime loss in Ames away from a spot in the BCS Championship in 2011; they lost some of their greatest players ever and still finished in F/+ top 16 the next two years. Mike Gundy has replaced assistants, quarterbacks, and award winners and has kept right on winning.

The Cowboys get the benefit of the doubt until they prove they don't deserve it.

-- The 2014 Oklahoma State guide

At what point do you lose the benefit of the doubt? From 2006-13, Gundy pulled off an incredible run. His Cowboys ranked 26th or better in S&P+ each year and won at least nine games five times. From 2010-13, things were even better: OSU went 41-11 and ranked 13th or better each year.

Building a top-15 program with top-40 recruiting is tricky. Every time a key group cycles out, there's a chance that the replacements don't live up. That Gundy was able to absorb so many losses was outstanding.

That high level has dissipated. In 2014, both the offense and defense collapsed -- the offense from 20th in Off. S&P+ to 69th, the defense from ninth in Def. S&P+ to 63rd. Suddenly mediocre, the Cowboys needed a stunning comeback against Oklahoma just to become bowl eligible.

In 2015, the offense bounced back. Despite eventual injuries at quarterback and a complete lack of a run game, OSU rebounded to 23rd in Off. S&P+. But even with ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean recording 28 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks, the defense again finished 63rd.

Oklahoma State faded dramatically last November, and injuries were only part of the reason. The 'Pokes return a large portion of last year's two-deep, however, and after finishing 33rd in overall S&P+, the odds of them ranking higher in 2016 seem strong.

Ogbah and Bean are gone. And until proven otherwise, the shoddy run game could continue to hold OSU back. OSU appears to be on an upward trajectory again, but can the defense improve enough to again give this program top-15 potential? Is this more of a top-25 program now?

Tons of programs would kill to be only top-25 level, and such success in Stillwater seemed less than feasible just a decade ago. But after Gundy's wonderful start, the bar is high, and that makes 2016 a huge season. This is the year we learn about OSU's new ceiling. Perhaps last year's fade distracted us from how good the Cowboys were for two months; perhaps this year we'll see three months at that level.

OSU now faces a little burden of proof.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 40 | Final S&P+ Rk: 33
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep at Central Michigan 67 24-13 W 81% 92% +0.4 -13.0
12-Sep Central Arkansas N/A 32-8 W 81% 100% -6.4
19-Sep UTSA 111 69-14 W 95% 100% +24.6 +30.5
26-Sep at Texas 68 30-27 W 76% 93% +3.2 -0.5
3-Oct Kansas State 81 36-34 W 71% 89% +3.0 -5.5
10-Oct at West Virginia 31 33-26 W 65% 51% +23.7 +14.0
24-Oct Kansas 127 58-10 W 92% 100% +13.8 +14.5
31-Oct at Texas Tech 60 70-53 W 76% 87% +11.6 +14.0
7-Nov TCU 19 49-29 W 97% 100% +24.4 +25.5
14-Nov at Iowa State 79 35-31 W 41% 38% -5.5 -10.0
21-Nov Baylor 14 35-45 L 41% 7% -7.7 -10.0
28-Nov Oklahoma 4 23-58 L 23% 1% -29.5 -28.0
1-Jan vs. Ole Miss 5 20-48 L 19% 0% -19.9 -20.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 38.1 23 28.1 63
Points Per Game 39.5 14 30.5 88

2. See if you can spot where it all went wrong

Oklahoma State was both very lucky and very good early.

The Cowboys benefited from absurd turnovers luck throughout 2015 -- plus-6.6 points per game, easily the luckiest in the country. They recovered 63 percent of all fumbles, fifth-most in the country; FR% always reverts toward 50 percent over time. Plus, while national averages suggest that about 22 percent of a team's passes defensed (INTs + breakups) will be interceptions, OSU managed 35 percent, while opponents ended up at just 15 percent.

National averages suggest OSU's turnover margin should have been about minus-4 in 2015; it was plus-13, plus-12 in wins. Considering OSU was 4-0 in one-possession games, the Cowboys' 10-0 start could have gone in a completely different direction with a few kooky bounces (or less-slippery punter hands or better officiating).

That said, the Cowboys were also playing well. And after needing some good fortune to get past Texas, KSU, and WVU, OSU looked like it was starting to peak. The 'Pokes destroyed KU as you are supposed to do, then unleashed a huge comeback at Texas Tech and walloped TCU by 20 (yes, with help from turnovers). Suddenly they were 9-0 and rising.

  • First 9 games:
    Record: 9-0 | Avg. Percentile Performance: 82% (~top 25) | Yards per play: OSU 6.7, Opp 5.0
  • Last 4 games:
    Record: 1-3 | Avg. Percentile Performance: 31% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 7.2, OSU 5.7

OSU needed another big comeback to survive against an Iowa State that wasn't even playing well; then, against three top-15 teams, the Cowboys had little to offer. Baylor went on a 24-0 run to turn a tight game into a laugher (OSU scored twice in the final five minutes to cut the deficit to 10), then Oklahoma and Ole Miss outscored them by a combined 106-43.

Quarterback injuries played a role -- Rudolph suffered a foot fracture against Baylor and threw just three passes against Oklahoma (two incompletions and an interception) -- but offense wasn't the major problem. Bean tore his ACL, and without him, Ogbah's productivity waned. Suddenly OSU didn't have enough to pretend to slow down good offenses.

OSU returns a majority of last year's defensive two-deep, but without Bean or Ogbah, can the Cowboys create the havoc that coordinator Glenn Spencer prefers?

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.36 27 IsoPPP+ 112.4 34
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.4% 45 Succ. Rt. + 100.9 70
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 26.9 12 Def. FP+ 26.9 16
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 27 Redzone S&P+ 113.6 26
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.8 ACTUAL 15 -8.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 22 38 70 34
RUSHING 114 114 109 119
PASSING 7 18 30 15
Standard Downs 83 100 73
Passing Downs 11 17 10
Q1 Rk 30 1st Down Rk 36
Q2 Rk 64 2nd Down Rk 74
Q3 Rk 40 3rd Down Rk 10
Q4 Rk 10

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Mason Rudolph 6'5, 235 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8977 264 424 3770 21 9 62.3% 30 6.6% 7.9
J.W. Walsh 57 85 787 13 1 67.1% 0 0.0% 9.3
Taylor Cornelius 6'6, 218 So. NR NR 2 5 8 0 0 40.0% 2 28.6% -1.1
John Kolar 6'4, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8987
Keondre Wudtee 6'4, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404

3. It's all on Mason now

New BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer should maybe give Mike Yurcich a call. Detmer is dealing with a potentially strange, potentially great quarterback situation, returning both 3,300-yard passer Tanner Mangum and ultra-mobile Taysom Hill.

Over much of the last two seasons, Yurcich dealt with something similar, trying to figure out how to take advantage of the talents of golden-armed Mason Rudolph and runner J.W. Walsh.

There were plenty of glitches and issues with predictability to boot (if Rudolph's in, OSU is probably passing, and if Walsh is in, OSU is probably running), but OSU's offensive improvement in 2015 proves that you can find a balance.

Walsh graduated, which means the job is all Rudolph's.

Considering that even with Walsh involved, OSU's run-pass rates skewed pass-heavy, one has to figure the Cowboys will be throwing the ball a lot. It would make sense, anyway -- Rudolph and receivers James Washington, Marcell Ateman, Jhajuan Seales, and Jalen McCleskey are ridiculously dangerous, and until proven otherwise, the running game still stinks.

A transfer with a familiar name could change that.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Chris Carson RB 6'1, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8869 131 517 4 3.9 3.0 38.2% 1 0
J.W. Walsh QB 77 359 13 4.7 5.5 35.1% 2 0
Rennie Childs RB 5'10, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8573 72 281 2 3.9 3.7 37.5% 0 0
Barry Sanders
(Stanford)
RB 5'10, 198 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9599 51 315 4 6.2 9.5 31.4% 0 0
Raymond Taylor RB 47 297 4 6.3 6.4 42.6% 0 0
Mason Rudolph QB 6'5, 235 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8977 37 140 1 3.8 6.2 35.1% 6 2
Jeff Carr RB 5'7, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926 36 142 1 3.9 4.2 27.8% 1 0
Brandon Sheperd WR 7 39 0 5.6 2.8 57.1% 0 0
Jalen McCleskey WR 5'10, 170 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8362 4 25 0 6.3 3.3 75.0% 5 2
Sione Palelei RB 5'9, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8660
LD Brown RB 5'9, 174 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8484
Justice Hill RB 5'10, 171 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8443







4. Here comes another Barry Sanders

There was almost nothing good about Oklahoma State's 2015 run game. The blocking was rarely there, and when Chris Carson or Rennie Childs did find a hole, they didn't do much with it. The Cowboys managed 59 rushes of 10-plus yards (89th in FBS) and five of 30-plus (101st); Walsh and since-departed Raymond Taylor accounted for 19 of those 59 10-yarders.

The line was young; sophomores accounted for 33 of 65 starts, while seniors had zero. Simple continuity could help. But you still need someone who can burst through holes occasionally, and there is absolutely no proven explosiveness.

Stanford transfer Barry Sanders, son of the OSU legend? Quite explosive and elusive. Granted, he is an all-or-nothing back who won't help OSU's efficiency, but the Cowboys could desperately use some more big plays, and that's one thing he can deliver.

The run game doesn't have to be good for OSU to have a good offense, like last year. But competence, with the occasional big gain, could provide a distraction for a devastating passing game.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
James Washington WR 6'0, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8451 103 53 979 51.5% 20.5% 9.5 60.2% 43.7% 2.06
David Glidden WR 87 57 866 65.5% 17.3% 10.0 49.4% 57.5% 1.60
Marcell Ateman WR 6'4, 215 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9006 70 45 766 64.3% 13.9% 10.9 48.6% 60.0% 1.68
Brandon Sheperd WR 42 23 338 54.8% 8.4% 8.0 50.0% 42.9% 1.77
Jhajuan Seales WR 6'0, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115 33 18 321 54.5% 6.6% 9.7 57.6% 42.4% 2.21
Jalen McCleskey WR 5'10, 170 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8362 32 29 327 90.6% 6.4% 10.2 87.5% 46.9% 2.05
Austin Hays WR 6'2, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 30 22 200 73.3% 6.0% 6.7 56.7% 60.0% 0.97
Chris Carson RB 6'1, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8869 24 17 170 70.8% 4.8% 7.1 45.8% 41.7% 1.52
Blake Jarwin HB 6'5, 248 Sr. NR NR 22 17 200 77.3% 4.4% 9.1 54.5% 63.6% 1.34
Jeff Carr RB 5'7, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926 14 11 43 78.6% 2.8% 3.1 71.4% 28.6% 1.09
Chris Lacy WR 6'3, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472 13 8 120 61.5% 2.6% 9.2 76.9% 61.5% 1.41
Jeremy Seaton FB 11 7 88 63.6% 2.2% 8.0 54.5% 54.5% 1.45
Rennie Childs RB 5'10, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8573 8 8 66 100.0% 1.6% 8.3 12.5% 25.0% 2.62
Zac Veatch HB 6'3, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8609 6 5 72 83.3% 1.2% 12.0 100.0% 66.7% 1.64
Keenen Brown HB 6'3, 242 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8932
Jordan Frazier HB 6'4, 265 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7973
Tyrell Alexander WR 6'1, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8696
Dillon Stoner WR 6'0, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8395

5. One of the country's 10 best passing attacks?

When Oklahoma State hit its stride in late-October, James Washington was the primary reason. He was already on pace for a good season, but against Kansas, Texas Tech, and TCU, he went nuclear: 15 catches, 487 yards, six touchdowns. He had another 12 for 257 against Baylor and OU.

Washington was one of the best receivers in the country over the second half of 2015, and despite the loss of David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd, the sky is the limit for OSU's receiving corps. The top four returnees averaged 11 catches per game and 10.1 yards per target, and Washington, Ateman, and Seales enter their third year with Rudolph. As long as the 'Pokes don't become completely one-dimensional, this passing game should be one of the nation's 10 best.

And then there's the matter of the Cowboy Back, an H-back position that Gundy and Yurcich introduced in 2015. It was perhaps an underutilized efficiency option -- Blake Jarwin and Zac Veatch combined for a 79 percent catch rate and a 64 percent catch rate -- and could become a bigger piece of the redzone puzzle now that Walsh's read-option abilities are gone. Plus, former four-star signee Keenen Brown could enter the C-B rotation.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 76 2.4 2.2 38.3% 64.4% 22.0% 112.0 6.2% 5.1%
Rank 127 122 124 75 75 96 45 88 19
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Victor Salako LT 6'6, 335 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 13 36
Michael Wilson LG 6'6, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9032 13 21
Zachary Crabtree RT 6'7, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8569 13 21
Paul Lewis RG
6 19
Brad Lundblade C 6'3, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115 13 14
Jesse Robinson RG 6'5, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8364 7 9
Matthew Mucha C 6'5, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8210 0 0
Lemaefe Galea'i LG 6'4, 325 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.0000 0 0
Colby Hegwood C 0 0
Brandon Pertile RT 6'4, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8275 0 0
Johnny Wilson RG 6'3, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8591

Marcus Keyes LT 6'3, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8073

Larry Williams LG 6'4, 318 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8550

Shane Richards OL 6'8, 330 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217

Tramonda Moore OL 6'4, 350 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9466

Tyler Brown OL 6'6, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8499


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.31 90 IsoPPP+ 105.3 46
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.1% 64 Succ. Rt. + 109.4 38
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.1 42 Off. FP+ 31.1 39
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 99 Redzone S&P+ 94.7 89
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.6 ACTUAL 28.0 +8.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 100 43 38 46
RUSHING 87 51 36 62
PASSING 95 42 39 50
Standard Downs 41 32 46
Passing Downs 45 31 51
Q1 Rk 52 1st Down Rk 32
Q2 Rk 89 2nd Down Rk 56
Q3 Rk 17 3rd Down Rk 56
Q4 Rk 33

6. Not great, not terrible

The list of extreme strengths and weaknesses for OSU's defense in 2015 is short.

  • Really good: passing-downs pass rush
  • Really bad: short yardage, red zone

That's about it. Glenn Spencer's D was ... fine. Texas Tech would kill for "fine," but Spencer and OSU set the bar really high in 2013 and have failed to clear it for two straight years.

Spencer tried to be as aggressive as ever last year, and opponents knew it -- they threw more frequently than normal on standard downs and ran more frequently on passing downs, both ways to keep an aggressive defense on its heels. OSU improved in the second half of most games but got burned too much early on for gambles to pay off.

It's hard to get a read on what the Cowboys are capable of. The secondary is quite experienced, with the return of two seniors (Jordan Sterns, Ashton Lampkin), three juniors (Tre Flowers, Ramond Richards, Jerel Morrow), and senior Auburn transfer Derrick Moncrief. The linebacking corps returns two starters (Jordan Burton and Chad Whitener) who combined for 16.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Every tackle is back, including quick-for-his-size junior Vincent Taylor and four-star sophomore Darrion Daniels. That suggests great things.

The two most important play-makers -- Ogbah and Bean -- are gone. And we saw last year that losing just Bean rendered OSU feckless against good offenses.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 105.2 3.04 3.33 40.6% 71.2% 19.2% 133.3 6.3% 13.8%
Rank 42 89 74 90 97 80 20 24 2
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Emmanuel Ogbah DE 13 54.0 6.6% 17.5 13.0 0 4 3 0
Vincent Taylor DT 6'3, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8944 13 39.0 4.7% 8.5 5.0 0 1 0 0
Jimmy Bean DE 8 22.5 2.7% 10.5 5.5 0 0 0 0
Jordan Brailford DE 6'3, 245 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8879 10 20.5 2.5% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Trace Clark DE 12 18.5 2.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Motekiai Maile DT 6'3, 315 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8706 13 16.5 2.0% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darrion Daniels DT 6'3, 305 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9032 13 13.5 1.6% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Jarrell Owens DE 6'3, 270 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8735 13 9.5 1.2% 3.0 3.0 0 1 1 0
Eric Davis DT 6'3, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8738 13 6.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ben Hughes DT 6'1, 320 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8839
Vili Leveni DT 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153
Trey Carter DE 6'3, 285 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8807
Cole Walterscheid DE 6'5, 254 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8363
Taaj Bakari DT 6'1, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8489
Tralund Webber DE 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8418
Cameron Murray DT 6'2, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8265








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Burton SLB 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8373 13 80.5 9.8% 9.0 3.5 1 0 1 0
Chad Whitener MLB 6'0, 248 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8426 13 75.5 9.2% 7.5 2.0 2 0 1 0
Seth Jacobs WLB
13 53.5 6.5% 8.5 1.0 2 1 0 0
Devante Averette WLB 5'11, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463 13 25.5 3.1% 3.5 2.0 2 0 0 1
Kirk Tucker SLB 6'1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8600 13 18.5 2.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Ryan Simmons MLB 5 11.5 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Gyasi Akem WLB 6'2, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9127 8 6.5 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Mabin MLB 6'1, 240 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8737 5 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kris Catlin LB 7 2.0 0.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Phillips SLB 6'0, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8451
Kevin Henry LB 6'0, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8904
Calvin Bundage LB 6'2, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8770
Amen Ogbongbemiga LB 6'0, 207 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8252








7. The wrong two players to lose?

Just because you weren't ready as a freshman doesn't mean you'll never be ready. In backup roles, sophomores Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens did combine for 6.5 TFLs and four sacks, even if OSU's defensive effectiveness trailed off late with the more work they got. Maybe with typical year-to-year progression, they can turn into havoc players in 2016. They could get help from both a JUCO transfer (Tralund Webber) and fellow sophomores Trey Carter and Cole Walterscheid. [Update: Oklahoma State landed another JUCO transfer in defensive tackle D.Q. Osborne, who was released from his letter of intent at Baylor.]

If they do, all other pieces could fall into place. Ogbah and Bean carried an inexperienced front seven that saw three freshmen, three sophomores, and two transfers in the rotation. Now that players like Darrion Daniels, SFA transfer Jordan Burton and Cal transfer Chad Whitener have all been in the system for a year, they could begin to more effectively play the attacking style Spencer prefers.

Among the guaranteed contributors, only Burton and tackle Motekiai Maile are seniors. If this unit doesn't round into shape this fall, it probably will the next.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Sterns FS 6'0, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8658 13 89.5 10.9% 1.5 0 2 3 1 0
Tre Flowers SS 6'3, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8367 13 74.5 9.1% 3 0 2 7 1 0
Kevin Peterson CB 12 38.5 4.7% 4.5 0 1 6 0 0
Ashton Lampkin CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8559 12 28.0 3.4% 1 0 1 5 0 0
Derrick Moncrief
(Auburn)
SS 6'2, 220 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9044 13 20.5 2.9% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Michael Hunter CB 13 19.0 2.3% 1 0 2 1 0 0
Miketavius Jones CB 13 15.0 1.8% 2.5 2.5 0 0 1 0
Ramon Richards CB 5'11, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8251 12 14.5 1.8% 1 0 2 2 1 0
Jerel Morrow SS 5'10, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8816 13 13.0 1.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kenneth Edison-McGruder FS 6'0, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8742 12 11.5 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Deric Robertson S
12 11.0 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Darius Curry CB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8587 12 9.0 1.1% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Hardeman CB
10 4.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Za'Carrius Green FS 5'11, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8354
Malik Kearse CB 6'0, 160 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8274
Rodarius Williams CB 6'0, 172 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8529
Madre Harper CB 6'2, 167 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8491
A.J. Green CB 6'1, 160 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8465

8. Got enough cornerbacks?

OSU both loses a lot and returns a lot in the back. Eleven DBs saw reasonable playing time; four are gone, including active corner Kevin Peterson, but that means seven return. Moncrief joins the rotation as well.

I have few concerns about the safeties. Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers (combined: 4.5 TFLs, 4 INTs, 10 PBUs) have been regulars for a couple of years, and junior Jerel Morrow has gotten plenty of reps. Even if Moncrief isn't ready for a starring role, he only has to be a decent contributor.

Cornerback is a bit of a worry. Peterson, Michael Hunter, and Miketavius Jones are all gone, leaving 17th-year senior Ashton Lampkin, Ramon Richards, and unknowns. Darius Curry has seen some playing time over the last couple of years, and the February signing class could help quickly, either because of JUCO Malik Kearse or a mid-three-star freshman like Rodarius Williams or A.J. Green. But if there's an issue in the secondary, it will be on the edges.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Zach Sinor 5'10, 215 So. 75 40.1 3 31 28 78.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ben Grogan 6'1, 190 Sr. 92 60.1 22 2 23.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ben Grogan 6'1, 190 Sr. 61-64 12-14 85.7% 4-6 66.7%
Matt Hockett 6'2, 215 So. 1-1 0-1 0.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jeff Carr KR 5'7, 180 So. 29 21.5 0
Brandon Sheperd KR 5 20.6 0
Jalen McCleskey PR 5'10, 170 So. 22 5.0 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 79
Field Goal Efficiency 81
Punt Return Success Rate 118
Kick Return Success Rate 57
Punt Success Rate 35
Kickoff Success Rate 113

9. Good field position despite special teams

We're used to OSU having dynamite return men, but that wasn't really the case in 2016. All-or-nothing Jalen McCleskey took one punt 67 yards and gained just 44 yards in 21 other returns; meanwhile, kick returner Jeff Carr was the opposite, gaining decent yardage each time but rarely going a long way. Barry Sanders gives Gundy another weapon to potentially utilize here -- in three years at Stanford, he returned nine punts and two kickoffs -- but there are no guarantees.

The good news is that, despite iffy returns and a bad run game, OSU still managed strong field position in 2015. OSU ranked 25th in FBS (and first in the Big 12) in field position margin at plus-4.2 yards per possession. Just imagine what could happen with better special teams. Punter Zach Sinor could be a weapon for years, but the rest of this unit needs help.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep SE Louisiana NR 45.9 100%
10-Sep Central Michigan 85 18.8 86%
17-Sep Pittsburgh 29 5.8 63%
24-Sep at Baylor 13 -7.3 34%
1-Oct Texas 34 6.9 65%
8-Oct Iowa State 71 14.8 80%
22-Oct at Kansas 112 21.5 89%
29-Oct West Virginia 33 6.9 65%
5-Nov at Kansas State 67 7.1 66%
12-Nov Texas Tech 43 9.6 71%
19-Nov at TCU 31 -0.6 49%
3-Dec at Oklahoma 4 -12.9 23%
Projected wins: 7.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk 30.3% (16)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 40 / 38
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 13 / -4.2
2015 TO Luck/Game +6.6
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 74% (79%, 69%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.6 (1.4)

10. Another fast start on the way?

OSU is projected 23rd in S&P+ this year, which probably makes sense. The Cowboys return solid experience on both sides, and recent program history suggests a further rebound from 2014 should be expected.

If the Cowboys can be something more than 23rd, however, we might not know for a while. The Cowboys are scheduled to play only two projected top-25 teams, and while there are five more opponents projected between 29th and 43rd (the middle of this conference is pretty deep), four come to Stillwater.

OSU has a better than 50 percent chance of winning in nine of 12 games. This schedule is custom-built for another run at nine or 10 wins, but the Cowboys better mind their Ps and Qs. If the defense can't generate enough pressure, or if the run game is even worse without Walsh, a schedule full of 60-percent win probabilities could turn quickly on the 'Pokes.