Every fan wants to know who is surprising, which freshmen are going to play, which walk-ons have a chance, who is going to be the back-up quarterback, and who will be the breakout player of the year? There are plenty of questions but in the spirit of coach-speak, honestly answers really do come after several weeks of practice and not several days.
It's like the hype with Barry J. Sanders. The fact is Barry J. is talented and it shows in drills, but in reps in seven on seven or the full offense, Sanders is a little slowed. He is going from a pro-style offense at Stanford to a spread, no-huddle, and primarily shotgun and when running plays, he's having to think. Thinking and not reacting always slows down an athlete. Give him another week or two and he'll be more comfortable and will be reacting because Barry J. is a smart guy and this offense is somewhat similar to what he ran in high school at Heritage Hall, just a little more involved.
That is an example and another is the Cowboys rushing attack. I think you will have to wait until the nonconference games, a stairway answer with Southeastern Louisiana, then Central Michigan, to an early final exam with Pitt and their defensive guru head coach Pat Narduzzi as the answer to whether the Cowboys will be proficient with the running game this season. The reason I will be patient is I think the Oklahoma State defense is really good and they know a lot of the plays and how to read the Cowboy offense anyway. I need to see the offensive line and the backs line up against somebody else.
But, in the interest of fun, I do have some predictions for this season, based on what I've seen in four practices. Here we go.
1. This is an easy one. Wide receiver, Jenks grad, and 2015 Oklahoma High School Player of the Year Dillon Stoner will be the first impact freshman in this class.
2. Jake Dyer (linebacker, Whitesboro, Texas) or Chance Cook (safety, Canadian, Texas) will be the first walk-on to play this season ... and it may be on the opening kickoff.
3. Taylor Cornelius, another Texas Panhandle product from Bushland, Texas, will be the back-up quarterback.
4. Freshman running back Justice Hill has a tremendous future, but I'm guessing he will redshirt this season. I'm a little iffy on this, but his fifth-year will be a lot better than his initial year.
5. The defense has depth in every position, it may not be experienced depth but it is talent depth. There are names you may not know like Kevin Henry (star), Kenneth Edison-McGruder (free safety), Za'Carrius Green (strong safety), and Bryce Balous (cornerback) that can really make plays. McGruder is a sophomore and the other three are all redshirt freshmen.
6. Cole Neph will make big plays this season at Cowboy back. The walk-on from Owasso is a flat-out stud athlete that I can't wait to see factor.
7. Marcus Keyes is the best bet to break in somewhere on the offense line and bump a returning starter. Keyes is also a redshirt freshman. See a theme developing here. This team has a lot of returning starters and veterans but also a lot of young talent.
8. Chris Carson will play a big role this season. I think Barry J. Sanders will as well, but don't discard Carson. I believe he will be critical.
9. D.Q. Osborne is going to be a real weapon at defensive tackle, as his quickness is unique for a 6-0, 310-pound person.
10. My breakout player for the season – and I didn't need the first four days for this prediction as I had it all spring and summer – is slot receiver and returner Jalen McCleskey.