The Oklahoma State Cowboys were surely the quietest—and the worst?—10-win team in college football last season.
There are two reasons for this.
First, the Cowboys were oddly unimpressive in forging a 10-game winning streak. They began the season by beating Central Michigan and Central Arkansas by a combined 35 points. Their first three Big 12 wins, over Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia, were by a total of 12 points. The Cowboys later beat Iowa State by four points. The only truly impressive wins in the streak were by 17 over Texas Tech and 20 over TCU. Second, OSU finished the season by losing their final three games. Those losses, to Baylor, Oklahoma and Mississippi, were by a combined 73 points.
There is grist there for those who view the 2015 Cowboys as a very good football team, but also for those who say Oklahoma State was a Potemkin village justly obliterated by better competition.
Regardless of where one comes down on that argument, the reality is that preseason expectations for the Cowboys are that they will again threaten to snag double-digit wins and vie strongly for the Big 12 title.
In quarterback Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State boasts a quarterback who finished No. 26 nationally in passing efficiency last season, a receiver in James Washington who is as explosive as any in college football, and a veteran offensive line that returns completely intact. What the OSU does not have is a running back who remotely concerns Big 12 defensive coordinators.
On the other side of the ball the Cowboys lose extraordinary defensive ends Emanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean, but return their top four tacklers. What’s more, in Jordan Sterns, Ashton Lampkin, Ramon Richards, and Tre Flowers, OSU arguably has the best secondary in the Big 12.
The current Texas Tech receiving corps is one of the nation’s best, and may be the deepest in college football. But how much more indefensible would it be if James Washington, who played his high school football 145 miles southeast of Lubbock, was on the Tech roster!? No matter the circumstances, it always hurts to lose a big fish from one of your own stock tanks.
And make no mistake, Washington truly is a lunker among college football receivers. Last season he hauled in 53 passes for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging an astounding 20.5 yards per grab.
Washington pretty much has the whole package. He has superb hands, unfailing concentration, enough speed to separate from most defensive backs, and the strength to outmuscle those from which he cannot run away. Washington will team with Mason Rudolph to put up huge numbers in 2016, and will be the next OSU receiving great, following in the path of Rashaun Woods, Justin Blackmon and Dez Bryant.
With the departure of outstanding defensive ends Ogbah and Bean, the perimeter of OSU’s defensive line may be in question, but with the return of Vincent Taylor, the interior is not.
Taylor put up some very impressive numbers a year ago. He recorded 48 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks. That sack number is particularly impressive for an interior defensive lineman.
That said, Taylor undoubtedly benefited from the presence of Bean and Ogbah on the edge. With presumably less attention focused on OSU’s defensive ends, and more focused on Taylor, it will be interesting to see how the hoss from San Antone fares in 2016.