2016 season preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last year was a fairly successful one for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They started the season hot and worked up a 10-0 record. But they faltered late, losing their final three games of the season. However, considering they finished 4-5 in conference play in 2014, this was still a season to be happy with.
Now heading into 2016 the Cowboys have a chance to be even better. They return a ton of players who can make a difference. Let’s take a look at how this Oklahoma State team will look in 2016:
There’s a lot to like about the Cowboys’ offense going into this season. The return of star QB Mason Rudolph is the most exciting, but more on that later. They also return a duo of wide receivers that should have huge success. No returning receiver with more than 40 catches last season averaged more yards per reception than James Washington’s 20.1, and Marcell Ateman had a top-30 grade among returning WRs in the nation. While they didn’t have much of a rushing attack last season, they’re getting RB Barry Sanders Jr. as a transfer, who they hope can contribute immediately. Their entire starting line is returning, and the hope is that another offseason will help them improve on what was a below-average 2015.
Oklahoma State’s defense is a bigger question mark than their high-powered offense, but that doesn’t mean it’s in bad shape. There are strong players throughout that could make a big contribution this season. DT Vincent Taylor has been steadily improving over his first two seasons, and returns as the second-highest graded DT in the Big 12. There’s also corner Ashton Lampkin, who allowed just 17 receptions on 41 targets for 288 yards last year. He was very strong in coverage and should see more improvement this season. The Cowboys have a strong enough offense that they don’t need much from their defense, but what they do need, the defense will be able to provide.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph is far and away the star of this team. He’s a sleeper Heisman candidate and should be even better this year. His passing grade last year is the highest among all returning quarterbacks in the NCAA. Last season, only Connor Cook (Michigan State) was more accurate on deep throws than Rudolph’s 57.3 percent rate. He’s also very good under pressure, his 64.1 adjusted completion percentage when faced with pressure ranking third among returning Power-5 QBs in the nation.
Last year he only played about 75 percent of Cowboys’ offensive snaps thanks to a dual-QB system for redzone and short-yardage situations. This year he’ll be out there the whole time and that does not bode well for opposing defenses.
Breakout player to watch
While his partner-in-crime James Washington gets more attention, Marcell Ateman is the WR that people should really keep their eyes on this season. He actually graded higher than Washington did last season, and did so in nearly 100 less snaps. Ateman has much surer hands than Washington does, having a drop rate of just 8.2. He was also a more effective deep threat last season, with 14 receptions for 415 yards and four touchdowns and a 60.9 percent catch rate. Washington is sure to get more defensive attention next year, so look for Ateman to be asked to step up. If he plays like he did last year, he’ll be in for a breakout season.
Oklahoma State was able to find success last year with a potent deep passing offense and there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to do that again. In fact, with all the returning players they have, they should be even better. The defense has issues to be sure, but they have enough talent at key positions to make plays and slow opponents down. With the high level of play on this team, they should be once again competing for the Big 12 championship during those finals weeks of conference play.