The Oklahoma State football team is building crazy hype heading into 2017, but can they finally get over the hump to national prominence.
The Oklahoma State football program is one of the most underrated in the nation. Head coach Mike Gundy led the Cowboys to five 10 win seasons in the last seven years. The hype train has already started for the 2017 season as well. The return of quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver James Washington and Marcell Ateman, and linebacker Chad Whitener has the fan base and the entire world of college football excited to see what happens in Stillwater this fall.
Really the only thing that blocked the Cowboys from being among the best of the best programs in the last five seasons is the inability to get over the “hump”, also known as the Poke Choke. For example, OK State had three chances to defeat the Oklahoma Sooners in Bedlam, win a Big 12 title, and compete for a National Championship, since 2013. They failed to accomplish any of those three things during the 2013, 2015, and 2016 campaigns.
Defeating the Colorado Buffaloes, a top 10 team at the time, in the Alamo Bowl by a 30-point margin is a great first step. Moreover, the last time the Cowboys had a pair of returning starters as talented as Rudolph and Washington, they won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl in 2011. Those are all great signs for a serious run at the College Football Playoff in 2017.
There’s a large chance that the Pokes could play the Sooners twice in 2017 with the addition of a Big 12 Championship Game at the end of the regular season. Yet, that spells trouble for a team that was dominated by the Sooners the last two seasons, losing by a combined 53-point margin.
However, the schedule lines up very well for the Pokes to make a run at the Big 12 title and CFB Playoff. OK State gets TCU, Baylor, OU, Tulsa, and Kansas State at home. BU and OU have been the trickiest teams for the Pokes to overcome, as OK State only has two wins against the Sooners and Bears both over the last four seasons. Getting them at home is key.
Road games against the West Virginia Mountaineers, Texas Longhorns, and Pittsburgh Panthers are tough but the Cowboys should be favored in all three games. They defeated all three teams by 42-points combined.
Obviously, a slip up against the likes of Tulsa, South Alabama, or Iowa State, could derail anything great the Cowboys have going. OK State cannot put forward an effort like they did against Central Michigan last season against those three teams (even though the Cowboys actually won that game).
The Big 12 will be a battle at the top of the conference between OU, OK State, KSU, and WVU. UT and TCU are never teams you can count out either. For the Cowboys, BU always poses a threat as well. Matt Rhule takes over in Waco so maybe Gundy handles matchups against him better than he did against former BU head coach Art Briles. Rudolph has also had three games previous against BU to learn from and emerge victorious in 2017.
Overall, the biggest hurdle, as always, is the Sooners. De facto Big 12 title games ended up thrashing defeat for the Cowboys in 2015 and 2016. Heartbreak followed a nine point defeat where the Pokes were actually leading with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter in 2013. OK State needs to find that mindset where they play loose and efficient like they did when they really had nothing to lose in 2014 and they beat a good OU team in Norman.
All signs point to a really exciting season at Boone Pickens Stadium in 2017. Many sources including Bleacher Report and ESPN put the Pokes in the top 10 in most of their way too early rankings for 2017. Beating OU and BU in the same season for the first time since 2011 also looks promising as well. OU is not the final game of the season which could help the Cowboy fortunes and BU is the Homecoming game in Stillwater. The Pokes have only lost one Homecoming game in the last five seasons, and that was also their worst record in the past five years at 7-6.
It’s a long wait for the Sep. 2 season opener against Tulsa, but at least excitement is building for the team to build their confidence early. We will catch a good glimpse at the state of the Cowboy football program on April 15 in BPS at the Spring Game.