Previewing the 2019 OSU football team
Coming off its 13th straight winning season and its seventh bowl victory in the last nine years, Oklahoma State carries a proven culture of success with it into the 2019 season. That overall culture should play a role in accelerating the transition that comes with having new faces at three important spots - offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and starting quarterback.
The change at quarterback means head coach Mike Gundy will have his third different starter in as many seasons, but there is no reason to doubt his track record when it comes to quarterback play, as the Cowboys have ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing offense in each of the past four seasons.
Defensively, the Cowboys sustained significant losses - especially along the defensive line - but figure to be strong in the secondary, where most of the starting group from a year ago returns. At linebacker, OSU technically has only one returning starter, but that group has several players who saw a healthy share of game reps last season.
On special teams, OSU returns a two-year starter at kicker, but will replace a four-year starter at punter.
The Cowboy Offense
There is a sense of newness to the 2019 offense with first-year coordinator Sean Gleeson and first-year offensive line coach Charlie Dickey in the fold and a competition for the role of starting quarterback. That said, the Cowboys do return six offensive starters - three of which are on the offensive line. At the skill positions, OSU returns a 2018 first-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist in junior Tylan Wallaceand an explosive running back in Chuba Hubbard.
New coach Charlie Dickey inherits a trio of experienced veterans in seniors Johnny Wilson and Marcus Keyes and junior Teven Jenkins, plus a fourth player - junior Dylan Galloway - who started five games last season.
Beyond that, there is plenty to be settled, both in the starting lineup and extending further into the two-deep. Candidates for playing time include juniors Ry Schneider and Matt Kegel plus a host of redshirt freshmen in Tyrese Williams, Hunter Anthony, Hunter Woodard, Bryce Bray and Jacob Farrell.
Regardless of who plays, Dickey's presence provides a sense of optimism. Mike Gundy had tried multiple times before to hire Dickey away from Kansas State, but Bill Snyder's retirement following the 2018 season gave Gundy the chance to finally get the man he has wanted in charge of the Cowboy front.
For the first time since 2012, Oklahoma State's opening day starting quarterback will not have thrown a pass in an OSU uniform prior to being named as the Cowboys' starter.
The two primary candidates to earn the spot in 2019 are Dru Brown, a senior graduate transfer who was a two-year starter at Hawaii, and Spencer Sanders, who had a highly-decorated prep career at Ryan HS in Denton, Texas, where he earned Mr. Texas Football honors in 2017 and was a national-level recruit. Brown and Sanders split reps during the spring.
For those looking to OSU's game tape from 2018 for insight, there is only one snap available - a Brown handoff during the Liberty Bowl that was brought about because the starter, Taylor Cornelius, had his helmet knocked off and had to go to the sideline for a play.
So what does that mean for 2019? It means that both Brown and Sanders have everything to play for.
Making things even more interesting is the presence of Gleeson, who comes to OSU after coordinating a Princeton offense that led the FCS by averaging 47.0 points per game last season. Each of his last two quarterbacks was recognized as Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, but they got there in different ways. In 2017, Chad Kanoff was a pro-style passer who set the Ivy League record with 3,474 passing yards. In 2018, John Lovett excelled as a dual-threat performer who averaged 203.7 passing yards and 99.3 rushing yards per game.
Gleeson's proven ability to succeed on offense with different styles of quarterback provides evidence that he has what it takes to continue OSU's offensive tradition regardless of who starts at quarterback.
Another name to note at quarterback is early-enrollee freshman Brendan Costello, who enjoyed a strong prep career at San Clemente (Calif.) HS.
Gone is two-time first-team All-Big 12 running back Justice Hill, his 3,539 career rushing yards and his 30 career rushing touchdowns, but that doesn't mean Oklahoma State is without options.
A glimpse into the future was provided last season when Hill got injured in early November and essentially missed the final four games of the season. During that time, Chuba Hubbard (now a sophomore) stepped in and proved himself to be more than capable. In his four games as the featured back (at No. 6 Oklahoma, vs. No. 7 West Virginia, at TCU and vs. No. 23 Missouri in the Liberty Bowl), he averaged 106.3 rushing yards per contest and 5.4 yards per carry. In those four games, he produced three 100-yard rushing performances and five rushing touchdowns. He was also effective in the passing game, logging 13 receptions in those four contests.
Hubbard is the most accomplished returning running back, but he's not the only one who has shown the ability to make plays. Junior LD Brown is one of the fastest players on the team and enters 2019 averaging 6.3 yards per carry on 61 career attempts.
Junior college transfer Dezmon Jackson enrolled early to participate in spring drills and freshman Jahmyl Jeter comes out of redshirt. One of the highest-rated recruits in this year's OSU class, true freshman Deondrick Glass, will also get a chance to prove himself.
Few receivers in America have performed at the level that Tylan Wallace has for Oklahoma State. In 2018, Wallace was a first-team All-American and one of three national finalists for the Biletnikoff Award presented to the nation's top receiver. He ranked second nationally with 1,491 total receiving yards and was third nationally with 114.7 receiving yards per game and did his best work on the biggest stages.
Wallace is the most decorated player on the roster, though he is not the only weapon in the passing attack, as OSU returns four of its top five receivers from a 2018 offense that ranked 10th nationally in passing offense. Juniors Dillon Stoner and Landon Wolf have both made their share of big plays for the Cowboys and are in line to add to that this season.
In addition to the proven group of veteran receivers, there is intrigue in how big-bodied Patrick McKaufman (6-foot-6, 200 pounds), Jordan McCray (6-foot-6, 187 pounds), C.J. Moore (6-foot-5, 175 pounds) and Jonathan Shepherd (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) will develop. Another receiver to note is highly-regarded true freshman Langston Anderson.
With seven starts to his credit in 2018, converted quarterback Jelani Woods is the most established performer returning in this group. He had seven receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns last season and averaged 17.1 yards per catch. After Woods, however, the only returning Cowboy Back to have seen meaningful action at the position is junior Logan Carter.
A pair of former junior college teammates - junior Jake Ross and senior Larry Joubert - are both in the mix. A good athlete who figures to be a threat in the passing game, Ross missed all of last season to injury, while Joubert figures to be more of a blocker after moving to Cowboy Back from the offensive line. True freshman Grayson Boomer was among OSU's highest-rated recruits.
The Cowboy Defense
The secondary figures to be the strength of the 2019 Oklahoma State defense, with A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams back for their third year starting at cornerback. In addition to those two, second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has a young-but-experienced group of safeties, led by junior Malcolm Rodriguez and sophomores Kolby Harvell-Peel, Jarrick Bernard and Tanner McCalister. The front seven, however, is where the bulk of the questions lie, especially in the trenches, where the Cowboys lost six players who combined for 107 career starts. At linebacker, the Cowboys lost significant production and leadership, but there is reason for optimism because while the returning group may lack in career starts, it does not lack in game reps.
No position group on the roster has more questions that need answering than the defensive line. The Cowboys lost six players who combined for 107 career OSU starts and are replacing them with a group of players who have combined for zero career starts in an Oklahoma State uniform.
That said, there does appear to be a group of starters available from the pool of defensive ends Mike Scott and Brock Martin and tackles Israel Antwine, Kyle Junior, Brendon Evers and Cameron Murray. Of the players in that group, only Antwine (a transfer from Colorado) and Junior (a graduate transfer from Bowling Green) have FBS starting experience. Antwine started 11 games for the Buffaloes as a true freshman last season and Junior started 15 games for the Falcons in the last two seasons. Scott had his moments for the Cowboys in 2018, blocking an important fourth-quarter field goal attempt in OSU's Liberty Bowl victory over Missouri and finishing the campaign with three sacks and two quarterback hurries. Evers, Murray and Martin have all served as rotation players to this point of their respective careers. A player to watch as he comes out of redshirt is defensive end Tyler Lacy.
Beyond that, things are wide open. Some players to keep an eye on include junior college transfers Sione Asi and Amadou Fofana and redshirt freshman Braden Cassity. True freshman defensive end Trace Ford was a highly-rated prospect by the recruiting services.
Senior Calvin Bundage is the second-leading returning tackler from a year ago and has been a staple on the Cowboy defense throughout his career. He enters 2019 as OSU's active leader in career tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. He's also the only linebacker with more than one career start, but that's not to say that he's the only one with meaningful game experience.
Senior Kevin Henry and juniors Devin Harper and Amen Ogbongbemiga are all seasoned performers who made their names on special teams but have also seen game action at linebacker. Henry and Harper have played in 24 career games apiece, with Ogbongbemiga adding 13 appearances of his own. It wouldn't be a surprise to see any of them crack the starting lineup.
An interesting player here is senior Philip Redwine-Bryant. A walk-on who garnered the highest level of respect when he was voted captain by his teammates in 2018, he is another one who made his name on special teams, but could conceivably get into the mix on defense with a strong showing during preseason camp.
While OSU may be thin on returning starters along the front seven, it returns both of its starting cornerbacks from the last two seasons in senior A.J. Green and junior Rodarius Williams.
Green is a 2019 preseason All-Big 12 selection after he was consistently matched up against some of the best receivers in the Big 12 and ranked among the conference leaders in passes broken up with 11 a year ago. Perhaps his two best performances of the year came against two of the top receivers he faced - Texas's Collin Johnson and West Virginia's David Sills V.
As for Williams, he is another two-year starter who led the team with two interceptions and ranked second on the squad with eight pass breakups a season ago.
From an experience standpoint, the next man in is senior Kemah Siverand, who came to OSU during fall camp last season as a graduate transfer from Texas A&M who had two years of eligibility remaining. In his first year with the Cowboys, Siverand played in all 13 games - primarily on special teams - and recorded 10 tackles. He was called into action when Williams was called for targeting in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl win over Missouri and filled in admirably.
Beyond those three, things open up. There are a number of scholarship players capable of contributing, but none of them have any meaningful game experience at the position. Included in that group are senior Bryce Balous, redshirt freshman Gabe Lemons and true freshman Thomas Harper, who impressed during spring drills as an early enrollee.
In 2018, Oklahoma State was forced to play three different true freshmen at safety. In 2019, the Cowboys could begin to reap the benefits of that.
The now-sophomore trio of Jarrick Bernard, Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tanner McCalister combined to play in 35 of a possible 36 games last season (McCalister missed the season opener to injury) and combined to make 122 tackles, nine tackles for loss and break up six passes.
That group combines with junior Malcolm Rodriguez (83 tackles and five tackles for loss in 2018) to form the core of OSU's safeties, but they are not the only young returners with quality reps under their belt, as Kanion Williams and Jason Taylor both got their share of special teams reps while redshirting as true freshmen last season and sophomore Tre Sterling has also contributed on special teams. Sean Michael Flanagan comes out of redshirt.
Returning for his third year as Oklahoma State's starting kicker, Matt Ammendola enters 2019 ranked sixth on the NCAA's active scoring list with 251 career points, a mark that leads all returning Big 12 players. He has a realistic chance to finish his career ranked second on OSU's career scoring chart.
While Ammendola is a strong returning kicker, the Cowboys will have an unproven new punter in 29-year-old freshman Tom Hutton. Hutton doesn't have football experience, but comes from the same program in Australia that produced a trio of Ray Guy Award winners in Mitch Wishnowski (Utah), Tom Hackett (Utah) and Tom Hornsey (Memphis).
Get our free daily email updates and never miss a story: http://eepurl.com/cCIqGL