Kick returns, Biletnikoff, 1,500-yard seasons and more.
Oklahoma State will kick off its 15th season under head coach Mike Gundy this fall. Cowboys Ride For Free will have a 15-day countdown with one article each day until the Cowboys’ season opener Aug. 30 at Oregon State.
Today we start with 15 predictions for the upcoming season. Some predictions range from more realistic to absolute shots in the dark to utterly ridiculous. But sometimes you have to shoot for the moon if you want to land among the stars.
Chuba Hubbard runs for 1,500+ yards
It hasn’t happened since Kendall Hunter had 1,548 in 2010. Guys have come close (Joseph Randle in 2012, Justice Hill 2017), but no one has been able to crest the 1,500-yard mark in the eight years since Hunter. Well, this is the year it finally happens. Behind one of the better OSU offensive lines in a few years, with less reliable Nos. 2 and 3 than Hill had behind him the past couple of season, and with his relatively fresh legs, Hubbard is going to get run a lot.
Hubbard goes pro
NFL guys are already aware of Hubbard, according to AJ Schulte of Pro Football Network. When you’re on the NFL radar and you go off and have a 1,500-yard season, you’re going to project highly in the NFL draft. Yes, this year’s running back class is pretty darn good, but even being a third-round pick is hard to pass up.
Let’s all make sure to enjoy this season from Hubbard because it may be his last in orange and white.
Dru Brown is Week 1 QB starter
There is a legit quarterback competition between graduate transfer Dru Brown and redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders. That’s the word on the street and from Gundy. It makes more sense to start the younger Sanders early in very winnable non-conference games, but Gundy will put the signal caller on the field he believes will give OSU the best chance to win by making the fewest mistakes.
At this point, it seems to be Brown. It’s likely both guys see snaps in Corvallis as the coaching staff uses an actual game to see which of Brown or Sanders is the guy. (This by the way is something I’m fine with). But as far as who the first QB to trot out with the offense is when the light’s come on in Corvallis? I think it’s Brown.
Sanders ends the season as the starter
I get the feeling Sanders is going to do some things against Oregon State and McNeese State to separate himself from Brown. Brown is a safer pick and that’s a good thing, but Sanders’ ceiling and athleticism are much higher. That might be best shown in game action.
If he can avoid making ugly mistakes, Sanders is the guy moving forward by Week 3 at Tulsa. If the Cowboys don’t have a clear No. 1 picked by that time, I’m going to be worried.
The Barry Sanders statue debuts
Gundy confirmed it last year.
“It’s in the works right now. I don’t think it’ll be much longer,” Gundy said at Big 12 Media Days in 2018. “We’ll have a statue of Barry up.”
We thought it would happen at last year’s homecoming with the Sanders throwback jerseys and the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner being honored. Alas, Boone Pickens Stadium remains naked of OSU football monuments. That ends this year.
Why confirm something only to hold it for 5-10 years? I think it goes up this season, maybe around homecoming, maybe before Bedlam, maybe after the season. I don’t have any insider information, but this feels like something that has taken long enough to get done. Let’s not wait any longer.
Jelanie Woods finishes as top-5 pass-catcher
Blake Jackson and Blake Jarwin are the only two tight ends have finished a season as a top-five pass catcher since 2012. Jackson was second in 2012 with 30 catches for 598 yards, and Blake Jarwin was fifth in 2016 with 309 yards on 19 catches. Woods was seventh in 2018 with 120 yards on seven catches.
His 17.1 yards per-catch average, size (6-foot-7, 265 pounds), and how much new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson liked to use two tight end sets at Princeton, points to Woods being targeted more and have more catches. All it really takes to finish fifth is in the mid-to-upper 300-yard range, which shouldn’t be a problem.
First-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman
I said a few of these are going to be bold. With OSU replacing their top six linemen, there’s a lot of production to replace. It won’t be easy, but OSU usually has a guy or two rise to the occasion. Israel Antwine, who started 11 of 12 games for Colorado as a true freshman last season, seems to be a guy who could take a big step forward in his first year with the Cowboys and O-line coach Charlie Dickey.
Upset loss or 2
This isn’t going too far out on a limb here. OSU seems to drop at least one game each season that, heading into it, there’s no reason to have thought it would.
2018: Texas Tech, Kansas State, Baylor, etc....
2017: Kansas State
2016: Central Michigan
2013: West Virginia
There are two road games that scream “watch out.” Week 6 at Texas Tech and Week 13 at West Virginia. I’m predicting Texas Tech here, but that of course means it will be a different one.
4 true-freshmen defenders burn redshirts
Let’s all pause for a moment and acknowledge how great the new redshirt rule is. Last season it allowed 10 true freshmen to play, yet, only three burned their redshirt: Jarrick Bernard, Tanner McCalister and Kolby Peel.
That number rises to four this year. Here are the five likely candidates: cornerback Thomas Harper, linebackers Na’drian Dizadare and Kamryn Farrar, defensive tackle Jayden Jernigan and defensive end Trace Ford.
I feel most strongly about Dizadare, Farrar and Ford. All three have been mentioned as standouts so far and play positions that are in need of depth, especially at linebacker with Calvin Bundage and Devin Harper dealing with injuries.
2020 recruiting class will be ranked lower than 2019 class
This is going to go over about as well as a lead balloon.
OSU’s much maligned (by the fanbase anyways) 2019 recruiting class was ranked No. 38 nationally, No. 5 in the Big 12 and had an 86.01 average player rating by 247Sports.com.
At this point, the 2020 class has 14 commits, is ranked No. 41 nationally, No. 5 in the Big 12 and has an 86.07 average player rating by 247Sports.com.
While last year the Cowboys were able to land players late like four-star running back Deondrick Glass, at this point, OSU doesn’t seem to have as highly-ranked a list of remaining candidates they are in the running for. There are some talented and underrated guys, as always, but I’m not sure I’d hold my breath on any last minute four-stars joining the class and helping it rise up the overall rankings.
Bedlam skid continues
This isn’t going out on a limb, more just climbing a totem pole. Anytime I’ve ever predicted OSU would win, they’ve lost. Maybe a little reverse psychology will work and the Cowboys won’t see their Bedlam skid reach five games.
New Jumbotron scare tactic
When OSU unveiled its massive new video board last year, the Cowboys took advantage of its positioning to try and scare the bejesus out of opponents.
.@RedditCFB Oklahoma State is using @THEGaryBusey on their new Jumbotron to scare opposing offenses. Quite frankly it scares the defense, offense, coaching staff, fans... literally everyone. pic.twitter.com/fZpWTAHb5J
— Travis Burns (@TravisB06052015) September 17, 2018
Now that opposing teams have experienced “The Busey,” the Cowboys will need a new frightening image to try and unnerve the opposition. I suggest former Oklahoma State wrestler and UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture’s ear.
Tylan Wallace is NOT a Biletnikoff finalist
Wallace was robbed of the Biletnikoff Award last season, losing to Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. That’s despite going for 1,491 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his breakout sophomore season. But here’s the thing; Wallace totaled 150 targets last season, which was nearly a third of OSU’s pass attempts. Whether that’s because he’s just really good or because Taylor Cornelius forced it to him too often, isn’t the point. It’s unlikely Wallace sees that many passes again. Even if he cuts down on the amount of drops he had at times last year, it’s hard to see him replicating those numbers again.
Then there’s the issue of Jeudy, who returns for the Crimson Tide. Purdue’s Rondale Moore and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault are both back and healthy. Oh, and there’s Clemson’s Justyn Ross, who is going to be pretty good.
Even if Wallace gets close to replicating his sophomore campaign, the odds might be stacked against him.
OSU scores a punt or kick return TD
Something fans used to be able to rely on a few times a year, has completely vanished from the Cowboy scoring arsenal; touchdown returns. Gone are the days of waiting with great anticipation to watch someone like Tyreek Hill or Justin Gilbert take one to the house.
OSU has not had a return TD since 2015, and have arguably gone three straight years without a real threat to do so.
Of all my predictions this might be the most outlandish. Part of it is that since Gundy took over the special teams, it doesn’t seem like a priority. The other part is Hubbard is the only player with a real shot to do it, and there’s some talk as to whether or not he will even return kicks this year.
I am a glutton for pain and will keep watching every year “wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin” it happens again.
Tom Hutton is Ray Guy finalist
Matt Fodge was OSU’s last Ray Guy winner in 2008, and 29-year-old freshman Tom Hutton from Australia could potentially win it this year. There is some precedent for this. Five of the last six Ray Guy award trophies when to Aussies who came over to the United States to play American football.
I’m not saying Hutton is going to win in his first year, but there were some really positive reviews about the ... kid (?)... coming out of ProKick. And according to Tape Doesn’t Lie, Hutton was seen hitting punts like rockets pin-pointed at a target.
I may be getting a year ahead of myself. Former Texas punter and Ray Guy winner Michael Dickson is an Aussie as well who went through ProKick and he struggled early on before winning the award.
But I wonder if Hutton’s maturity will only give him a leg up on playing like an upper classman early. If so, I would pencil him in as a Ray Guy Award finalist. That is, assuming OSU gives him enough chances to punt.