Brad Paisley’s recent hit “Last Time for Everything” includes a line about there eventually being a last time for “telling Super Cuts to just leave it long in the back.” Mike Gundy’s “last time” for that is exceeding that of most people. But along with it may come a first time, and that’s an Oklahoma State football team in the CFB Playoff. No, really.
The Cowboys under Gundy have been one of those copy-and-paste type teams when it comes to writing their season previews. “Look out for their explosive offense… and they’ll have to outscore everyone to achieve their goals.” Plug and place the latest electrifying names at quarterback, running back, and especially wide receiver.
The issue for the Pokes, however, have been the random hiccups. The genesis of it began during the controversial 2011 season with a loss at Iowa State that (wrongly) kept them out of the BCS title game. Don’t @ me.
Last year, it was an early-season stunner against Central Michigan. Before that, a home loss deep in the season to Baylor. At varying points in the Gundy tenure, they’ve been tantalizingly close to a utopian season.
So why the heck would this year be any different? Well, let us count the top three ways.
1. The offense could be the best Gundy has had
No, really. With Mason Rudolph slinging it and it-feels-still-like-he’s-overlooked wide receiver James Washington catching it, this calls to mind the halcyon days of Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle, and Justin Blackmon. Justise Hill was electric as a true frosh, rushing for over 1,100 yards.
2. Josh Henson (yes, an OL coach) coming back is a big deal
There was some upheaval at the OL coaching position last year, but Henson, a former standout Cowboy in his own right, has a pretty decorated resume that OSU fans should be excited about. Henson was on staff for LSU’s 2008 championship, was the OL coach at Missouri during their recent heyday, and brings a load of good experience to a position charged with keeping the most important parcel on the offense upright and 98 degrees. Oh, and they return almost all of their starters. That will help.
3. The schedule is nice
Yes, you sort of need to be lucky and good at times in college football. The out-of-conference tilts are meek at best, so they’ll basically need to go unbeaten or 11-1 at worst and hope for some attrition among the champions of the other conferences, but Oklahoma and Kansas State are both at home. Both figure to be in the top four in the standings. They will have to navigate Texas and West Virginia back-to-back on the road, but you can’t play all 12 at home.
The bottom line in college football is that you’re not going anywhere big without a very good quarterback (check), you can’t keep that very good quarterback upright without some good coaching in the trenches (check), and you need a reasonably navigable schedule to get to the end line where you need to be (check).
If you notice the reasons above, you’ll see something glaring missing: any comments about defense.
The Pokes don’t necessarily need to be the 1985 Chicago Bears or even some variation of Alabama’s 3-deep to get places, they simply need to make sure they compile enough rocks to plug the dam reasonably well on those guaranteed occasions when it rains harder than expected.
OSU doesn’t tend to put their defense in terrible situations (throwing four interceptions in 2016 versus taking away 14) and will mostly need a decent amount of inexperienced players to simply hold the fort while the offense is racking up nearly 40 per game in a conference that doesn’t have a lot of great defenses to begin with, if even one outside of KSU.
The Pokes allowed almost 450 yards of offense per game last season, and a lot of their defensive talent is gone. The upshot of that is, if you’re giving up 450 per game and losing guys, that’s a whole heck of a lot easier to replace in theory than losing guys from a defense that was stingy. In theory, of course. Don’t hold me to that.
Any success the defense has will coalesce around linebacker Chad Whitener and Adrian Baker, a transfer from Clemson who will be key on a secondary with significant questions about it. But again, this isn’t Texas Tech, and they’re not going to be asked to grapple with having to allow 15-20 points a game per week to win.
So with an outsized offense even by normal Poke expectations, a good schedule that should let them hit the ground running early and give them the opportunity to hold serve late for a conference crown, and a defense that has exciting things about it, there’s a real chance that finally in 2017, Oklahoma State will be all business in the front (regular season) and partying in the back (CFB Playoff time).
Just like their well-coiffed coach.