It’s that time again for your favorite annual series, where we come up with dream and nightmare scenarios for every Big 12 team for the upcoming season. Reality will fall somewhere in the middle. But imagine a season in which every single possible domino falls into place. And likewise, if all that could go wrong, well, does.
We continue the series with Oklahoma State:
The Cowboys cruise to a pair of wins to open the season, knocking off Southeastern Louisiana and Central Michigan by 65 combined points. But the good news for Oklahoma State is a rebirth of the running game. Stanford transfer Barry J. Sanders rushes for 250 combined yards in the two games and scores four touchdowns to create a buzz heading into the matchup with Pittsburgh in Week 3.
Questions about the Cowboys running game linger until Oklahoma State rattles off wins over Pittsburgh, Baylor and Texas in the next three weeks as Sanders, Mason Rudolph and James Washington become the Big 12’s most feared triplets. The trio work together perfectly as Sanders scores four touchdowns, Washington scores three touchdowns, and Rudolph accounts for 10 touchdowns in the three games.
The hype surrounding Sanders hits a feverish pitch during the next three weeks as he rushes for 189 yards in a win over Iowa State, 222 yards in a win over Kansas and 147 yards in a victory over West Virginia. Oklahoma State, taking advantage of the situation, releases a video titled “Like Father, Like Son,” which features interspersed highlights of 1988 Heisman winner Barry Sanders and his son Barry J. Sanders which goes viral, getting over 1 million views in a week.
For the second straight season Oklahoma State finds itself in the middle of the College Football Playoff debate after a 10-0 start. Its hopes of a first playoff appearance take a major blow at TCU as Gary Patterson’s defense shuts down Sanders and the Oklahoma State running game. And Rudolph and the passing game struggle in a last-second loss to the Horned Frogs.
Yet all is forgotten the following week.
Oklahoma State, facing an unbeaten and top-ranked Oklahoma in Bedlam, shocks the nation with a 10-point win over the Sooners after a turnover-filled game in icy conditions at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Sanders, not Samaje Perine or Joe Mixon, shines in the terrible conditions, rushing for over 150 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cowboys to a win. The victory catapults Oklahoma State into the College Football Playoff but a semifinal loss to Alabama stamps out Mike Gundy’s hopes of a first national title as a head coach.
Oklahoma State starts the season with two easy wins but there are scary signs for the running game as no Cowboy running back is able to manage more than 100 rushing yards against Southeastern Louisiana or Central Michigan. The worrying signs come to fruition against Pittsburgh as Oklahoma State is forced to lean on Rudolph, Washington and the passing game to carry the offense in a win over Pitt and the defense creates three turnovers in a road win at Baylor to help Oklahoma State get through September unbeaten.
October begins with a nightmare performance against Texas. Pistol Pete’s gun backfires, Bullet refuses to run onto the field, and the Cowboys' band messes up its formation. And that’s before the game even gets underway. The actual on-field action isn’t much better as the Longhorns dominate in the trenches, holding the Cowboys' offense to under 300 total yards while rushing for more than 200 in the road victory.
Oklahoma State rebounds to earn wins over Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia, but the running game continues to struggle despite the addition of Sanders. The Cowboys head into November averaging 112 rushing yards per game as Rudolph struggles to carry the entire offensive burden on his shoulders.
The lack of a running game is too much to overcome in November. Kansas State uses a pair of special teams touchdowns to hand Oklahoma State its second loss, the Cowboys' offense can’t keep up with Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech, TCU’s defense dominates the Pokes, and Oklahoma simply overwhelms Gundy’s squad to cement a winless final stretch of the season and hand Oklahoma State a 7-5 final record.