It won’t take long for Oklahoma State to find out if the 2021 Cowboys can stand the heat.
Temperatures are forecast to touch triple digits factoring heat index values when the season begins Saturday in Stillwater, Okla., against Missouri State, which opens the season ranked No. 24 in the FCS poll.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said there’s more than the mercury reading to test the Cowboys. For starters, there’s a Missouri State quarterback — former Utah State and Utah quarterback Jason Shelley — whom Gundy likens to Lamar Jackson.
“They have an advantage in that they just played [in the spring]. We’re not taking them lightly at all,” said Gundy, who opens his 17th season as OSU coach this weekend. “Our guys understand and have practiced well, we need to get going. I would guess their depth isn’t quite what ours is, but when you have an experienced coach and you have a QB who has a lot of reps and you have a couple guys who can make a play on the edge, they are a threat. We’re aware of all that.”
The ground game remains essential for Oklahoma State, which plans to line up a starting offensive line comprised of players with at least three years of experience each. The Cowboys also have a talented but young wide receiver corps around quarterback Spencer Sanders.
Sanders passed for 305 yards with four touchdowns as MVP of the Cheez-It Bowl. That capped a sophomore season that was threatened in the spring by COVID. Sanders averaged 8.13 yards per pass attempt (second in the Big 12), but is often criticized for taking too many risks — but not always by Gundy.
“He makes plays out here,” Gundy said. “The defense makes plays against him, too, which is good. So I just feel like he’s in a good spot. Is he gonna make mistakes? Sure he is. Sometimes, will he fire one to the wrong team? Sure he will, just like Mason (Rudolph) did.”
Gundy, who is 12-0 against FCS opponents, said the Bobby Petrino-coached Bears are likely the most talented FCS opponent Oklahoma State has played. Part of that equation is a slew of “super seniors” who took advantage of an extra year of athletic eligibility from the NCAA.
“There’s no substitute for experience. Period,” Gundy said. “I don’t know about other sports, but in football, guys who have had a lot of reps and been in games and played on the road, there’s just not a substitute for that. That’s why it’s a big advantage.”
Petrino sees Shelley as an advantage.
“He had a great camp,” Petrino said. “His consistency, his quick release and his ability to understand just a little more and his experience showed up throughout practices. He also showed the ability to adjust to the defense and get the ball out of his hand.”
Petrino was named Missouri Valley Coach of the Year in his first season on the sidelines for the Bears. He has 17 starters back from a team that went 5-1 for a share of the conference title (5-5 overall) and reached the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.
Oklahoma State is 8-0 in the all-time series with Missouri State, including a 58-17 victory in 2018.
Petrino is 12-3 all-time in season openers.
–Field Level Media