In the past 10 years, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has won eight of 10 season openers and the two losses were on the road against No. 1 Florida State (last year) and No. 13 Georgia (2007).
OSU has not lost a season opener to an unranked opponent since 2002.
The heavily favored Cowboys (plus 31 points) will hope to make that 9 of 11 Thursday night as they travel to take on Central Michigan.
Here is OSU’s record for openers for the last 10 years:
2005 vs. Montana State – W, 15-10
2006 vs. Missouri State – W, 52-10
2007 at No. 13 Georgia – L, 14-35
2008 vs. Washington State – W, 39-13
2009 vs. No. 13 Georgia – W, 24-10
2010 vs. Washington State – W, 65-17
2011 vs. Louisiana – W, 61-34
2012 vs. Savannah State – W, 84-0
2013 vs. Mississippi State – W, 21-3
2014 vs. No. 1 Florida State – L, 31-37
2015 at Central Michigan
“It’s a long way up there,” Gundy said. “They’ve got a new coach (John Bonamego). Their returning quarterback is a good player. The defensive line has some experience, but there’s some inexperience in the secondary. Like us, they’ve got relatively new running backs. Returners are the same. There’s a lot of uncertainty, especially with us not having much tape. We’ve also changed staffs like they have. We feel like we need to be further along and better on what we do on offense, defense and special teams than they are at what they do. We don’t really know enough to know what their game plan or what their schemes will be in the first game. I would guess their offense will look the same, especially with the quarterback having success.”
Bonamego for the past two seasons was the Detroit Lions’ special teams coordinator. Last season, he helped lead the Lions to an 11-win season, their most victories since 1991, and a playoff berth.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said he is always wary of facing a team with a new coach.
“(Central Michigan) having a new coach, we really just can’t go 100 percent off film from what you’ve seen last year,” Spencer said. “So that’s the biggest question. We’re always uneasy about the first game. On our side of the ball, you could get any formation, you could get anything. They haven’t shown what their favorites are. It’s nerve-racking.”
OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said you have to prepare for surprises against a new team with a new coach.
“Well, the best part of having a game plan, or the best thing you can do in a game plan is allow yourself some flexibility and be ready for anything that might occur, so we have a plan ready to go for every scenario,” Yurcich said. “There’s only so many different looks that are out there. At the same time, Spencer does a great job giving us multiple fronts and multiple looks in camp so we feel through camp our preparation has really been thorough for whatever they throw at us.”
After finishing strong last year, sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph finally will have a chance to live up to the preseason expectations.
Yurcich said the Cowboys have not made any major changes to fit Rudolph’s skill set.
“Traditionally it’s been a vertical passing game around here so the offense has really fit him very well,” Yurcich said. “Obviously there are differences between when J.W. (Walsh) is in the game when he was the starting quarterback and when Mason is the quarterback. Obviously I’m not going to run any zone-reads or quarterback runs with him, but as far as the vertical passing game, the play-action pass and the running game, it’s very much suited for him and it really hasn’t changed too much.”
This message for OSU quarterbacks this fall has been consistent.
“Win games, man,” Yurcich said. “Secure the ball, always. We have to respect the football. We have to make good decisions – sometimes the play of the day is the throw away. People don’t realize it and see that but sometimes when it’s covered or a receiver runs the wrong route or there’s a protection breakdown or it’s just not there, instead of forcing it and throwing the ball away, that might be the play of the game. So making sure all the quarterbacks understand it’s one play at a time. We don’t have to win the game on every single play. We have to take care of the football, make quick decisions and go through our progressions. That’s basically the name of the game.”
Rudolph believes his team has done their homework.
“We know a lot about Central Michigan,” Rudolph said. “We’ve prepared well for them and have a good feeling about what they’re doing.”
Opening on the road is not a problem.
“I really could care less,” Rudolph said. “I’m playing for the Oklahoma State Cowboys and it doesn’t matter where it is, I’m just excited about it.”
Rudolph was pulled out of his redshirt season last year and played in three games – none of which ere in Stillwater.
“Mason is not worried about that,” said offensive lineman Zachary Crabtree. “All of his collegiate games have been outside of Boone Pickens. With him as our quarterback and us being who we are, we’re not worried about that. We’ll be fine. We’re going to go out and play football.”
“He’s really going into his fourth game starting, but you see him and you think he’s started 15-16 games in a row, so he brings a lot of maturity to the table,” said cornerback Kevin Peterson.
Working against an experienced defensive front has sharpened the offensive line this fall.
“Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean are something special,” said Crabtree. “We’re special across the board on the d-line. Ogbah has everything, and it’s good that we get to practice against those guys. They give us an upper hand on preparing. We’re just focused on what we’re doing right now as an offensive line and how we’re going to work as a unit, rather than the other opponents.”
Ogbah thinks OSU has an advantage in this game with team speed.
“They’re a 50-50 run-pass team,” Ogbah said. “They pull their guard and tackle a lot. I feel like we have an advantage because we have speed, so we’re going to run to the ball. That makes it less space that the offense has to make plays happen.”
Gundy has high hopes for his defense.
“I like where we’re at,” Gundy said. “I said that at the end of spring ball, in preseason and up through the last four weeks of practice, give or take a few days. We have some depth, and we have some experience. I think we run pretty well, and we’ll know a lot more in six weeks. If they continue to work at it and we stay healthy, it could be a good unit.”
Spencer said Central Michigan is no pushover.
“They’re never out of a ballgame, at least they’ve shown that in the past,” Spencer said. “So they’re used to coming back and used to not getting down when things go bad. They’ve moved the ball against a lot of good defenses this past year, and a lot of those kids are back.”
The Cowboy players are ready to get started.
“I’m ready,” said linebacker Ryan Simmons. “ I’m tired of practicing. I’m just ready to get out there with my brothers and start my very last season. It’s a great time for us and I’m just glad to have the opportunity to play one more season.”