Based on the returning offense alone, Oklahoma State should challenge for a Big 12 championship this year and perhaps national honors.
That assessment was confirmed Saturday as the Orange team, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, beat the Black team 24-0 in the annual spring game in Stillwater.
Rudolph, who has made some preseason Heisman Trophy lists, led the Cowboys to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. In the first series, he hit freshman Tyrell Alexander for a 39-yard reception.
Two plays later, Rudolph connected with Chris Lacy for a 22-yard gain on a fade route that put the orange team down inside the one-yard line.
“We’ve been looking forward to this all week,” Lacy said. “We haven’t been out there on the field to actually compete since last season, so it was fun to get out here an compete against each other.
Gundy won’t deny that Rudolph could be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
“I think his success over a three-year period and his numbers kind of speak for themselves,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “He’s winning. He’s a great leader. We’re always a little tentative about that because I don’t want to put pressure on him, but I think it’s fair play that he’s earned that. Our ‘unlocking the code’ that our social media and sports information people came up with I thought was a really good plan because it was neat and catchy but it wasn’t just us out there proclaiming how great he is, because that doesn’t really fit his role. He doesn’t feel comfortable in that area but his name deserves to be out there.”
“It was a fun day, kind of short for me,” said Rudolph, who chose not to declare for the NFL draft but to return to OSU. “Felt like I had a good first half and had a few good drives in there. Got the ball to some new people like Tyrell Alexander and he had couple really nice catches. Overall, it was a good day and everyone stayed injury free and that’s all you can ask for.”
OSU make have one of the best receiving corps in the conference, if not the nation.
“It’s great, it makes my job a lot easier with what we’ve got,” said Rudolph. “It’s going to be a fun summer and a fun fall camp with so many targets out there. It’s on my shoulders to make sure I distribute the ball to all of them.”
Rudolph didn’t play well in the final Big 12 game against Oklahoma, a game that could have won the league title. He sees it as unfinished business.
“It is a big motivation for all of us,” Rudolph said. “We are all excited and working towards the future and what the summer and fall camp holds, but we’ve just got to do our job day in and day out and let the rest of that stuff take care of itself.”
OSU is searching for a backup quarterback.
“I thought Taylor (Cornelius) played well,” Gundy said. “The defense was a little loaded on the orange. The two ends on the orange team were a lot more mature, put a lot of pressure on the black team. We had a hard time, black had a hard time controlling those guys, but I thought Taylor did a good job. The other guys that were inexperienced looked inexperienced to me.”
“I feel like there’s a bunch of veteran guys in here so they know what they want to do and what the ultimate goal is,” Cornelius said. “So everyone has their goals set high this year,” said Cornelius.
The question for OSU is whether the defense can keep pace with the high-powered offense. Ramon Richards has switched from cornerback to safety this spring.
“It’s been great,” Richards said. “It’s been amazing. I love the position and I’m excited for the potential that I have. For one, ball skills. I’ve got my hands on a lot of balls. I got to make sure that I catch them. Two, bringing the young guys up and letting them know that they are not just here to fill in. They are here to make plays and go a step further.”
Richards agrees with the idea of “unfinished business” from last year.
“We stress that a lot,” Richards said. “We stress taking everything day-by-day. Last year we fell short of a couple of goals that we had in mind. We did win our bowl game, but we can always go further and that’s what we are aspiring to do. If we just buckle down and do what we need to do, we will make it happen.”
Oklahoma State will kick off its 2017 season on Sept. 2 when it hosts Tulsa at Boone Pickens Stadium.