Oklahoma State Cowboys: College Football's most underrated playoff contender
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that we're really just trying to figure out the fourth spot. The College Football Playoff isn't set yet, but it might as well be. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State figure to be locks for the sport's postseason, leaving one spot open for someone else to get it. With Oklahoma and Texas in down years, the Big 12 is being written off for that spot, but Oklahoma State remains on its path towards the playoff. Yes it's still early and the Pac-12 hasn't begun their season, but it's the Cowboys that deserve more love than they're getting.
Georgia (3-1) and Notre Dame (5-0) remain the only two teams ahead of Oklahoma State, but there aren't many that can make a strong case that either team is better than the Cowboys. All three teams must address certain weaknesses, but the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish have more pressure to succeed. Many still don't believe Oklahoma State will even win the Big 12, so they're the underdog among the contenders for that fourth spot.
One thing the top three teams have in common is an extremely talented group of skill players and an ability a ton of points. Oklahoma State's offense, when they finally find some stability at a key position, can do the exact same thing.
Quarterback was a question mark heading into the 2020 season. Spencer Sanders needed to take a step forward in his development as a passer, but injuries have kept him out early in the season. Now that he's back, he must rediscover his chemistry with his teammates and find his groove for the season. Shane Illingworth has proven that he isn't the answer for a potential playoff team, so it's all on Sanders to elevate his team's play. It shouldn't be hard with the playmakers on the roster.
Chuba Hubbard (478 yards, 5 TD) and LD Brown (229, 1) lead the charge on the ground, something Sanders also brings to the table with his speed. Hubbard's scored a touchdown in every game this season, and averages over 100 yards per game on the ground. Then, there's the pass catchers. Tylan Wallace continues to remind us why he was one of the best receivers in the country last year before his injury, but the limitations at quarterback are holding back his production. Same with finding depth. With Sanders back and healthy(ish), this group benefits the most and should help this offense get even better.
With the offense trying to find its identity still, more pressure went to the defense. Which, in nearly any other year, would normally be a bad thing, but this year's proving to be different. Oklahoma State's defense is giving up just 12 points per game. Yep, you read that right. 12. Per game. Now, can you make the argument that this team hasn't played any elite offenses? Sure, but they've face a number of solid offenses so far. Tulsa (27.7), West Virginia (32.2), and Iowa State (28.0) all presented challenges for this group, which they passed with flying colors. Take away the games against the Cowboys, and the averages increasing for the Golden Hurricane (38), Mountaineers (37), and Cyclones (29.8), proving that this defense can play big when it's asked.
We'll find out the legitimacy of Oklahoma State as a playoff contender in the next few weeks, as the gauntlet of their schedule arrives. The Pokes host Texas this weekend, followed by trips to both Kansas State and Oklahoma. If they pass those tests, they better get serious playoff consideration. I picked this team to make the playoff in the preseason, and the injury to Sanders remains the biggest concern and obstacle for that to happen. This isn't a normal Oklahoma State team for Mike Gundy, but the uniqueness in his squad might be the very thing that takes them to new heights.