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Big 12 Storyline 2020: Oklahoma State’s success depends on QB Spencer Sanders

TCU v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The Oklahoma Sooners have an opportunity to win their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are loaded with their own rendition of star power in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. But maybe this is the Texas Longhorns’ year after all.

From coaching to quarterback play, the Big 12’s intriguing storylines are worth monitoring. Most of the conference’s teams are expected to improve at the quarterback position, as 70 percent of the league’s starting quarterbacks return this season. Of the three teams that don’t return a starting quarterback, the Texas Tech Red Raiders brings back a healthy Alan Bowman and – *drum roll* – the Spencer Rattler era is set to begin in Norman.

With Matt Rhule out and Dave Aranda for the Baylor Bears, now half of the league’s coaches are in their first or second-year as head coach, making fourth-year Tom Herman a wise man of sorts.

Those are just a few of the most exciting narratives at play. Let’s get into it.

We’ll start with ... more of the cream of the crop.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Development of quarterback Spencer Sanders — can Mike Gundy adjust his offense to help maximize the dual-threat redshirt sophomore’s potential?

The Cowboys return one of the nation’s most dangerous running back/wide receiver duos in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace.

Last season, Hubbard led the FBS in rushing yards with 2,094 yards on 328 carries (6.4 YPC). Before an ACL injury in late October, Wallace was in discussion for the Biletnikoff Award (for the second straight year) and was likely headed off to the NFL at season’s end.

Fortunately for Oklahoma State, with Hubbard and Wallace back, they return more production than any other Big 12 unit (SP+), ranking No. 9 nationally in returning production.

Not only does Oklahoma State get their two superstars back on offense. The Cowboys are also returning their second and third leading receivers from last season in Braydon Johnson and Dillon Stoner, both of whom saw extended opportunities after Wallace’s injury.

After losing quarterbacks coach and offensive signal-caller Michael Yurcich to Ohio State following the 2018 season, Oklahoma State experienced a lot of inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball in 2019.

Quarterback Spencer Sanders’ dual-threat ability presented a new element to Gundy’s air-raid system. Opposite of a prototypical Oklahoma State pocket-passing quarterback, while he flashed plenty of arm strength, Sanders experienced growing pains and decision-making problems all throughout his first campaign as the starting quarterback. In all, he threw 11 interceptions last season.

Dating back to the previous decade, Gundy has managed to sustain success atop the conference through the prowess of his well-renowned air-raid offense. Oklahoma State has boasted a top 10 offense a total of five times in the last decade. Gundy’s most successful teams have been those with an elite offensive trio on their side of the ball.

In 2011, when the Cowboys won the Big 12 outright, they had veteran quarterback Brandon Weeden alongside running back Joseph Randle and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. In 2016 and 2017, it was record-breaking quarterback Mason Rudolph along side running back Justice Hill and wide receiver James Washington. You see where we’re going with this.

Ultimately, Oklahoma State’s championship hopes for this season boil down to the quarterback play of Sanders. There’s no question that Sanders is a special talent. The question remains with him evolving as a passer in an air-raid offense. And if he does, they’ll surely boast yet another elite offensive trio under Gundy. And we’ll file them with the rest.