Priority number one for Head Coach Mike Gundy and Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurich is replacing star quarterback Mason Rudolph, who holds over 50 school records, and wide receiver James Washington both key parts of the nations top passing attack that averaged 389.2 yards a game.
The battle for quarterback is not expected to be settled until fall when Hawaii graduate transfer Dru Brown arrives. Brown threw for 5,273 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions the past two seasons. Four-star Spencer Sanders, one of the top quarterbacks in Texas and the most highly touted signal caller the Cowboys have ever signed, brings a running threat and winning track record. Don’t count out former walk-on Taylor Cornelius who had a strong spring along with dual-threat sophomore Keondre Wudtee.
Until a new quarterback settles in look for the Cowboys to run the ball early and often. Junior Justice Hill is one of the best backs in the country. Hill, who led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns, spent spring working on his receiving skills. Highly touted redshirt freshman Chuba Hubbard is counted on to take some carries away from Hill. Last season Hill carried the ball 268 times while his backup J.D. King carried it only 99 times.
Despite the loss of record-setting Washington, receivers Marcell Ateman, and Chris Lacey the Cowboys have the talent to make an impact. The Cowboys hope senior Jalen McClesky, who had 50 receptions for 645 yards and five touchdowns last season, and sophomore Dylan Stoner, who had 44 receptions for 576 yards and six touchdowns, step up. LSU transfer Tyron Johnson is primed for a breakout season. True freshman C.J. Moore is a candidate to see the field as his 6’5 frame will be hard to keep off it.
The offensive line must replace stalwarts Zach Crabtree and Brad Lunderblade and their 84 career starts. The line is anchored by junior tackle Marcus Keys a three-year starter. Senior Shane Richards will likely get the nod at right tackle while junior Arlington Hambright, who took a redshirt last season to preserve eligibility, is likely to start at left tackle. The Cowboys are hoping guard Larry Williams is granted a sixth year and if so is penciled in at right guard. Senior Deionte Noel and sophomore Dylan Galloway provide depth.
The same cannot be said for a defensive line that boasts three seniors and one junior in the starting lineup. The health of junior defensive end Jordan Brailford is critical. He led the team with 11 tackles for loss and also registered 45.5 tackles and five sacks. He teams with senior Cole Walterscheid to form a nice tandem. Seniors Trey Carter and Darrion Daniels are a pair of 300-pounders who man the middle. Look for redshirt freshman end Brock Martin to make an impact after having a strong spring.
Senior Justin Phillips and junior Calvin Bundage lead a two-man linebacking crew in new Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles 4-2-5 scheme. Phillips is the teams leading returning tackler notching 53 including 9.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. Bundage, a heavy hitter who goes for the big hit instead of making the sure tackle more times than not, registered 45 tackles including 5.5 for loss and three sacks. Kevin Henry, Devin Harper, and Amen Ogbongbemiga provide solid depth.
A young secondary should be improved this season. Corners A.J. Green, who led the team with four interceptions, and Rodarius Williams, who finished second on the team with 10 pass deflections, form a solid duo after being thrown into the fire last season. Saftey is the question mark having to replace both starters, most notably Tre Flowers who led with 79 total tackles. There is also a need to find a third safety for the scheme. Senior Kenneth Eddison-McGruder, a converted linebacker, is likely a starter at one spot. The other two will be field by talented but unproven players.
Junior kicker Matt Ammendola led the conference and finished fifth in the country with 23 made field goals. Senior punter Zach Sinor looks to retain his job from Matt Hockett and Jake McClure as he tries to improve on a down 2017 season that saw him down only six punts inside the 20-yard line.
The first two games, Missouri State and South Alabama, offer whoever starts at quarterback time to get his feet wet before facing Boise State, one of the best group of five teams. The early part of the schedule is crucial for the Cowboys as they have five of their first six games at home, all winnable. The back half is tough with road trips to an improved Baylor team, Oklahoma, and TCU. If the Cowboys can off to a good start an 8-9 win season is within reach.