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Cox: Five Predictions for the 2017 Football Season



Since we’re just three days away from the start of the season, it’s time I got my predictions in. This is going to be a fun year to follow the Cowboys and here are several storylines I see unfolding.

1. Mike Yurcich will take a job elsewhere

Phillip took my first one, or I subconsciously took his but this isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Yurcich was reportedly interviewed for the OC job at Auburn and was even contacted by Nick Saban. But as the coaching carousel starts to spin next offseason, Yurcich’s name will come up, especially if the Cowboys’ offense looks as good as we expect it to.

What’s changed in a year? Well, if the Cowboys rattle off 11 wins and a Big 12 title (or more) Yurcich’s name will come up again and often. And this offseason he won’t have a returning Heisman candidate behind center.

Following a practice this fall, Mason Rudolph talked with Kyle Boone about the rarity of successful OCs sticking around for this long — and how he may have had a hand in keeping Yurcich in Stillwater this offseason.

“To have one single coach through my whole career, you don’t see that anymore,” said Rudolph. “There’s guys that bounce around. I was a little scared this offseason that he might jump somewhere but I did a good job of persuading him to stay.”

One last run with his guy who he brought in with his first full recruiting class. That’s a tough thing to turn down. But with more success will come more opportunities and this season could push Yurcich’s stock to an all-time high.

2. Justin Phillips will be an All-Big 12 selection

There’s one thing that has limited Justin Phillips since he stepped foot on campus — opportunity. Glenn Spencer saw his potential from Day 1 which earned Phillips reps on special teams as a true freshman. It was only injury that kept him out of five games in 2014.

He returned against Baylor and was given defensive reps in Bedlam. How did he pay off that opportunity? He wrapped up crimson jerseys for 10 of his 18 freshman tackles, helping OSU to its first win in Norman since a month after the linebacker’s sixth birthday.

A decision to redshirt Phillips in 2015 was based largely on depth at the position. In 2016, he continued making the most of his opportunities — 42 tackles, an interception, a pass breakup and two forced fumbles. Only two starts.

Now he’s ready to step into a vacated starting role at Will linebacker and production and plays should follow.

3. Oklahoma State will score 3 return TDs

There have been a fair share of exciting return plays¬†during the Gundy era. But over the last couple of years, the Cowboys have been lacking that one-turn-and-he’s-gone threat we’d grown accustomed to. Since Tyreek Hill’s Bedlam return, there have been two return TDs — one was actually a blocked punt/scoop and score by Miketavius Jones in 2015.

Here’s a look at OSU’s combined kickoff/punt return scores over the last six years.

Year KO TDs Punt TDs Total
2016 0 0 0
2015 0 2* 2*
2014 2 1 3
2013 1 2 3
2012 2 1 3
2011 2 0 2

According to the depth chart for the season opener against Tulsa, Tyron Johnson and Jalen McCleskey will be the featured return men for kickoffs and punts respectively. Chris Lacy will also be on kick returns. Dillon Stoner will back up McCleskey on punts and in the slot. Any one of those four could break loose for a big play. My follow-up prediction is that Tyron Johnson goes full Barry and returns the opening kickoff against Tulsa to the house.

4. Oklahoma State will score 600-plus points this season

With Oklahoma replacing three of the best offensive players in the entire league from a year ago and with Texas Tech breaking in a new quarterback, I think the Cowboys lead the Big 12 in scoring. The last time they did, Todd Monken was the offensive coordinator. The passing attack is going to be too good and Justice Hill and Co. should offer more than enough on the ground to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

Here’s a look at the scoring offense Oklahoma State has put out dating back to Dana Holgorsen’s year in Stillwater.

Year Scoring Average Big 12 Rank Points Per Drive Total Points Scored Record
2016 38.6 3rd 2.89 502 10-3
2015 39.5 5th 2.70 514 10-3
2014 27.6 7th 1.86 359 7-6
2013 39.1 2nd 2.38 508 10-3
2012 45.7 1st 3.01 594 8-5
2011 48.7 1st 3.42 633 12-1
2010 44.2 1st 2.96 575 11-2

The 2013 offense was very good despite a three-man QB carousel that took place throughout the season. Mike Yurcich probably doesn’t get enough credit for that. The first-year OC from Shippensburg U produced an offense second only to Art Briles’ monster in 2013.

To get to 600 points, the Cowboys will need to average 42.9 points over 14 games. That’s right. I’m predicting OSU makes the Big 12 Championship Game in Jerry World. See below.

5. Oklahoma State wins its second Big 12 title… and does not make it into the CFP

Sorry to end this post on a somewhat sour note. I think the Cowboys get it done with a loss or two in conference and a win in Arlington over… Kansas State. I think Oklahoma has a ton to replace in Perine, Mixon and Westbrook and a ton more to replace in Bob Stoops. The Sooners will have their moments — hopefully Baker Mayfield doing pretend snow angels on Lewis Field isn’t one of them — but they will not reach 10 wins.

I see OU with losses to Ohio State and three Big 12 teams. The step back by Oklahoma and the lack of a miracle in Austin — in addition to the hit the Big 12 will take when the Sooners get their doors blown off in Columbus — leads to an even weaker overall perception of the Big 12. Throwing a championship game hat on a pig does not make it any less of one and the league office can’t react their way back into relevance. The Cowboys do bring home the Big 12 hardware and make another New Year’s Six bowl.

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