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Five Keys to Oklahoma State Reaching 10 Wins in 2023

It might not be as farfetched as you think.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Reaching double-digits seems to be the magic mark in measuring just about anything, even when judging a football season.

Oklahoma State has achieved at least 10 wins in a season seven times under Mike Gundy. The last time was a 12-2 record in 2021, and before then the Cowboys strung together three seasons in a row with 10 wins from 2015 to 2017. Those are all some glory years. 

But those three years had Mason Rudolph throwing to James Washington and handing the ball off to Justice Hill. All those guys are still in the league today. In 2021, the Cowboys were building off an 8-3 season with a veteran quarterback and maybe the best defense Stillwater has ever seen. 

Last season, though, the Pokes were 7-6, eked into a bowl game and have lost more than gained since. So with a lot of unproven talent, a third defensive coordinator in as many years and new conference opponents, how could OSU concoct 10 wins 2023? 

Hear me out, I actually believe 10 wins is possible this season. Here are five keys that, mixed with some good fortune, could get the Cowboys to double-digit wins. 

1. The Schedule

The 2023 schedule should be Gundy and Co.’s best friend.

On paper, the Cowboys should finish non-conference play 3-0. Central Arkansas is from the FCS, South Alabama just had a heckuva season but should still be overpowered and Arizona State is one of the biggest messes of any Power 5 school right now on its way to the Big 12. (But at least it’s not Oregon State or Washington State).

The Cowboys were gifted more ease in conference play, missing out on Big 12 favorite Texas, defending CFP finalist TCU and a trip to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech. Bedlam is still looming, but OU was not the same OU last year and still has to prove otherwise in the post-Lincoln Riley era. OU and Kansas State are the only opponents scheduled that appeared in the preseason coaches rankings, and both of those teams will travel to Stillwater.

If OSU goes 3-0 in non-conference play as expected, the Cowboys will have nine really good shots to muster seven more victories in conference and tally a 10-win season. Even six wins would still give OSU a bowl matchup against presumably an evenly matched opponent for a last-ditch effort.

Say what you want about Xs and Os from OSU’s coaching staff, the schedule makers might be the masterminds who helped the Cowboys the most this upcoming season.

2. Health

First scheduling and now health -– some things are just out of your control in how your season goes.

Injuries were the Cowboys’ most detrimental opposition last season. Quarterback play was underwhelming, the offensive line was lackluster and the defense underachieved, but all the disappointments from 2022 could be attributed at least a little bit from injuries.

There’s no analysis or science to predict this part of the game or make it go right, but health, as it does every year, will play a big part in the Cowboys’ success.

3. QB Play

This may be a sore topic for Cowboy fans right now. Quarterback is the most obvious and easy-to-judge position in football, so this problem stood out above all others last season. It was tough to watch at times.

OSU lost four-year starter Spencer Sanders to Ole Miss, via the transfer portal. Neither Gunnar Gundy or Garrett Rangel looked ready for the role last season. We could assume the same about incoming freshman Zane Flores despite the hype.

All that leaves a giant question mark about OSU’s QB room, but sometimes, questions have great answers. If given the chance, Rangel, Gundy or Flores could be ready now and their gameplay could reach their expected talent. Transfer Alan Bowman could consistently be the guy who was good at Texas Tech (when healthy).

Gundy has even mentioned a possible multiple-QB system if that’s what it takes to win games at the QB position.

Most likely, though, Michigan/Texas Tech transfer Bowman will get the nod. He seemed like an underwhelming transfer get, but considering his experience as a redshirt senior and flashes of greatness he showed at Tech, Bowman could be that answer for OSU.

With four possible options, one has to pan out for the Cowboys (right?). Exceeding expectations, or even getting consistency, at quarterback would jolt the Pokes to a team with a legitimate shot at 10 wins.

4. Defense

If we learned anything from a run to the Big 12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl in 2021, it’s how many games a defense can win almost by itself.

Truth be told, OSU’s offense in 2021 was not of the same caliber as those Rudolph years. But that defense. Boy.

Even if quarterback turns into a positive, the Cowboys could still struggle offensively at times, especially up front. A stout defense could shore up any unplanned offensive woes.

We honestly know nothing about new defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo, from Division-II Gannon University in Pennsylvania. For whatever reason, Gundy saw something there and has had nothing but praise ever since. If Gundy did indeed find a gem in Nardo, then the Cowboy defense could be staunch enough to fight off possible Saturday blunders on OSU’s schedule.

5. New Big 12 Teams

In a way, I’m both starting and concluding with schedule talk.

The Cowboys’ schedule features all four Big 12 newcomers -– vs. Cincinnati, at UCF, at Houston and vs. BYU. These are ultimately wildcards. Any of these teams could show up that Saturday and beat the Cowboys. The Pokes could also cruise past all of these dates.

If I was a betting man, I’d put money on the latter, with the Pokes securing three, or even four, wins from the Power Five newbies.

Four wins from the newcomers and three from non-conference means OSU would need to steal only three wins from the likes of ISU, K-State, Kansas (can we still guarantee this dub?), West Virginia and OU to reach 10 wins in 2023.

Honestly, even without taking a gulp of the orange Kool-Aid, that seems doable.

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