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How Will OSU’s 2024 Season Compare to Stars of the Past Returning to Stillwater?

There’s been offseason hype in Stillwater before.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Hype for the Cowboys’ 2024 football season is already bubbling.

The Cowboys went 10-4 in 2023, boasting the nation’s best tailback, who has already announced his return for 2024. Five offensive line starters have also announced their returns, as has quarterback Alan Bowman, receiver Brennan Presley, linebacker Collin Oliver, safety Kendal Daniels and more.

It’s setting up to be one of the most anticipated seasons of the Mike Gundy era. But it’s not the first time superstar players have come back for another year in orange and black when they could’ve looked elsewhere. So, let’s look at some of those seasons and see whether we can glean anything from them to project what 2024 will be like.

2009 — Bryant, Robinson Return

2008 Record: 9-4
2009 Record: 9-4

Zac Robinson (and Andrew Lewis) made the cover of Sports Illustrated heading into this season after the Cowboys went 9-4 in 2008 with losses to No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 15 Oregon. They had a big win in 2008 against No. 3 Missouri, which moved OSU up a tier in the college football landscape.

Then Robinson and Dez Bryant were set to return in 2009, and the Cowboys seemed destined to perhaps take another step up the college football ladder.

The 2009 season will go down in OSU lore as the one the NCAA hosed Bryant in. Bryant was deemed ineligible midway through the year, but the Cowboys’ season didn’t start that hot even before the Bryant stuff.

OSU lost to Houston 45-35 a week after beating No. 13 Georgia in Boone Pickens Stadium to start the season 1-1. Bryant also played in OSU’s bounce-back win against Rice, but that was it for his college career.

From there, the season ended similarly to the 2008 campaign. OSU fell to No. 3 Texas midway through the year and finished the year with losses to OU and Ole Miss.

Overall, it was still a successful season and acted as a springboard for the program moving forward.

2011 — Weeden, Blackmon Return

2010 Record: 11-2
2011 Record: 12-1

Here is the result of that springboard. OSU won 11 games in 2010 — the Pokes’ first time in double digits since Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman-winning year.

The 2010 season was the debut of Weeden-to-Blackmon. Weeden threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2010, with Blackmon catching 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. The two held a joint news conference to announce their returns for 2011.

And it went about as well as possible. OSU started the season 10-0 and got as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll before a road loss to Iowa State. Still, Weeden, Blackmon and the Cowboys finished the year strong, beating Oklahoma to claim a Big 12 title and beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

2017 — Rudolph, Washington Return

2016 Record: 10-3
2017 Record: 10-3

Three years after Weeden and Blackmon’s magical 2011 season, Mason Rudolph and James Washington stepped onto campus. Rudolph saved OSU’s 2014 season as a true freshman, beating OU to keep the Cowboys still-ongoing bowl streak alive.

Rudolph then captained OSU to a 10-3 season as a sophomore in 2015. The Cowboys went 10-3 in Rudolph’s junior season in 2016. Then, in a much less formal setting than a news conference, Rudolph and Washington announced they’d both be back for 2017 at an Alamo Bowl practice.

In 2017, OSU climbed as high as No. 6 in the AP Poll before starting Big 12 play with a loss to No. 16 TCU in Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys got back into the top 10 at 7-1 after a big road win against West Virginia, but the Pokes fell the next weekend in an all-time Bedlam shootout, losing to the Sooners 62-52. Then the Cowboys lost another home game to Kansas State two weekends later before beating Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl.

It would’ve been interesting to see how the 2017 squad handled the pressure had it beaten TCU to start Big 12 play and been in the top five heading into Bedlam. Considering where OSU has been before Mike Gundy took over, it’s weird to say 10-3 was disappointing, but it was. OSU played two ranked teams at home in 2017 and lost both games.

2020 — Hubbard, Wallace Return

2019 Record: 8-5
2020 Record (Shortened Season): 8-3

The last time OSU returned the nation’s leading rusher was in 2020.

Chuba Hubbard ran for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2019. The Cowboys went 8-5 that year — Spencer Sanders’ first as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. With Sanders a year wiser, and Hubbard and Tylan Wallace returning, it set up for some hype entering 2020. And then 2020 happened.

On top of a pandemic that shortened the season, Hubbard and Sanders both missed extended time with injury. Sanders got hurt in OSU’s first game against Tulsa, along with two starting offensive linemen. Then with all the eyes shifting toward Hubbard, he eclipsed 100 rushing yards in three of the seven games he played in that season. It’s impressive OSU got to 8-3, and had the Cowboys played a full schedule, they probably would’ve finished 10-3 despite all the injuries.

Here’s to hoping a pandemic doesn’t shorten 2024.

2022 — Season after Big 12 Title Game, Fiesta Bowl 

2021 Record: 12-2
2022 Record: 

With how 2022 ended, it’s almost hard to remember how hyped the offseason heading into that year was.

OSU won 12 games, made its first appearance in the Big 12 title game, beat OU and won another Fiesta Bowl in 2021. Mike Gundy proclaimed at the Fiesta Bowl trophy ceremony that “We got a logo, too.” And hype was peaking.

The Cowboys returned Spencer Sanders for 2022, but they did lose defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and a lot of production from the defensive side of the ball.

Still, OSU started 2022 at 5-0 heading to a game with No. 13 TCU (a team that would go on to play for a national title). There were whispers of Sanders not being 100% the morning of that game, but he still played as the Cowboys fell to TCU 43-40 in overtime. The Cowboys recovered with a big win against No. 20 Texas. … Then the wheels fell off.

Sanders being banged up was becoming more obvious, as he left hurt in OSU’s 48-0 loss to Kansas State. The Cowboys lost the next weekend in Lawrence without Sanders. Then Sanders subbed in late and saved the day against Iowa State — OSU’s last win of the season.

A step back for a team that lost a lot from the best defense in program history was probably to be expected, but boy when 2022 started going downhill, it didn’t stop.

2024 — Gordon Returns

2023 Record: 10-4
2024 Record: TBD

So where does that leave us in projecting what OSU can do in 2024? Well, three of the seasons above finished similarly to the year before. One finished better (2011) and one finished worse (2022).

Odds are 10 wins is about where OSU ought to finish in 2024. But with that being said, the conferences changing could further alter things. Two of OSU’s four losses in 2009 were to OU and Texas. One of OSU’s three losses in 2017 was to Oklahoma. Two of OSU’s three losses in 2020 were to OU and Texas. One of OSU’s six losses in 2022 was to OU. Would OSU have actually been 11-2 in 2009 without the Sooners and Longhorns? Could the Pokes have been 10-1 in 2020? The new Big 12 throws another wrench into the formula.

I think this little exercise also taught me that a lot happens to determine the outcomes of seasons — health being the biggest factor. It’s not just the star players that make the difference. If the Cowboys stay relatively healthy in 2024, it’s hard to imagine them taking a step back.

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