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OSU Football: What We Can Learn from Spencer Sanders’ First 10 Starts

How Sanders compares to the best QBs to ever come through Stillwater.



Looking forward into fall with a sense of uncertainty is not exactly a strange thing to do in late July when your focus is Oklahoma State football.

Actually, that’s been the norm more years than not over the last five or so. But now, in the one offseason that was supposed to be filled with hype and fanfare, we find ourselves peering forward at a horizon that’s as uncertain as ever.

But when (and if) football is actually played in the 2020 calendar year, one of the biggest questions that we will ask ourselves — once we’ve come to terms with the fact that we actually get to enjoy football — is just how big of a leap Spencer Sanders can take in Year 2.

It’s not a make-or-break question for OSU, but its answer will decide just how high this Cowboy team’s ceiling is.

We’ve been measuring Sanders against great OSU passers since before he ever stepped a cleat onto Lewis field. Now that we have some actual data to compare, let’s see how his first 10 college starts stack up against those of Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph, the consensus top two quarterbacks to ever come through Stillwater.

Again, in an effort to compare apples to apples, we’re looking at data from their starts only.

1st 10 Starts Yards TDs INTs
Sanders 2,065 16 11
Rudolph 3,050 16 11
Weeden 3,391 27 10

I did not expect to see the trio come in so close in interception count through their first 10.

Mason Rudolph finished his career with more pass attempts and yards than any OSU passer, and he also holds the impressive career mark for interception avoidance at 1.8 percent. But through 10 starts he threw as many picks as Spencer Sanders and with only a slightly lower INT percentage. Brandon Weeden only threw one fewer through 10.

Sanders also tied Rudolph in TD throws in those games. The caveat swings both ways on this. Sanders had those scores AND those picks in 84 less attempts. It’s also important to point out that J.W. Walsh robbed at least few of those TDs from Rudolph in seven of these games in 2015 when OSU used him almost exclusively in the red zone.

Let’s break down the percentages for all three.

Percentages TD% INT%
Sanders 6.5% 4.5%
Rudolph 4.8% 3.3%
Weeden 7.0% 2.6%

There’s no denying that Sanders was careless with the ball at times as a freshman — he threw seven picks in his first three Big 12 games — but he drastically cut down on the turnovers over his next three games before getting injured. With another year under his belt, he should be able to continue that improvement.

And how about No. 3 coming in slightly under the other No. 3 in TD percentage?

I should also mention that Sanders picked up 625 rushing yards and two scores on the ground in his first 10 starts. The other two came in each with negative rush yards, with Rudolph gaining one score on the ground. That just wasn’t either Weeden’s or Rudolph’s game — which is exciting to think about for Sanders as he continues to grow.

One more group of numbers to look at.

1st 10 Starts Att/Comp Comp. Pct. Passer Rating
Sanders 155/247 62.8% 145.4
Rudolph 207/331 62.5% 149.2
Weeden 258/384 67.2% 159.4

The numbers are pretty close here, as well, with Sanders neck-and-neck with Rudolph, and with a slight edge in completion percentage.

Weeden, again, stands out. You could argue that he benefited from the advantage of a better offensive line, more NFL talent surrounding him and a better offense — and you’d be right. Or you can just land on the fact that he was the best overall QB in school history.

Rudolph could claim a handicap for all the opposite reasons — he’d be justified — and I think Sanders probably falls right in the middle on most of those qualifiers. Another reason to be optimistic about Sanders’ future.

We can (and will) make wild prognoses, predict postseason honors and posit premature draft chatter for Sanders over the coming weeks. We will continue to prop the promising sophomore up against the greatest QBs to ever come through OSU — until his play on the field proves that he doesn’t belong in that conversation.

But after looking at his numbers compared to the best two to ever quarterback at OSU, I’m feeling even more confident about Sanders’ (and OSU’s) future.


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