Let’s start with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
The reason is because of depth in key positions, especially at quarterback thanks to Mason Rudolph. Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
But he’s not the only reason the Cowboys are optimistic. Receiver James Washington returns a season after he caught 53 passes for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns. Marcell Ateman also returns after he hauled in 45 passes for 766 yards and five touchdowns. Jalen McCleskey, Jhajuan Seales and Austin Hays round out the lineup. Between them, they caught 67 passes for 761 yards and five touchdowns.
And because the entire offensive line is back, pass protection shouldn’t be an issue. That was apparent to coach Mike Gundy, who commended the line’s ability to pass protect but noted it wasn’t very good at run blocking. The Cowboys averaged 3.6 yards per carry a season ago.
“It was one of the most unusual times for me as an offensive coach or a head coach to be around a group that were really good pass protectors, and we weren’t very good at run blocking,” Gundy said. “Hopefully we can improve in both areas, and if we can protect Mason, I’m fairly comfortable with our wide receiver play that we should be able to move the ball throwing it through the air.”
Throw in the fact that OSU plays five home games during first part of the season, and the schedule sets up nicely.
The other possible candidate is TCU.
When coach Gary Patterson met with reporters, he kept repeating that he really liked his team.
“This group this summer was like two years ago coming off a 4-8 year,” he said. “I thought it was a lot more attention to detail, a lot more work being done. I thought last year we didn’t do as good of a job with that during the summertime.”
Injuries affected TCU a year ago, but many of those players return in 2016.
Possible hurdles include a new starting quarterback, which won’t be named until after fall camp, Patterson said, and finding a number two running back. Sawyer Foster and Kenny Hill will battle for quarterback, and running back Shaun Nixon will miss the season because of an injury.
And even though Josh Doctson is now in the NFL, look for KaVontae Turpin, who caught 45 passes for 649 yards and eight touchdowns, and Jarrison Stewart, who had 21 catches for 265 yards and a touchdown, to help fill that void. Don’t discount Ty Slanina and Deante Gray, who return from injuries, and LSU transfer John Diarse, who are expected to contribute.
TCU has three consecutive home games to begin the season, then travels to SMU to play under the Friday night lights Sept. 23.
Patterson believes the start of the season is one of the most challenging any of his teams have faced. The Horned Frogs start with South Dakota State, Arkansas and Iowa State, then go to SMU.
And since we are TexasChalkTalk, we’ll throw in another squad in the Lone Star State looking to make some more noise — the Houston Cougars.
Last season the Cougars went 13-1 en route to winning the Peach Bowl by stunning Florida State 38-24.
While the Cougars are a long shot because they are currently in the American Athletic Conference, what happens if they do the unthinkable — beat Oklahoma — in the season opener?
Greg Ward Jr. is a dual-threat quarterback who ran for 1,253 yards and 21 touchdowns and threw for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns against five interceptions.
The Sooners’ defense is having to replace three leaders, but coach Bob Stoops was confident that Ahmad Thomas, Steven Parker, Jordan Evans and Matt Romar will fill in just fine.
Look, there’s no question the Cougars must be undefeated to give the CFP committee something to talk about. Still, it’s fun to think about, right?
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