On a cold November night in Waco, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy decided to lift freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph’s redshirt, and name him the starter. It wasn’t a move the coach wanted to make, but injuries gave him no choice.
That game was in 2014, and the Cowboys lost to Baylor 49-28. Fast-forward to the present day, on the eve of his return to where it all began, and thing have come full circle for Rudolph.
Since that game, Rudolph has thrown for 5,637 yards, and has gone 14-4 as a starter. His improvement was on full display last Saturday against Pittsburgh. He threw for 540 yards, including a 91-yard bomb to James Washington, and led the Cowboys to a 45-38.
But despite his stellar play, Rudolph wants to share the credit, “I think when you’ve got weapons like James and Seales and (Chris) Lacy and (Austin) Hays, it’s fun to go to work every day at practice and get those practice reps in and get comfortable with those certain routes,” Rudolph said after Saturday’s game.
Whether he knows it or not, Rudolph has a ton of pro potential. He’s 6’5’’ 235 pounds, and has the arm strength to take the top off of defenses. But for Rudolph to reach his potential he has to take the next step.
That stride could happen, against the only Big 12 team Rudolph hasn’t beaten, this weekend. Baylor leads the FBS in lowest opponent passer rating, but they’ve only played Northwestern State, SMU, and Rice. They ranked 55th in that same statistic in 2015, so there will be opportunities for the Cowboys to make plays on Offense.
If Rudolph wants to join the ranks of Mayfield, Mahomes, and Russell at the top of the Big 12 quarterback hierarchy, he’ll have to come up big in games like this. And if Oklahoma State continues to struggle establishing the running game—they averaged just 31.6 rushing yards a game against ranked teams in 2015—that could be easier said than done.