STILLWATER – Oklahoma State will head into the 2019 season with a void to fill at quarterback … again.
Redshirt senior Taylor Cornelius was named AutoZone Liberty Bowl MVP following his four-touchdown performance in the Cowboys’ 38-33 victory against No. 23 Missouri on Monday in Memphis, Tennessee. The former walk-on started all 13 games for OSU this season, leading it to a 7-6 record.
He wasn’t perfect in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl; his two interceptions in the fourth quarter helped Missouri rattle off back-to-back scores to make it a two-point game. Yet in the end, the Cowboys defeated their fourth ranked opponent of the season.
With Cornelius leaving, OSU will need to find its next starter before the opener at Oregon State. Here are its options:
Redshirt senior Dru Brown: Brown played one play this season, and it came in the Liberty Bowl. He came in after Cornelius’ helmet came off, and he turned and handed off to LD Brown. The graduate transfer from Hawaii started two seasons for the Rainbow Warriors, throwing for 5,270 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders: Sanders won the AP Texas High School Player of the Year award in 2017, and many thought he would be the favorite to nap the starting job in 2018. That wasn’t so, as he failed to appear in a game.
The former four-star recruit is likely the most talented quarterback on the roster as he is a dual-threat signal caller. Former winners of the AP award in Texas are Johnny Manziel, Kyler Murray, Sam Ehlinger and Charlie Brewer. Not bad company for Sanders, but he has ground to make up if he wants to start.
True freshman Brendan Costello: Costello is a three-star prospect from San Clemente, California. He is early enrolling, which will help him learn the offense and throw his name in the hat for the starting job, but he has a clear disadvantage when compared to the two players who have used an entire year to learn coach Mike Gundy’s offense.
Redshirt junior Keondre Wudtee: Wudtee was the main backup for Cornelius this season, though he appeared in only two games. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who has three years in OSU’s system, so he is the most experienced of the group. He’s a dark horse to win the job, but Gundy has shown before he likes to reward veteran players.
Revamping defensive line
OSU’s youngest and least experienced unit next season will be the defensive line.
The defensive line is not returning one player who made a start this season. Redshirt junior Jordan Brailford is leaving for the NFL Draft, and deservedly so. He was dominant this season, even as his production dropped off near the end of the season.
Redshirt senior Mike Scott, who blocked a field goal in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, is likely to have a big role increase, along with redshirt sophomores Brock Martin and Brendon Evers. This is the position, similar to safety in 2018, where the Cowboys will use true freshman to help provide depth.
A common theme of the Cowboy season was the roller coaster it was on week to week. It played well against top-tier opponents while struggling against those lower echelon teams.
GoPokes.com reported offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich had cleaned out his office and left the key in the door before OSU left for Memphis, which would leave a big hole to fill for Gundy. Year No. 2 under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles should result in a more stable system and better numbers defensively.
As mentioned, OSU defeated four ranked teams in 2018 but lost to two teams that didn’t make bowl games. It finished ninth in the Big 12, above only Kansas. The Cowboys weren’t in a rebuilding stage because though they don’t dominate recruiting, they recruit well enough to have people to fill in when big names leave.
A 7-6 season with the talent this OSU team had was a underwhelming season. It was a missed extra point and field goal away from knocking off Oklahoma, which made its third College Football Playoff appearance in four seasons while it was blown out at Kansas State, routed at home against Texas Tech and seemed inept on offense against the Wildcats and Horned Frogs.
OSU struggled with consistency this season for the first time in a while. Gundy told reporters following the AutoZone Liberty Bowl that his team’s performance against Missouri reminded him of the 2007-09 seasons where his team was physical and dominant in all phases. OSU needs to find that identity next season to find some traction throughout the course of the season.