STILLWATER – It’s the beginning of a new era for Oklahoma State football.
When fans flood Stillwater for Thursday’s 7 p.m. kickoff against Missouri State to open the 2018 season, about the only similarity they will experience to last season’s Cowboy team is another Thursday opener. Players like Justice Hill, Calvin Bundage and Jalen McCleskey are returning, but fans will view games inside Boone Pickens Stadium in a different way.
Mason Rudolph to James Washington is no longer a sight to Cowboy faithful, but many may not have seen it this year anyways.
OSU installed a new video board that towers the east end zone and engulfs Gallagher-Iba Arena where it hangs. The needed upgrade is one of the first things fans will notice about upgrades to improve game day livelihood within the gates.
Alcohol will be sold to the general public for the first time at football games. A successful pilot program during the spring at baseball and softball games pushed OSU to make the change. Fans can purchase alcohol at 22 locations throughout the venue, and there is a no re-entry policy this season that OSU will implement.
In addition to the alcohol sales and the 6,160-square-foot video board, OSU is adding a food court in the west end zone along with various cool zones throughout the complex.
Sodexo partnered with OSU to create the food court. Some restaurants included are Chick-fil-A, Coney Island, Curty Shack, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Slim Chickens, Thai Loco and Zaxby’s, among others.
A home-heavy slate will be a good test for the new fan experiences, but the on-the-field product will be different. Replacing arguably the most accomplished senior class in school history is nothing easy, but coach Mike Gundy is excited to see his younger players step into big shoes.
“I really like where our team is at,” Gundy said. “We’ll know a lot more in a month. We’re just looking forward to getting started.”
Taylor Cornelius, a fifth-year senior, is tasked with replacing Rudolph as the Cowboys’ quarterback. He has had limited action the past three seasons, but he gets the starting nod ahead of graduate transfer Dru Brown and highly-touted true freshman Spencer Sanders.
Gundy said he is comfortable playing with eight guys on the offensive line, which has been a problem for many past Cowboy teams. Even with replacing three starters, including both tackles, the line of scrimmage is something OSU could control throughout the season.
Along with Hill in the backfield, sophomores J.D. King, LD Brown and redshirt freshman Chuba Hubbard are all expected to contribute in some form, whether it’s offensively or the kicking game.
New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and his style of play has players raving about the possibilities of what the Cowboys can produce defensively this season. The Cowboys have an experienced front seven and a lot of speed in the secondary, but it may be a few games before Knowles’ defense is truly tested.
Even with myriad uncertainty ahead of OSU’s season opener, there’s a lot of room for optimism. Although it has an inexperienced quarterback, the offense returns plenty of talent. A new defensive scheme has energized many players.
The Cowboys’ schedule sets up nicely for a team with many questions. Five of their first six games are in Stillwater, and only one of those is against a preseason ranked opponent, Sept. 15 when No. 21 Boise State comes to Stillwater.
Yet when the Cowboys parade out of the tunnel onto Lewis Field on Thursday, it’s going to feel a bit different than the previous few seasons. Then again, the stigma surrounding most college programs change from year to year.
This is just uncharted territory for Gundy and Co.