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Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Central Michigan Chippewas Football Preview

Oklahoma State narrowly avoided a road loss in Mt. Pleasant last season. Can CMU avenge that game with a road win in 2016?

NCAA Football: Southeastern Louisiana at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma State and Central Michigan opened their seasons against one another in Mt. Pleasant last season, a tight game that ultimately saw the Cowboys walk away with a 24-13 victory.

OK State had to come back from CMU taking a early third-quarter lead on the legs of specialist quarterback JW Walsh in order to collect the win. The Cowboys would catch fire from there, going on to be ranked as high as fourth in the nation and eventually playing in the Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Ole Miss.

The Pokes will return 18 starters from last season’s roster, making them the sixth-most experienced team in the nation. On offense, junior QB Mason Rudolph (3,770 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) returns under center and leading returning receiver junior James Washington Jr. (53 receptions, 1,087 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) will be a key part of the OSU attack.

Head coach Mike Gundy uses a running back by committee tactic, similar to CMU, and had six players touch the ball four times or more in the backfield last week, with Jeff Carr (6 rush, 42 yards and a touchdown against SE Louisiana) leading the way. Five of OSU’s backs rushed for 20 or more yards in an effort that saw 179 yards gained on the ground. Four different backs scored touchdowns including Justice Hill, Barry Sanders Jr. and Chris Carson.

Gundy is also not afraid to use receivers; the OSU offense has been amongst the top teams in passing yards in the nation over the past decade thanks to Gundy’s system. That showed vs. SE Louisiana, as 14 different receivers had at least one reception in the game, with Jhajuan Seales (three receptions, 61 yards and two touchdowns) leading OSU in the effort.

OK State really does their damage on defense. Since 2010, the Cowboys have lead the nation with 39 non-offensive touchdowns and have forced 179 turnovers in that same span, trailing only Houston and Oregon. That trend continued Saturday as OSU had 11 tackles for loss for 53 yards, three sacks for 21 yards, five fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

CMU does return a lot of the starters that previously played OK State last season, especially on defense. Eight of the 11 players to start that game will start vs. the Cowboys, including Tony Annese and Amari Coleman. Nathan Ricketts, who had a fumble recovery and an interception against Presbyterian, will start at linebacker and wear the #21 legacy jersey. He is expected to be a key to the game in the front seven.

The CMU offense looked disjointed at times against Presbyterian, but seemed to improve vastly on their much-maligned running game, with Devon Spalding going over 135 yards and a touchdown, Jahray Hayes grabbing three touchdowns and true freshman Jonathan Ward contributing late with 79 yards and a score. Cooper Rush had a surprisingly pedestrian appearance, throwing for 237 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and looks to improve on that.

According to CBS Sports Network, the two starting quarterbacks for this game are expected to be selected in this year’s draft, with both Rudolph (40th overall prospect, #4 QB, 1st-2nd round projection) and Rush (128th overall prospect, #7 QB, 4th round projection) getting the opportunity to show of their skills in front of a nationally-televised audience.

This game will be played in Stillwater, so perhaps the home-field advantage could play a role. Don’t count out CMU’s fight, though. Michigan State had to rally past Central last season in a tight game and Iowa fell victim to CMU at home three years ago in the non-conference season.

The game will be played on Sept. 10 at 12 noon Eastern Time in Stillwater, OK and will be aired nationally on FS1. Justin Kutcher and Petros Papadakis will be on the call. Steve Sarkisian, who was expected to be the color analyst for the game, took a job with Alabama last week as an offensive analyst.