Oklahoma State Cowboys: Cade Cunningham highlights, football trip to Boise State and 21 things to look forward to in 2021
The new year comes with excitement across the athletic spectrum at Oklahoma State, from the football program to a potential No. 1 NBA Draft pick to the opening of the baseball team’s new stadium. Here’s a look at 21 things to look forward to in 2021 at OSU:
1. More good defense: The biggest development of 2020 was OSU’s newfound strength on defense, helping the Cowboys win games when the offense sputtered. While OSU’s trends would suggest it can’t sustain good defense from one year to the next, this defense looks to have staying power.
2. Sanders’ next step: As quarterback Spencer Sanders battled inconsistency this past season — sometimes looking like a star in the making, and other times looking like the struggling freshman version of himself — he showed in the bowl game what he can be. Working with Kasey Dunn and Tim Rattay for a second consecutive season, Sanders needs to find a way to make Tuesday’s performance the norm rather than the outlier.
3. Running back depth: Sanders might not have a 2,000-yard rusher in the backfield with him next season, but he will have a group of backs who gained valuable experience this past season. Dezmon Jackson and Dominic Richardson each had 100-yard rushing performances, and Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren, a 5-foot-8, 215-pound bruiser joins the mix as well. Plus, LD Brown could return for a sixth year if he chooses to do so.
4. Boy, Oh Boise: The blue turf of Boise State awaits OSU on Sept. 18 in what should be a unique trip for the team and fans alike. The game will close out a nonconference portion of the schedule that opens with home games against Missouri State and Tulsa.
5. Presley has entered the building: Receiver Brennan Presley had his breakout performance in the bowl game, with 118 yards and three touchdowns on six catches. OSU coaches have been talking about his unique talents since the beginning of the season, and he showed what he’s capable of against a solid Miami defense. There’s only more to come.
6. More Malcolm: The defense got some good news before the bowl game with the announcement that linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez would return for a fifth season. After moving from safety to linebacker, Rodriguez has been one of the team’s top tacklers each of the past two seasons.
7. Trace Ford’s recovery: After suffering a knee injury in the regular-season finale against Baylor that required surgery, defensive end Trace Ford missed the bowl game. But he has proven in his work ethic that an injury isn’t going to get in his way. Look for Ford to come back strong in 2021.
- Related to this story
- Article: Oklahoma State basketball: Walk-on Dee Mitchell awarded scholarship during shift at Walmart
8. Safeties in numbers: If you’re looking for the real reason OSU has a chance to be good on defense again in 2021, it starts with the secondary. And in particular, the trio of safety positions. All three starters, plus a couple of regularly used backups are expected to return. With the ability to play man-to-man in the secondary, coordinator Jim Knowles can get creative with what he does up front.
9. Cornerback battle: Jarrick Bernard-Converse returns at cornerback for the Cowboys, and Christian Holmes could elect to come back for another senior season. But OSU needs to be ready to find out who’s next at the cornerback position, either to groom a starter, or to provide depth. True freshman Korie Black played well in the bowl game when Bernard-Converse was injured, and could be next in line.
10. Offensive line growth: The OSU offensive line faced quite a battle because of injuries and other issues this past season, but on the positive side, several young players got valuable in-game experience.
11. Is Etienne for real? The Cowboys added some experienced players to help the offensive line, like Miami of Ohio graduate transfer center Danny Godlevske. No addition was bigger — in the literal sense — than junior-college transfer Caleb Etienne, a 6-foot-9, 320-pound offensive tackle who will offer immediate assistance on the edge.
12. Hale’s comeback: Placekicking became an adventure late in the season after Alex Hale suffered a season-ending injury. Before getting hurt, Hale was 13-of-14 on field goals and perfect on extra-point attempts. His return will be a warm welcome.
13. Next pro Pokes: One year after having no players selected in the NFL Draft, OSU stands to have at least four players taken, and all four — receiver Tylan Wallace, running back Chuba Hubbard, offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and cornerback Rodarius Williams — stand to be early to mid-round picks.
14. A Barry statue? OSU has said a Barry Sanders statue is coming to Boone Pickens Stadium, but the school hasn’t said when the statue will arrive. There’s no guarantee that it will be this year, but wouldn’t it be cool to honor No. 21 in 2021?
15. Sutton’s big moment: Legendary men’s basketball coach Eddie Sutton was long overdue for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame when he was finally voted in last spring shortly before his death. Then the pandemic delayed the actual induction weekend until May 13-15. It’s a big weekend for the Sutton family, a validation that they’ve long waited for. It’s just unfortunate that Eddie won’t be able to participate.
16. The Cade Cunningham show: Superstar freshman point guard Cade Cunningham has lived up to the hype. He leads the Big 12 with 19.1 points per game. He’s made dazzling plays. He’s hit game-winning shots. And he’s only going to improve. Plus, there are at least 17 more games from Cunningham in a Cowboys jersey. OSU fans should savor every game.
17. Cade’s decision: Cunningham is projected by some as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. He would be the first No. 1 pick for the Cowboys’ program. The majority of people believe it’s a one-and-done career for Cunningham, but there is always a very slim chance he could elect to stay another year and follow the path of Marcus Smart. Just imagine the insanity should he choose to stay and hopefully play another season, this time in front of a packed Gallagher-Iba Arena.
18. Mack Attack: Coach Jim Littell’s Cowgirl basketball team has continually had strong frontcourt players, and this season is no exception, with 6-foot-4 Natasha Mack leading the way. OSU has plenty of size behind Mack as well, including 6-5 junior-college transfer Brittany Reeves. The key to the season will be the development of the young backcourt to help junior Ja’Mee Asberry, who has emerged as a strong weapon at point guard.
19. Finally, O’Brate: The Cowboys’ shiny new baseball venue, O’Brate Stadium, was supposed to open in March in grand fashion. Former President George W. Bush was set to throw out the first pitch. A sold-out crowd was expected. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the plans were scrapped. The players instead held a private opening with namesake Cecil O’Brate. But this will be the year the stadium is finally opened to fans, though with less pomp and circumstance.
20. Omaha bound? OSU’s baseball team was building last season when the pandemic cut the season short. The Cowboys had a young, but talented pitching staff to go with a veteran offense. The vast majority of the roster is back, along with some talented freshmen, including two-sport star Nolan McLean. It’s the right mix for coach Josh Holliday and Co. to make a deep postseason run, maybe even a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
21. WCWS hopes: The Cowgirl softball team has formed a solid foundation under coach Kenny Gajewski that it hopes will lead to regular runs to the Women’s College World Series. OSU got there in 2019, and had the look of a program ready to go back in 2020. Now, with a potent lineup and a deep pitching staff led by Carrie Eberle, the Cowgirls are ready for their shot to get back to OKC.
A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and... Read more ›
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›