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CFF Targets - Oklahoma State returning to VOLUME PIG ways in 2023?
The Pokes' backfield has featured some prolific runners recently, but it's a crowded room headed into 2023, including the introduction of a transfer at RB.
In the era of transfers and coaching carousels, one can’t help but admire the men who stand above the fray: Kirk Ferentz. Kyle Whittingham. And Mike Gundy of OK State. Gundy has been with the Cowboys in some capacity almost every year of his adult life, and CEO since 2005. He is on the Mount Rushmore of program loyalty.
Gundy entered the consciousness of casual sports fans in 2007 when, enraged by a beat writer calling one of his players fat, he confronted the media in a legendary press conference (“I’m a man! I’m forty!”). As a connoisseur of rotisserie chicken myself, I took a liking to Coach Gundy right then and there.1
A lot has changed in college football since then, but some things remain the same — most notably, that I expect the Pokes to field a formidable team once again in 2023. Astute CFF managers already know to pay close attention to this team from Stillwater, as this program has produced some of the fattest volume pigs college football has seen under Gundy's tenure. We do not need to look far in the rearview to see examples, whether it be RB Chubba Hubbard in 2019, WR Tylan Wallace in 2018, or WR James Washington and RB Justice Hill in 2017.
Interestingly, there have been several "bear" years of CFF assets to match the "bull" years in Stillwater. For every season featuring a 1000-yard rusher or receiver, there are several others without one. In fact, if we go back ten years to 2012 (excluding the 2020 season), there is an exact even split of five seasons with a 1000-yard RB and five seasons without, which means we can more or less expect one to appear every other season. I suppose this bodes well for us, as last year's squad did not feature a 1000-yard rusher. In fact, there wasn't even one close, as lead runner Dominic Richardson accumulated only 543 yards rushing. Richardson moves on, and so does the second-leading rusher, former starting QB Spencer Sanders. This means there's an opportunity for new faces to step up. Will we be seeing a volume pig in this offense once more? There is one player in particular who piques my interest, but first, let's look at the infrastructure in place.
Coach Dunn has been with the Pokes in various capacities since 2011 but was promoted to the Pokes’ OC in 2020. Dunn's first season as OC saw three players carry the rock over 100 times (one of them being Sanders), in part due to the injury to CFF All-American Hubbard. Dunn redeemed himself in the eyes of CFF managers in 2021, where he fed the rock to Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren 256 times. This concentrated volume allowed Warren to accumulate 1216 yards and 11 scores on the ground. He also caught 25 passes for 225 yards. All told, Warren averaged 21.61 touches a game in 2021.
The Pokes looked to follow the same formula in 2022 with Dominic Richardson. Many in the CFF community (including myself) were bullish on Richardson heading into 2022. He had his moments where he flashed in 2020 and 2021, and he was the older head of the room returning for 2022. This staff actually fed him a solid workload in the first half of the season. He had 32 total touches against Arizona State on his way to 136 total yards and a score. He had three straight games in October with over 20 touches, and despite his inefficiency on the ground, he was used quite effectively as a pass catcher. It didn't help that that bastard Spencer Sanders poached any and all rushing TDs to be had.
Eventually, the lack of spark in the run game forced the staff to start considering other options, apparently to the reluctance of Gundy. The coach notoriously prefers to start veterans who, above all else, protect the football. Here's what he had to say about true freshman Ollie Gordon compared to the veteran Richardson back in October:
And Ollie got exactly what I told you guys was gonna happen with him. You have a young guy who has multiple carries and he gets tired, first thing he does when he gets lit up, and what happens? The ball comes out. Now, he’ll be better the next time for it, but that’s what I was telling you guys a week or two ago in the press conference is that’s the issue you have with young players. Spencer knows it. When he was young and you get tired and your mind wanders, that’s when you gotta be careful about taking care of the football. That’s what happened with Ollie. Fortunately, we got it back. [Sanders] made a heck of a play. But that’s what happens when you’re young. [Richardson] comes in and he’s a veteran. He’s better at it. He can get tired, and he understands. There’s just no substitute for experience.
But now, in year two, Gordon is wiser and more experienced under Gundy’s tutelage. OC Dunn should have no reservations about deploying Gordon and if he does, there could be significant CFF upside.
Ollie Gordon - RB (6’1, 210)
Gordon is the Pokes’ highest-rated RB recruit since 2019, according to 247 Sports. While the program hasn't traditionally pulled in four- and five-star recruits in droves, they did with Gordon. And with success stories like Chubba Hubbard, a three-star prospect, one can't help but be excited about what the Dallas native could become in this program. Gordon is a good-looking prospect, and his build is actually similar to that of Hubbard. I mention Hubbard a lot in this analysis, as his 2019 season is sort of the gold standard model we are aiming for here.
In 2022, Ollie Gordon had a solid freshman season for the Pokes, finishing third on the team in rushing with 308 yards and 2 TDs on 62 carries. He showed promise toward the end of the regular season with a standout performance against West Virginia, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
I’m not sure I would call this quote from Gundy after the game a glowing endorsement, as it sounds like Gordon’s increased volume vs. WVU was more happenstance, but it is an acknowledgement of Gordon’s ability:
Well he had a lot of carries, right? So [Dominic Richardson] wasn't available and then Jaden (Nixon) went out, so [Ollie Gordon] and [Deondre Jackson] reps go up, and he ends up with 17 carries. So he got a chance to roll into it pretty good. Hopefully it's a build up. I guess I'm agreeing with you, hopefully. But he ran pretty good today.
He saw less success in the Pokes' bowl game versus Wisconsin, rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries. However, it's important to keep in mind that the Badgers have long prided themselves on being able to stop the run effectively, and Gordon's 45 yards actually led the Pokes in that game too. I am not too deterred by this performance; rather, I am encouraged that he led the Pokes in rushing in each of the last two games. He also managed to find the end zone against Wisconsin by catching a 1-yard TD pass. When Hubbard broke out in 2019, the early warning signs were there late in the year in 2018, albeit much more pronounced. The late momentum in 2022 is promising for Gordon.
I am also encouraged by the fact that perennial TD vulture Spencer Sanders is moving on at QB. His replacement as of writing this article appears to be Garret Rangel, who’s performance in lieu of Sanders last season is less than inspiring. Most importantly he does not appear to be a dual threat QB, scoring 0 rushing TDs in the three games he started.
Hubbard’s breakout season in 2019 overlapped with the Pokes breaking in a new QB, and I think this team will rely on the run game a lot more in 2023 relative to last season. That could mean "wheels up" for Gordon; however, there are also other straws in the proverbial milkshake to consider.
Other RBs (Collins, Dixon, Jackson)
Redshirt sophomore Jaden Nixon and junior Deondre Jackson join Gordon in the OK-State backfield for 2023, and they are welcoming in transfer RB Elijah Collins by way of Michigan State.
Collins had his best season by far in 2019, where he rushed for 988 yards and 5 scores on 222 carries. In 2020, MSU was an all-around disaster, and Collins’ performance reflects that as he ran for 2.2 ypc before getting lost behind CFF volume pig Kenneth Walker III in 2021. Unfortunately for Collins, 2022 wasn’t much better as MSU brought in multiple transfer tailbacks. I think it’s safe to say he is transferring somewhere else to get more reps. Which makes Collins’ move to OK-State puzzling. Did this staff tell him there’s an opportunity to win the starting role here? If so, what does that say about their feelings toward incumbents Gordon, Dixon, and Jackson?
Further complicating the situation is the fact that they botched another transfer RB in Sean Tyler, who originally committed to the Pokes before flipping to Minnesota. It’s hard for me to imagine that both Collins and Tyler, who have been starting RBs before, both deciding that they want to come to Stillwater to fill in for depth. This concerns me about Gordon, in particular, especially given the recent track record of this staff bringing in transfers to start at the position (e.g., Jaylen Warren).
My thinking as of writing this article is that the situation doesn’t look great for Gordon. Not this season at least. I will be watching the spring reports vigilantly to get an idea of how this hierarchy shakes out. I like Gordon’s profile a lot, and if the opportunity presents itself correctly he could offer immense CFF upside — but perhaps we are a year early here. If he’s available late in your drafts (round 10+) I think he could be good value.
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This last line was strictly added in for the amusement of my girlfriend, who apparently actually reads these articles…