Oklahoma State's Rudolph, Washington seek Big 12 title
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma State might be on the verge of something special.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph chose to return for his senior season, and the school is pushing him as a Heisman contender. James Washington also could have left for the NFL, but he stayed and should be a leading candidate for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.
Then, there are the transfers. Tyron Johnson, a receiver who left LSU and sat out last season, already has established himself as one of Rudolph's favorite targets this spring. Former Clemson cornerback Adrian Baker is coming to Oklahoma State as a graduate transfer. And Aaron Cochran, a 6-foot-8, 350-pound left tackle who started for California, has announced he intends to join the Cowboys as a graduate transfer. All should be in the mix for starting jobs.
With so much coming together, the vibe around spring practice has been different than in past years. The Cowboys are confidently talking about winning a Big 12 title, with 14 starters returning from a squad that finished 10-3 and beat Colorado 38-8 in the Alamo Bowl.
''Just the group of guys, the chemistry, all the different starts between offensive and defensive guys,'' Rudolph said. ''There's plenty of guys out there with a lot of experience and just really tight-knit group, on and off the field. We're friends and we take care of each other.''
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Rudolph and Washington are among a core group of leaders who have set the right course.
''Our team understands our culture, what we've created for them, what it takes to be successful,'' Gundy said. ''Sometimes, we don't get those four or five guys that pull our team along until maybe the summer, maybe into the season, and I feel like now, they're doing that.''
Washington caught 71 passes for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, yet Gundy said intangibles set him apart.
''James is very humble and he's a hard worker, and lets his play -he's an example every day of what it's all about,'' Gundy said. ''Great young man. Works hard, trains hard. It's always easy to coach when your best players are your hardest workers. That's a pretty good illustration of what James Washington brings to the table.''
Rudolph passed for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns, one of the best seasons in Oklahoma State history, to put himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Gundy said Rudolph deserves the attention, and he believes he can handle it.
''I'm a little hesitant to do a lot of it,'' Gundy said. ''He has pressure on him every day. He doesn't need anymore. He just needs to go play. But I think it's fair to put him in that situation.''
Rudolph said he's used to high expectations. After all, he's the same guy who stepped in as a freshman and helped Oklahoma State beat Oklahoma in Norman.
''I've handled pressure my entire career, as well as high school,'' he said. ''That's not going to put anything on my shoulders I can't bear. My job is to lead this team and put it on my shoulders, so that's what I'm going to do.''
The Cowboys still have the 38-20 loss to Oklahoma last season that cost them the Big 12 title in the back of their minds.
''It is a big motivation for all of us,'' Rudolph said. ''We are all excited and working towards the future and what the summer and fall camp holds, but we've just got to do our job day in and day out and let the rest of that stuff take care of itself.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .