Allen and Levenson Top 5 Cowboys Need to Step Up to Help Create Banner 2020 Season
STILLWATER -- Okay, Chuba Hubbard said it last Tuesday, those magic words in one phrase Stillwater and National Championship as in College Football Playoff National Championship. Hubbard said he likely wouldn't say that again, but he meant it and now it's action, not words that will give the Cowboys a chance to make good on Chuba's hopeful prediction. Hubbard is a give returning at the nation's leading rusher at the Division I level, Tylan Wallace is a returning All-American at wide receiver and a former Biletnikoff finalist. Spencer Sanders is a given and the NFL scouts are all over offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and his blocking prowess. Players like safety Kolby Harvel-Peel and linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga are returning All-Big 12 caliber players, so we won't include them. Who does need to develop, to step up their game, in order for Hubbard's promise to be fulfilled?
I challenged Marshall Levenson and myself to come up with five key players that we feel need to have the best off-season, develop their talent, and then step in with greater production to help Hubbard, Wallace, Sanders, and company win week after week next season the way the Pokes will need to in order to have a chance at a Big 12 Championship and a CFP berth.
The parameters were vague. No returning All-Big 12 or better players could be included because they've shown they are good and you can almost always count on those kind of players to get better. Obviously, Wallace and Harvel-Peel are rehabbing from knee surgery, but we trust those two.
We're looking for players that may have started or backed up and need to be better for the team to be better in 2020.
My vow this time, as Marshall and I have done this kind of story before using the teams in the CFP Championship Game, was not to get beat on special teams.
1. Tom Hutton, So., Punter
I started with special teams. The Texas Bowl loss to Texas A&M was due in part, a major part, to a pair of poor punts. Backed up in his own end zone, Hutton hit a wobbler for 17-yards in the second quarter. The Aggies started on the OSU 22 and scored their first touchdown. A 32-yard punt in the third quarter led to A&M scoring the tying touchdown in the game. Two bad punts and two touchdowns. Hutton finished the season averaging 39-yards a punt with 23 downed inside the 20-yard-line and only one touch back, which costs your team yardage. However, when he needed to flip the field with a boomer, he was inconsistent. This has to change. Some believe he has a problem with his drop. Maybe, it is that he uses so many techniques and needs to narrow down his routine. It doesn't matter, Hutton has to be better when he needs yards and hang time. He had six kicks over 50-yards. He needs to have roughly 20 next season.
2. Jelani Woods, RS-Jr., CW
Woods looks like a monster for defenses to have to deal with. The former quarterback, who was actually a tight end before playing quarterback, is 6-7, 265-pounds and can move. His blocking has improved steadily but if he could improve his ball skills and route running to where he is a constant threat in the passing game then Spencer Sanders will enjoy the kind of security blanket all quarterbacks over to have and defenses will have to sweat and thread out even more allowing Chuba Hubbard more room to run and Tylan Wallace and the receivers less attention in coverage. Last season Woods had 16 receptions for 112-yards and a touchdown. In 2020 he should catch at least 30 passes for close to 300-yards and at least five touchdowns. The score zone and short yardage situations would add another huge contributor in the throw it up to Woods and get it done option.
3. Thomas Harper, So., CB
I don't have to tell you all, in the Big 12 and in college football in general, you have to have corners. You need as many as you can develop. A.J. Green is gone, the only starter departing from the defense last season. Harper and Tanner McCalister, a safety last season after playing corner as a freshmen are the next in line behind returning three-year starter Rodarius Williams. Harper has stood out since he arrived and I really believe he could end up being a weapon on kickoff returns, maybe punt returns too. He needs to stay on the same improvement incline he has been on since arriving and that will make the defense better. He has all the makings with lots of athleticism, confidence, and a desire to be great.
4. Jayden Jernigan, So., DL
Jernigan is a player I greatly underestimated. The 6-0, 300-pound product of powerhouse Allen High School just north of Dallas, he came in and played from the beginning. He is big enough to be a nose tackle, but moved well enough to play end, especially in a three-man front. He finished the season with 13 total tackles, eight of those unassisted, 4.0 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two quarterback hurries. There are others that I could have put in this slot as Jernigan kind of represents four or five defensive linemen that it would be nice to see all of them get better. Jernigan is one I feel I can depend on to make my pick look good, even if I didn't give him as much credit as I should of coming in as a freshman.
5. Hunter Woodard, RS-So., OG
Woodard is out of Tsucola, Ill. and was one of those five recruits that Josh Henson brought in and a I have labeled that group as the turnaround class for the Cowboys offensive line. Charlie Dickey came in and saw that quintet and smiled. Bryce Bray started 10 games last season and tackle Hunter Anthony started four games. The other three of that group are center Tyrese Williams, tackle Jacob Farrell, and Woodard. I saw Woodard the other day at the now famous pep rally in the Student Union. He looks bigger, although he told me he is 6-5, 295-pounds. I will say it looks solid. He has always been considered ahead of his time in technique by some of the older linemen that know these things. He is smart and tough. A little like Jernigan in my defensive explanation, Woodard is a symbol of all these guys improving. This happens and Oklahoma State has a solid two-deep on the offensive line that will allow for the normal injuries that happen to occur and not knock the offense off of it's game.
1. Trace Ford, So, Defensive End
Technically, this one shouldn’t count due to All Big 12, but since it was honorable mention, I’m giving it to myself. As a true freshman, Trace Ford surprised a lot of people with his amount of production, even Mike Gundy, who admittedly said he never expected Ford to play as much as he did. This playing time was earned though, coaches will never take a guy off the field when it hurts your team with him on the sideline. Ford tallied 29 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 9 quarterback hits, earning himself 2019 Honorable Mention All-Big 12, voted on by the coaches. His second season will be very important in terms of development and for him to ramp up his production even more, in both the pass rush department and in coverage. If he is able to get to the quarterback more often or at least ruin the development of plays more often, he will be racking up his own stats but will also be helping out the stacked defensive backs group. This defense might be the best in the Big 12 year, but with a dominant season from Ford, it might be one of the best in the country.
2. Calvin Bundage, Sr, Outside Linebacker
This is a name lots of Oklahoma State fans are excited to see back in the discussion of the team. Bundage missed the entire 2019 season with a back injury, but will reportedly be ready for the 2020 season. The reasoning for Bundage on this list is very similar to Ford, partly because they will be playing similar positions. Bundage, who used to play linebacker will now most likely be playing that edge rusher/outside linebacker role in passing situations. The linebacker duo in Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez is too good and too experienced to take off the field. If we know anything about Bundage, it’s that he’s fast and energetic, the two things an edge rusher needs but the problem Bundage has always had is pre snap patience as he jumps offsides quite a bit. In the 2018 season, he racked up 62 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 quarterback hits. This season, if he can control his penalties and stay healthy, Bundage and Ford can be lethal together.
3. Jake McClure, Jr, Kicker
This pick is not a flashy one but an important one. Matt Amendola is now graduated, opening one of the only holes on the team, kicker. McClure is only one of two other kickers on the roster and is also the oldest of the two. A good kicker is one of the best weapons a team can have, regardless of the level of football. McClure was a great kicker in high school, making 12 of 14 field goals his senior year, including a long of 56 yards. He also made 63 of 65 (97%) of his PAT attempts, a staggeringly high percentage. He will most likely be the first one with the chance to earn the job and if he posts numbers like that in the summer and fall camp, the job will be his.
4. Thomas Harper, So, Cornerback
One of the only other holes going into the offseason this year is finding the replacement of AJ Green. There are several names that have potential here but incoming sophomore, Thomas Harper seems like a perfect to me. I have been told by people in the program that Harper might be a top 5 player on the team and they are anxious to watch him prove it. Harper was not recruited much out of high school, OSU being his only power 5 offer, but his talent is through the roof. As a defender, he logged 92 total tackles, including 67 solo stops, as a senior at Karns HS, and added seven pass break ups, two forced fumbles, one interception and one blocked field goal. He was named all-district, all-region and team MVP. Harper finished his high school career with 155 total tackles, 114 of which were solo stops, 16 passes defended and three interceptions. What I am even more excited about is his ridiculous ball skills, which comes from him playing receiver in high school. He posted back to back 1,000 yard receiving seasons, including breaking his own school record with 1,279 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 80 receptions as a senior in 2018. With a defense that is already very strong and only one hole, Harper could put this defense over the top.
5. Braydon Johnson, Jr, Wide Receiver
With strength of our offensive trio in Sanders, Hubbard, and Wallace, defenses will already have their hands full with defensive play calling and preparation. You also have the reliable Dillon Stoner and jumbo tight end Jelani Woods to take into account. Why not throw in a speed receiver who can run past any defensive back in the Big 12. He had a strong second half of the season, ending with 23 receptions for 491 yards and 4 touchdowns. His talents were on full display in the bowl game versus A&M. He went off for 5 catches for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns while catching balls from Dru Brown. With as much as Johnson can get open and the threats we have littered across the field, he will have his chances to make huge plays. His downfield speed and Sanders' arm will become a matchup that is fun to watch. This offense will put up a lot of points and I expect Johnson to be a big part of it.