STILLWATER -- College football returned to America on Saturday night when Central Arkansas came back and downed Austin Peay in an exciting fourth quarter 24-17 in the FCS Kickoff Classic. Watching that first game in college football since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in the spring made me start thinking about the Oklahoma State opener scheduled on Sept. 12 inside Boone Pickens Stadium. I know it is still almost two weeks away, but getting this close it is impossible not to start thinking about the return of Cowboys football and the match-up with the Golden Hurricane. 

Central Arkansas wide receiver Tyler Hudson is chased to the end zone in the second half of the FCS Kickoff Classic.

Central Arkansas wide receiver Tyler Hudson is chased to the end zone in the second half of the FCS Kickoff Classic.

It really makes sense to look back on the meeting between the two teams in Tulsa last season. There are so many players returning in the line-up for both squads. The preview comes down to which players have worked and advanced from where they were a year ago and the new players that are plugged into each team. Oklahoma State returns 15 players that started the 40-21 win a year ago and Tulsa has 12 players back that started that contest played on Sept. 14 in Chapman Stadium.

OSU Returning Offensive PlayersOSU Returning Defensive PlayersTulsa Returning Offensive PlayersTulsa Returning Defensive Players

Teven Jenkins, OT, 6-6, 320, RS-Sr.

Cameron Murray, DT, 6-3, 300, RS-Sr.

Chris Paul, OG, 6-4, 324, RS-Jr.

Jaxon Player, NG, 6-0, 286, RS-Jr.

Spencer Sanders, QB, 6-1, 205, RS-So.

Samuela Tuihalamaka, DT, 6-1, 304, RS-So.

Gerard Wheeler, OC, 6-3, 325, Jr.

Zaven Collins, LB, 6-4, 256, Jr.

Chuba Hubbard, RB, 6-0, 208, RS-Jr.

Kolby Harvell-Peel, S, 6-0, 210, Jr.

Dante Bivens, OG, 6-3, 321, RS-Jr.

Christian Williams, NB, 6-0, 190, Sr.

Dillon Stoner, Slot, 6-0, 200, RS-Sr.

Tyler Lacy, DE, 6-4, 285, RS-So.

X'Zauvea Gadlin, OT, 6-4, 300, So.

Allie Green, CB, 6-3, 215, Sr.

Tylan Wallace, WR, 6-0, 190, Sr.

Amen Ogbongbemiga, LB, 6-1, 235, RS-Sr.

Zach Smith, QB, 6-3, 224, RS-Sr.

Jelani Woods, CW, 6-7, 275, RS-Jr.

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB, 5-11, 220, Sr.

Shamari Brooks, RB, 5-9, 195, Sr.

Rodarius Williams, CB, 6-0, 195, RS-Sr. 

Sam Crawford, Jr., WR, 6-1, 206, Jr.

Jarrick Bernard-Converse, CB, 6-1, 205, Jr.

Keylon Stokes, Slot, 6-0, 190, Sr.

Tre Sterling, S, 5-11, 200, RS-Jr.

If you remember Oklahoma State came out and surged to a lead immediately with Chuba Hubbard going 75-yards on the first play from scrimmage and then later scoring on a 30-yard touchdown run set up by a pass interference penalty by Tulsa's back-up corner Reggie Ellis, who is back this season, as he tried to cover Tylan Wallace. Oklahoma State was getting excellent blocking by the offensive line with seal blocks for the hole by graduated center Johnny Wilson. On both Hubbard long touchdown runs there were good blocks by cowboy back Jelani Woods. 

Hubbard finished with 256-yards on 32 carries and Tulsa finished with 17 penalties for 156-yards. That is a combined 412-yards factored in the outcome. Now, Oklahoma State also had an issue with penalties as they were flagged nine times for 80-yards. Still a big difference between as Tulsa had almost double the penalty yards of the Cowboys. 

Tulsa came back and gained a 21-20 halftime lead because the Cowboys defense started missing key tackles, even some chances for lost yardage plays and then after the missed tackle Tulsa went on to major gains. Another factor was the pass rush was non existent in the second quarter against a good Tulsa offensive line that returns four starters. Tulsa got a long touchdown pass on some confusion of the receiver and coverage in a 39-yard scoring play in the second quarter. Experience should help prevent that. 

The good thing for Oklahoma State is returning so many players on the defense and, in particular, the defensive line. I will predict the pass rush will be more constant on returning quarterback Zach Smith, who transferred to Tulsa from Baylor. Tulsa is a huge RPO team and the RPO concepts will often freeze the pass rush. 

In the second half the Oklahoma State defense turned up the heat. The back end of the defense did a good job in coverage as Tulsa was only sending out 2-3 receivers in routes. The front along with extra pressure from linebackers and safeties rolled up three sacks and created some pressure on Smith. It is worth noting that this game was one of the best in the career of departed senior linebacker Kevin Henry. He was credited with three tackles, but seemed like he was always in the action. 

Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez had 11 tackles and safety Kolby Harvel-Peel had 10 stops including a late tackle for loss that helped seal the deal. There were no turnovers forced, which later in the season became more of a trait of the Cowboys defense. 

Oklahoma State will be a solid favorite in the game this season, but two aspects of the match-up, both looking back and looking ahead, are the return of the Tulsa offensive line plus so many skill players in that offense and the loss of so many offensive linemen now from the Cowboys line-up. 

Tulsa will need all that experience up front on offense in facing a defense that is so experienced and much bigger, stronger, and more mature than last season when they shut the Golden Hurricane out in the second half. 

Oklahoma State will need to grow up in their offensive line against a Tulsa defense that returns only four starters and only one on the defensive line. 

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Chuba Hubbard will be looking to open up a strong opening act for the season and a possible Heisman Trophy run.