Oklahoma State and Tulsa will kick off their 2017 seasons against each other on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
The Cowboys are 17-point favorites at home, as they start a year with lots of promise. They’ve got quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington back, giving them arguably the best returning QB-WR tandem in the country. They might be the most fun team in the country, for reasons both good and bad. The Rudolph and Washington-led offense should light it up, but it’s unclear if OSU will make enough defensive stops to break through an Oklahoma wall at the top of the Big 12.
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The Golden Hurricane are coming off a 10-3 2016, and they could win the AAC this year. They’ve lost a lot on offense, though, so their success might come down to whether coach Philip Montgomery’s offense is truly plug-and-play. If it is, most of the defenses in their league will be powerless to stop them later in the year.
Oklahoma State should be fine on Thursday. S&P+ gives the Pokes an 85 percent chance to win. They’re far more talented than Tulsa, and if Rudolph and Washington are doing their usual thing, there’s no secondary in the Group of 5 that can do anything about it. (Washington had some medical hiccups during fall camp, but he was apparently ready to go a few weeks ago.) Add in that the game’s in Stillwater, and it doesn’t seem hard for the Pokes to pull through in their first game.
But Tulsa might be tricky. Oklahoma State’s defense was no better than OK last season, when it ceded 26.5 points per game (51st nationally) and was 67th in Defensive S&P+. The Golden Hurricane had a top-six scoring offense (35th in S&P+), and they might have enough firepower to put up a big number on the road. If that happens and Oklahoma State’s offense has some first-game warts, we’ll have a ballgame. I’m not sure how likely it is that both will occur, but the possibility is real.
But the OSU offense isn’t going to sleep for long. If Tulsa’s going to pull off the upset, it’ll happen because Oklahoma State’s offense took just long enough to get going that the Hurricane were able to stockpile enough points to hold on. If the Tulsa defense can hold the fort for a couple of drives in the first half, it’ll go a long way toward the cause.
Mike Gundy has probably drilled into his team the importance of not starting dreadfully. He knows too well what it’s like to lose an early-season home game to a mid-major in the most crushing fashion possible. He’s not eager to have that happen again, and the Pokes probably won’t come out flat.