|No. 10 Oklahoma State's offense ready to roll|
STILLWATER, Okla. -- By most descriptions, Oklahoma State-Tulsa looks like a serious rivalry.
Two FBS schools, residing in the same state, separated by 69 miles of turnpike. The Cowboys and Golden Hurricanes have squared off 71 times, with Oklahoma State holding a 39-27-5 edge in what shapes up as a competitive series.
And yet, there's little current-day evidence to suggest much disdain between the schools. They haven't played since 2011. They're in different conferences. For the most part, they don't recruit the same players.
"I know there's a lot of guys on the team from Tulsa, but they haven't really said anything about that," said Cowboys linebacker Chad Whitener. "I think it's more the season opener, the buzz and excitement for the season to get rolling."
At least there's that. And the fact that both sides look at their Thursday meeting -- 7:30 p.m. ET at Boone Pickens Stadium -- as a season-opening statement opportunity.
For No. 10-ranked Oklahoma State, 10-3 last season, it's an opportunity to confirm its status as a Big 12 and national contender.
For Tulsa of the American Athletic Conference, also 10-3 in 2016, it's an opportunity to seize some spotlight.
"I've talked a lot about trying to gain respect in our conference and trying to gain respect in our state, and this gives us an opportunity," Golden Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said.
Much buzz surrounds the Cowboys, who return the bulk of an offense that ranked ninth nationally in passing (323.9 yards per game) and 17th in scoring (38.6). Quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington are both prominent on the preseason award watch lists. With Rudolph, Washington and running back Justice Hill, Oklahoma State boasts an attack that returns a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher.
In addition, the Cowboys return their second-leading receiver from 2015 in Marcell Ateman, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, and they add former five-star receiver prospect Tyron Johnson, who transferred from LSU. Four offensive line starters return, with massive Cal graduate transfer Aaron Cochran stepping in to round out a veteran unit.
"They are a very, very talented team," Montgomery said.
Tulsa was a very talented team a year ago, behind an historically productive offense. The Golden Hurricane became the first FBS school to produce a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers.
Only one of those skill players returns, however. Beyond tailback D'Angelo Brewer, who ran for 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016, there are no obvious replacements, particularly at quarterback, where Montgomery still hasn't named a starter to replace Dane Evans, who left as the school's all-time passing leader.
Two inexperienced underclassmen -- sophomore Chad President and freshman Luke Skipper -- battled throughout preseason camp for the starting role. Neither emerged and both could play, at least until one takes hold of the job.
Tulsa could lean on a veteran offensive line, anchored by returning all-conference center Chandler Miller, to run the ball with Brewer and either of the mobile quarterbacks. But Montgomery's history, both in reloading on offense and developing quarterbacks, has Oklahoma State's attention.
"I would caution everybody, as I've done with our defense, in that there haven't been many rollover years with (Montgomery)," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "With his play-calling and running offenses at other schools where he was, there would be a group of guys leave and people thought, 'OK, now they'll settle down.'
"But that wasn't the case. And they went out and got 5,000 yards with some new guys."
Since both defenses enter the season with question marks, the advantage would seem to swing to Oklahoma State, which still claims guys who went out and produced more than 5,000 yards a year ago.
Rudolph, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is 22-6 as a starter and ranks in the top six among returning FBS quarterbacks in career passing yards, career passing yards per game, career passing efficiency and career touchdown-to-interception ratio.
And this year, he believes he's got the best set of weapons he's had with the Cowboys.
"I'm ready to go," Rudolph said. "It's been a long offseason. It's been fun; we got a lot of good work in, a lot of good practice. We've fine-tuned it and we're ready to go."