MT. PLEASANT (AP) It is about 1,000 miles from the campus of Oklahoma State to Central Michigan’s Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Cowboys would happily travel farther than that in order to start the 2015 season.
The Cowboys and Chippewas play Thursday night, ending a long offseason for both programs.
”It’s a long way up there,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. ”But we’re back at it – the coaches and players are excited to play a game. We’ve had three or four days to really turn it up, and now we’re ready to go.”
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Central Michigan coach John Bonamego agrees.
”We’re very anxious to get going,” he said. ”We’re in season now, and we’re ready to do this.”
Bonamego has an extra reason to be happy that the season has started, having just finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a cancerous spot on a tonsil.
He stayed active throughout his treatments, even making a surprise appearance at Media Day a couple hours after an exhausting session, but he doesn’t have to worry about that now.
”That’s behind us now, and we are ready to play a football game,” he said. ”I feel a lot better now than I did at the end of spring practice, and so does our team.”
The Cowboys are favored, but they don’t really know what to expect from Bonamego’s first-year staff.
”It’s nerve-racking, because with a new coach, you can’t go off last year’s film,” said defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. ”We’re always uneasy with the first game, but now we’re in a situation where we could face any formation or anything from their side of the ball.”
Here are a few things to watch during this non-conference showdown:
CENTRAL MICHIGAN’S BIG-PLAY CAPABILITY: Oklahoma State might have a lot of questions about what Bonamengo and his staff will do, but they do know about junior quarterback Cooper Rush. In last season’s Bahamas Bowl, the Chippewas trailed 49-14 at the end of the third quarter, but Rush threw five touchdowns in the final 11:37, including a 75-yarder on the final play of the game that included three laterals. After pulling within 49-48 on that play, Central Michigan tried to win the game with a two-point conversion, but missed.
”We know they are never out of a ballgame,” Spencer said. ”We saw what they did last year, and most of those kids are back.”
MASON RUDOLPH’S PASSING: The sophomore took over late last season and threw for 853 yards and six touchdowns in the final three games, including wins over Oklahoma and Washington.
Thursday, he will be facing an inexperienced Central Michigan secondary, especially at cornerback, where the Chippewas will be rotating several players, none of whom have ever started a college game.
OKLAHOMA STATE’S DEFENSE: As opposed to Central Michigan, the Cowboys have a highly experienced defense that should put a lot more pressure on Rush than Western Kentucky did in the Bahamas Bowl. DE Emmanuel Ogbah was a First Team All-Big 12 selection last year, thanks to 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, while Kevin Peterson, a Jim Thorpe Award candidate, leads a secondary that has six returning starters.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN’S DEFENSE: Not only have the Chippewas need to rebuild the secondary, they weren’t exactly a lockdown defense to begin with. They allowed Western Kentucky 647 yards in the Bahamas Bowl, and gave up 30 or more points in five of their six losses.
HISTORY ON OSU’S SIDE: While the Mid-American Conference is known for their upsets of Power 5 schools, they haven’t gotten the Cowboys yet. OSU is 4-0 against the MAC, winning all four games by at least 17 points. This is only the second time they have traveled to a MAC stadium, though. In 1994, they won 31-14 at Northern Illinois.