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No. 12 Oklahoma State looks for fast start Thursday vs. CMU

OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders looks to make a pass during a 37-33 win against OU last season.cover

For No. 12 Oklahoma State, the entire offseason has been about one more yard.

Had the Cowboys mustered that one more yard needed for a touchdown against Baylor in the Big 12 championship game, they might well have been one of the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff.

At the very least, Oklahoma State would have won its first outright conference title since 1948. But Oklahoma State came up those inches short against Baylor, losing 21-16, and despite finishing the season with a 37-35 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl for a 12-2 record, they still felt the sting of just missing a historic season.

Oklahoma State has been trying to turn that disappointment into fuel for the 2022 season, which begins Thursday evening against visiting Central Michigan.

There’s a lot for Oklahoma State to be optimistic about, especially an offense that should be prolific.

Quarterback Spencer Sanders is back after a first-team All-Big 12 season, and he has seven experienced receivers as targets.

“I think this year, everyone will be out there making plays,” junior wideout Brennan Presley said. “It’s not going to be one dominant guy, but the entire group making plays because we can all make those plays.”

Three starters return on the offensive line, but there is some uncertainty for the Cowboys at running back, with Dominic Richardson and Jaden Nixon stepping into expanded roles.

“Every year we need three backs,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “The year we have one guy who carries it 23 times a game and we don’t have to use the others unless we want to — I don’t see that happening.”

Especially noteworthy about the Cowboys last year was the play of the defense, which led the Big 12 in total and scoring defense. Soon thereafter, Ohio State hired away OSU coordinator Jim Knowles.

Losing seven starters from last year’s defense won’t help, either, but the front is stout, anchored by Collin Oliver, Trace Ford, Tyler Lacy and Brock Martin.

The Cowboys hope to avoid the upset bug against a Central Michigan team that beat them 30-27 in a dramatic 2016 meeting.

The Chippewas went 9-4 last year, capping their best season in more than a decade by beating Washington State in the Sun Bowl.

CMU features one of the nation’s top running backs in Lew Nichols, who rushed for 1,848 yards on a nation-leading 341 carries last season.

Nichols knows he will be targeted by opposing defenses after his 2021 success.

“It’s been extra motivation,” Nichols said at MAC Media Day. “I have my own motivation internally within myself. Just with all of the odds on me, with everyone being aware of what I can do, it’s made me more motivated to go out there and make more plays.”

Central Michigan was picked to finish third in the East division in the preseason MAC football poll.

Chippewas coach Jim McElwain suffered a seizure in late July and was forced to miss MAC Media Day but has presided over the team during August practices and will be able to coach the season opener.

–Field Level Media