OSU football

While OU football is gracing magazine covers and being hyped for a potential repeat-playoff run, OSU football also opens its season Saturday, and the Cowboys were no slouches themselves last year.

As the 2016 college football season starts for Sooners and Cowboys alike Saturday, we’ve compiled five key questions that could determine whether local fans hear cheers from their peers or cry tears in their beers this season.

1: Can OU’s Baker Mayfield stay healthy?

In 2015, Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield grabbed OU’s starting quarterback job and ran with it quite successfully, though sometimes around and around in circles behind the line.

Tough opener

OU at the
University of Houston
11 a.m. Saturday

On one such play, Mayfield was hit helmet-to-helmet by a TCU defender, and he did not return after halftime, which made OU’s game against the Horned Frogs that much tougher.

But in 2015, Mayfield was backed up by 2014 starter and Sugar Bowl star Trevor Knight, an experienced QB himself.

Now, Mayfield’s backup is Austin Kendall, a true freshman from Waxhaw, North Carolina. (Raise up, take ya shirt off, kid.)

Or, put another way, Bob Stoops has to be sweating any potential injuries at QB. Yikes!

2: Will OSU’s offensive line be better in 2016?

For a team that won 10 games, the 2015 OSU offensive line was maligned by pundits and couch potatoes alike. Some noted that OSU’s pass blocking was decent, but coach Mike Gundy had to hold an extra blocker in more than any coach would ever want.

Cupcake opener

OSU hosts
Southeastern Louisiana
2:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: Fox Sports Net

Sub-par run blocking, on the other hand, seemed harder for the Cowboys to hide, though they found significant success using change-of-pace QB J.W. Walsh in a Kansas State-style attack around the goal line.

With Walsh graduated, the Cowboys must become a better all-around blocking team to ensure the offensive success they had last season, and one sports columnist has identified an intangible he thinks could help:

Oklahoma State, still facing questions about its offensive line less than a week away from the season opener, needs some nasty up front following a 2015 season of struggle running the ball.

Here’s hoping them boys get “some nasty” this weekend.

3: OU’s pass rush will come from … ?

ESPN’s Jake Trotter (not to be confused with ABC’s Jake Tapper) says OU may lean on redshirt junior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to fill the void of departed linebackers Eric Striker and Devante Bond.

In reality, OU returning players accounted for only 18.5 of the Sooners’ 40 sacks last season, so even if Okoronkwo is able to take his total from two to 7.5 (Striker’s number from 2015), pressure will need to come from other players as well.

Oft-injured but oft-dominant defensive tackle Charles Walker had six sacks last season, and he should once again anchor the defensive interior. But more important than his sack numbers will be Walker’s games played, as injuries have cost him and the team in the last two years.

4: What impact will Barry Sanders Jr. have for OSU?

As a graduate transfer from Stanford to Oklahoma State University, Barry Sanders Jr. will be able to play this season.

How much he plays and how well will be any fan’s guess, but his lineage and highlight tapes would imply he could make at least a handful of big plays for a Cowboys squad that needs to run the ball better.

5: Who will win Bedlam?

Check back with us in three months when the Sooners host the Cowboys in Norman.

How each of the above questions is answered could have a lot to do with who enters Dec. 3 with momentum.