For the next two weeks, we're taking a look at one player each Big 12 team can't live without. Here are the players we consider the most indispensable heading into 2016. We continue this series today with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Most indispensable: QB Mason Rudolph
Few players have transformed their team’s outlook like Rudolph did during his first two seasons in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State is 12-3 in 15 games with Rudolph as its starting quarterback. In the 11 games he did not start during his time in the program, Oklahoma State is 5-6.
Rudolph took over with three games remaining in his true freshman season, leading the Cowboys to wins over Oklahoma and Washington at the end of the 2014 season. He finished his debut season going 49 of 86 for 853 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
He took a clear step forward as a sophomore. The South Carolina native passed for 3,770 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2015, recording a 71.5 adjusted QBR. He passed for more than 300 yards in six of his 12 starts while leading Oklahoma State to a 10-3 record.
This season, Rudolph hopes to be even better with a full season as a starter under his belt along with the lingering disappointment of a three-game losing skid to end the season and memories of watching Bedlam rival Oklahoma win the conference title on his home field. Rudolph’s added experience should help him limit the mistakes that handcuffed him at times in 2015. He had a pair of games (West Virginia, Texas) with multiple interceptions and was sacked at least once in every start. If he can lower his total interceptions below nine and cut his total sacks (30 in 2015) below 20, it would be a great sign for Oklahoma State.
Either way, Rudolph has proven he can win big games. In 2014, he helped Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma and played his best game of 2015 in a win over TCU with 352 passing yards and five touchdowns in a battle of top 15 teams.
The Cowboys’ roster features plenty of inexperience abound behind Rudolph. Former ESPN300 quarterback John Kolar and walk-on sophomore Taylor Cornelius are set to battle to back up the veteran quarterback with neither player having much game experience to call upon if needed. Kolar has never played in a collegiate game while Cornelius saw limited action a year ago, playing against UTSA and Kansas in blowout victories. Putting the Pokes’ hopes of a conference title on the shoulders of either quarterback is a nerve-racking thought.
While the lack of experience behind him helps to make Rudolph the most indispensable player on Mike Gundy’s squad, Rudolph's body of work is just as important. He’s a proven winner who transformed Oklahoma State’s offense as soon as he stepped on the field as a true freshman, making him a rare difference-maker that is in short supply.