A season ago, Oklahoma State was very likely 5 points away from a College Football Playoff berth. Similarly, Central Michigan was just a point shy of a spot in the MAC Championship game. This season, both squads will look to take the next step and achieve those goals, and it all starts in Stillwater this Friday, as the heavily-favored Cowboys will look to start off on the right foot with a big home win.
Let’s get into some odds and picks for this Thursday night inter-conference clash
Central Michigan Vs. Oklahoma State Odds
Central are coming into this game somewhere between +21.5 and +22.5, depending on your sportsbook of choice, and the points total for the two teams is hovering right around 59.5. Is Vegas underestimating the Oklahoma State defense, or could the Cowboys possibly hit that points number nearly on their own?
Central Michigan Vs. Oklahoma State Prediction & Pick
Both teams featured potent offenses a season ago, averaging north of 30 points per game each, but the Cowboys also sported a stout defense, allowing an average of just 18.1 opponent points while competing in the uber-offensive Big 12 Conference.
One thing to watch early on will be the direction of the Oklahoma State offense, as they are led by returning QB Spencer Sanders, who has been named to the preseason all-conference team, but he has lost his top target in wideout Tay Martin, and his backfield partner, standout RB Jaylen Warren. The ‘pokes had no issue scoring last season, but it’ll be interesting to see how they attack defenses with a much-altered offensive skill group. Another key roster shift for Oklahoma State will be the loss of 6 of their top 8 tacklers from that surprisingly strong 2021 defense- they may well round into form again by the end of the year, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see them experience some growing pains.
Attacking the new-look OSU defense will be Lew Nichols III, Central’s stud halfback who cracked the 2k-yardage mark from scrimmage last year and led all of FBS in rushing. QB Daniel Richardson is also back, and will look to build on a strong, efficient third-year “freshman” season (thanks to redshirting and COVID-related class flexibility). CMU’s experience and explosiveness just might be enough to make Oklahoma State sweat a bit more than they’d like in this one, and I think they’ll cover the fairly wide spread, as well as score enough on the less-experienced Cowboys defense to push the total over.
Prediction: Central Michigan to cover +22.5, o59.5
Central Michigan Vs. Oklahoma State Key Matchups
Oklahoma State front seven vs Lew Nichols III
As I mentioned above, Central Michigan’s offense will hinge more than anybody else on Lew Nichols III, a fourth-year sophomore (again, wacky COVID concessions) who is coming off of a fantastic season, and will be running behind a fairly experienced interior offensive line, comprised of two juniors and a senior. Their level of experience will be met by quite the opposite on the Oklahoma State side, whose defense will be replacing a number of strong starters from last year. The Cowboys new-look front seven will be anchored by preseason all-conference DE Collin Oliver, who racked up double-digit sacks last year en route to being unanimously named the conference’s defensive freshman of the year. The high-end talent on both sides is undeniable but will the Cowboys’ inexperience give Nichols a big enough edge to run his Chippewas into this game?
Daniel Richardson vs Pressure
Richardson’s first year as Central’s starter was a strong one by essentially all accounts- he completed 60.6 of his passes, en route to the 5th-best QB grade in the MAC, as per PFF. However, when pressured, his completion rate fell down to 45.7%, and he was graded as the very worst MAC qb. Of his 5 interceptions, 4 were in pressured snaps, and his turnover-worthy play rate more than tripled in these situations. This is another test for Oklahoma State’s young defense- last year’s group led the nation in sacks, and would have provided an immense challenge for a pressure-sensitive QB like Richardson. Will this year’s team pick up where that one left off, or will they take some time to settle in, and let Richardson stay comfortable?
Oklahoma State vs. Haunting memories
This is a bit of a silly one, but I’m sure it’ll be on the minds of players and coaches on both sides- last time Central came down to Boone Pickens Stadium, they were awarded an untimed snap after a bad intentional grounding call on OKST on fourth down. Of course, CMU, led by QB Cooper Rush, made the most of that extra play, which precipitated an outrageous Hail Mary/Hook and Ladder combo and won them the game. Sure, this game is likely to be a blowout. But if it’s close near the end, don’t be surprised if there are some uneasy jitters on the Oklahoma State side.