While Cardale Jones made a splash for Ohio State in the stretch run of the 2014 season, leading the Buckeyes to the national title, it might have slipped under the radar that Mason Rudolph was in a similar situation at the time.
Mike Gundy did not want to play Rudolph to burn a redshirt and an extra year of eligibility. However, much like the Ohio State situation, injuries forced Gundy to change this plan.
While Gundy may still wish that he got the extra year of Rudolph, the freshman quarterback impressed tremendously over the final three games of the 2014 season.
In his three games, Rudolph did not have a QB rating lower than 132.9. His lowest single-game passing output was 273 yards on 35 pass attempts. In the other two games, he had 281 and 299 yards passing, on 25 and 26 attempts.
Rudolph impressed so much that he can easily be viewed as the barometer of success for Oklahoma State this season — not just the offense, but the team.
While a Heisman contender would be a stretch for him, it is not hard to believe that Rudolph could be the biggest breakout player in the Big 12 in 2015.
Not only does Rudolph look like a quarterback; at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he has the powerful arm to back it up. We knew that information on paper prior to last season. Now, while he has recorded only three games, we know what Rudolph is capable of between the lines.
The Cactus Bowl against Washington was certainly Rudolph’s most impressive game of the season. He was not able to complete more than 55 percent of his passes before then, but he completed 17-of-26 against the Huskies. His only mistakes were a fumble on a sack and another forced interception, which are not uncommon for young quarterbacks, but generally show up much more often over the course of full games. Even on the interception, the defensive back made an extremely athletic play to pick it. Despite those two errors, Rudolph tossed for 299 yards and two scores.
Rudolph revealed the full measure of his upside in the Cactus Bowl, displaying equal amounts of tough and velocity on his deliveries. He finessed a touch pass for a score to James Washington with 16 seconds left in the first quarter. On the play, he put the ball exactly where he needed to in order to beat a roasted corner over the top. However, he also showed noticeable arm strength and accuracy, hooking up with Brandon Sheperd on a 47-yard strike. On this play, Rudolph put the ball nearly 40 yards in the air to connect on a back shoulder route. This allowed Sheperd to make an easy catch and walk into the end zone.
While Jones gets a lot more hype after winning the national championship, Rudolph was arguably just as good down the stretch in 2014. While they were not as imposing as the opponents Jones battled, the teams Rudolph faced were nothing to sneeze at, either: One could envision a much easier schedule than Baylor, Oklahoma and Washington.
All of this creates a huge buzz around Rudolph in 2015. This excitement is well earned, and don’t be one bit surprised to see Rudolph as one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation.