We're just over a month out from the Heart of Dallas Bowl when the Oklahoma State Cowboys will take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
After twelve games, this season has seen its share of up-and-downs. The Pokes have been at the bottom, towards the top, and everywhere in between in the Big 12 standings, and each week seemed to bring more questions than answers when you glanced at the depth chart and the overall team's performance.
Now there's only one game that even matters, but let's take a look back at this season so far and grade them out.
A revolving door that seemed to speed up instead of slow down. A lot was made of the quarterbacks in the spring before the season even began, and even more will be talked about when those practices roll around again in a few months. Wes Lunt showed the (very) raw talent that we had heard so much about, J.W. Walsh amazed us all by not only playing incredibly efficient, but finishing a game on a broken leg, and Clint Chelf won over the hearts of the fan base before stumbling to the finish line with losses to both Oklahoma and lowly Baylor. This group passed for over 1,000 yards each, and that's something to be proud of if you're Todd Monken, their offensive coordinator. Now, the question remains as to who starts the bowl game, and ultimately who the front-runner is going into the spring.
Running Backs and Receivers: A
The skill guys were on their game this year. The emergence of Josh Stewart as the quarterback's go-to was fun to watch, while Joseph Randle continued his dominance on the ground. Outside of that, Mike Gundy and Monken got to build for the future by getting young receivers experience because of injuries to Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson. Jeremy Smith was a bit M.I.A. in the middle of the season because of a foot injury he suffered against Texas in September, and because of that, Randle proved that he's one of the most durable backs in the country by carrying the load week in and week out. If I'm Monken and Gundy, I'm doing everything I can to keep Randle around, and get Moore healed up after the bowl game. Those two guys, along with Stewart and Smith, are the keys to success in 2013.
Offensive Line: A
Coach Joe Wickline was up to his usual business this season as he pieced together a couple of guys to block and turned them into one of the best units in the conference. They were the reason Oklahoma State had three 1,000 yard passers, a 1,000 yard receiver, and a 1,000 yard rusher. I don't know many units better than the ones Wickline rolls out, with the only unusual part of it being the phasing out of super-senior Jonathan Rush. Gundy said Rush was banged up after playing five years at Oklahoma State, and with this being his sixth, he was eventually put on a rotational system to cut his time down. Outside of that, another great year as expected.
Front Seven: B
The defensive tackles were far and away the best part of this unit. Calvin Barnett and James Castleman were so dominant in the middle that opposing team's were abandoning the run by halftime. The defensive ends had a decently strong year, and were definitely an area of development as the year went on. Linebackers had glimpses of greatness, as Alex Elkins had another strong year for most of the season. One area of worry is those backers in coverage, as they seemed lost at times. Even with that, a unit with Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey's leadership is likely going to be a good one, so I never really worried about this unit this season, nor will I next season until I have a reason to.
Easily the worst-performing unit on the team this year. Too many times games were decided by the secondary's inability to get a stop (Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor to name a few), yet they were great in other games (Texas Tech, TCU, West Virginia). It was obvious that D-coordinator Bill Young was up to his usual tricks, but for some reason they didn't fall the way they usually do. Justin Gilbert was probably the biggest disappointment. After being one of the most dominant corners in the nation a year ago, Gilbert disappeared off the face of the earth. His counter-part Brodrick Brown turned in a good, not great, season, but was always someone the team could count on. Safety Daytawion Lowe played well most of the season, but Shamiel Gary couldn't keep up in coverage. When half of the secondary is under-performing, it's usually not going to end well, and that was the story this year. If they can figure out a way to bottle up whatever they did against Texas Tech and West Virginia for the bowl game, it could get ugly in Dallas. Then again, if they play like they did in Waco, it could be a long day.
Special Teams: A
Coming into the year, my approach was to have Quinn Sharp blast it out of the back of the end zone every time the Pokes kicked off. Gundy knew everyone was thinking that, so he threw in some trickery with pooch kicks and onsides. It worked here and there, most notably against West Virginia, yet other times it didn't work at all, like at Kansas State. Kickoffs are an area that can turn the tide of the game at a split-second, and when Gundy wanted to eliminate them, he did. When he wanted to play with fire, it sometimes resulted in getting burned. Outside of that, Sharp was solid on punts and field goals, and was arguably one of the best in the country. It'll be a huge hit when he leaves Stillwater after the bowl game, but Oklahoma State's long legacy of great kickers should be helpful when they look for the next man up.
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