- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Oklahoma State was one win away from its second Big 12 championship in three seasons. Yet the Cowboys ended the year with back-to-back losses that cast a disappointing shadow over their season. The preseason Big 12 favorite finished 10-3 with losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri but had to clear some hurdles to win double-digit games for the fourth time in five seasons.
It seems like OSU’s offense took a clear step backward during Mike Yurcich’s first season as offensive coordinator. Yet the Cowboys finished among the top 3 in the Big 12 in most categories, including points per game (39.1), yards per game (448.8) and yards per play (5.9). But their struggles in key moments, like the road loss at West Virginia and on third down (38.6 percent conversion rate, sixth in the Big 12 and No. 60 among FBS teams), drops this grade to an A-.
Quarterback Clint Chelf saved the offense with his performance in the second half of the season, although he experienced some ups and downs of his own at various times. OSU’s receivers were among the deepest in the Big 12 with Charlie Moore, Jhajuan Seales, Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart each looking like top targets at different points in 2013 making the receiving corps the strongest group on the offensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys running game was the main area where the Pokes took a clear step backward, rushing for 171.9 yards per game and losing the balance their offenses had become known for during recent years. Inconsistency at running back and along the offensive line played a major role in those problems.
For the first time in recent years the Cowboys defense was the foundation of their success. The Cowboys finished atop the Big 12 in several defensive categories including points per game (21.9, No. 19 among FBS teams), third down conversion rate (31.4 percent, No. 7 among FBS teams) and passing yards per attempt (5.8, No. 10 among FBS teams).
Veteran leadership from linebacker Caleb Lavey, defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and safety Daytawion Lowe made life easier for Glenn Spencer during his first season as defensive coordinator. Barnett was the anchor of a quality defensive line, Lavey joined Shaun Lewis to create a playmaking duo at linebacker and Lowe joined elite cornerback Justin Gilbert as anchors in the secondary.
OSU’s defense had its share of struggles, particularly late in the season, but it was one of the Big 12’s best units from beginning to end.
Special teams: D+
OSU’s special teams cost them a game against West Virginia and didn't help the cause in the team's Bedlam loss. Overall, the special teams unit was below average for the majority of the season. The Cowboys finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in field goal percentage (61.1 percent) and net punting (34.3 net yards per punt). Only the dynamic punt return skills of Stewart and the sheer speed of Gilbert on kick returns kept this grade from being an F.
Some people will look at this team and say it underachieved while others could look at it and say it overachieved. Problems along the offensive line handcuffed the offense for a good portion of the year and Chelf spending a portion of the year on the sidelines didn’t help. But the Cowboys still found a way to win 10 games and were one drive from winning another Big 12 title.