After the best season in Oklahoma State football history, the Cowboy football team has its most important year in its history ahead of it in 2012.
In a new Big 12, Oklahoma State will need to prove that it is among the nation's best by continuing to play at high level even after losing all the talent it did last season. The team's best players will need to step up and carry the team through an even-tougher Big 12.
Who are those best players? Here they are, the five best Cowboys for 2012.
After having a fantastic year during his sophomore season, Joseph Randle might have an even better year in 2012.
Randle rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, one of the best scoring seasons for a running back in OSU history. After losing the starting quarterback and most of the starting receiving core, an emphasis will be placed on running the ball.
That'll be good for Randle, a strong, physical back with good speed.
This junior linebacker accounted for 60 total tackles and two interceptions last season. Shaun Lewis has been a spark plug for this defense for the past two seasons.
According to The Oklahoman, Mike Gundy believes that this current group of OSU linebackers is the best he's ever had in Stillwater. That impressive group will be led by Lewis, the most athletic and talented of them all.
Jeremy Smith may be a backup, but don't let that fool you. He can play ball.
Smith rushed for 646 yards and nine touchdowns last season as the backup to the previously mentioned Joseph Randle. Mind you, he did that in less than a full season of play.
An added emphasis on the running game will benefit Smith as well, with more carries to go around. You can count on him topping his stats from last season, and possibly even nearing the 1,000 yard mark.
This is more of a prediction. Clint Chelf has very little playing experience, but he's had two years to learn the offense under Brandon Weeden and has looked good in limited time.
Chelf has a head start on J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt, the men he'll be fighting for the starting job. He'll win the battle over them, primarily based on a better knowledge of the offense. He'll also be successful in his first season as a starter.
Now that Michael Harrison has permanently departed the Cowboy program, Isaiah Anderson appears to be the guy to take over Justin Blackmon's role as the leading outside receiver.
Anderson caught 28 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns last season. He'll be a primary target in the offense this season, and he'll step up and make the transition to that role.
He's not as big or strong as Blackmon, but he isn't much slower. His hands and solid all-around play will make him the best target on the team next season.