Oklahoma State Football: 7 Reasons Cowboys Will Be Big 12 Front-Runners in 2013

Ricky FrechCorrespondent IJune 14, 2016

Oklahoma State Football: 7 Reasons Cowboys Will Be Big 12 Front-Runners in 2013

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    The Oklahoma State Cowboys weren't able to defend their Big 12 title in 2012, but 2013 is looking like the team's chance to reinsert itself back to the top of the conference.

    Obviously, the Big 12 is a very deep conference that sent nine of its 10 teams to bowl games in 2012.

    The Cowboys are going to have to overcome the tough teams of the conference, as well as some key offseason changes.

    Oklahoma State may be without stud running back Joseph Randle and offensive coordinator Todd Monken. However, there are plenty of other factors that has them looking like possible front-runners next year.

Relatively Easy Schedule

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    For reference, here's the Oklahoma State 2013 schedule.

    As you can see, the Cowboys get to play TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at Boone Pickens Stadium.

    That's three of the most dangerous Big 12 games all at home.

    In fact, their only really tough conference away game of the year is going to be against Texas.

    Sure, Texas Tech and West Virginia could give them some trouble, but the Pokes should be favored in those games.

    Games aren't won on paper. That said, you have to like the Cowboys' chances given the relative ease of their schedule.

Justin Gilbert

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    Justin Gilbert may have struggled in coverage during the 2012 season, but he was still his explosive self on kickoff returns.

    As noted by Gina Mizell of NewsOK.com, Gilbert has a good chance of breaking Perrish Cox's many return records in 2013.

    If he can get back to his 2011 ball-hawking ways on defense, Gilbert could quickly shoot up NFL draft boards and be a major factor in the Cowboys' run to another conference title.

Stacked Wide Receiver Corps

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    Let's take a look at the list of talent Oklahoma State has stocked up at the wide receiver position.

    First, Oklahoma gets back Tracy Moore, who was well on his way to being the team's leading receiver before being hit by injuries early in 2012.

    Then, you have guys like Charlie Moore and Austin Hays, who each stepped into Tracy Moore's role as the team's outside threat at various points in the season, and had eight combined touchdowns.

    Add in Blake Jackson, the team's leading receiver in yards per catch, as well as the myriad of other options who weren't able to see the field much due to depth.

    Oh, and not to mention the three 4-star recruits the Cowboys have coming in this season (per Scout.com).

    There's one more guy. What's his name? Oh yeah...

Josh Stewart

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    Josh Stewart's statistical accomplishments were a little overshadowed due to the vast number of talented wide receivers in the Big 12.

    However, he could be the best slot receiver in the nation, and his 101 catches for 1,210 yards are numbers he could flirt with next year.

    Look for Stewart's numbers to go down ever so slightly next season, as the Cowboys' other receivers catch up in ability.

    That said, he's going to be a major player in the Big 12 and should, at the very least, make the All-Conference first team list at season's end.

Improving Defensive Depth

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    The Cowboys defense was nowhere near as effective in 2012 as it was in 2011, largely due to a lack of turnovers.

    In fact, the Cowboys were only able to force half as many turnovers this year than in 2011.

    Obviously, if Oklahoma State had been able to get 44 takeaways again, their season would've looked a little differently.

    However, turnovers are generally difficult to predict and kind of fluky, so the best thing for the Cowboys to do is to build a good defense.

    In the Big 12, where fast-paced offenses are the norm, this means building depth.

    If your team has 15-20 players who can realistically play, you've got a good shot at keeping up and giving your studs breathers.

    The Pokes are moving closer and closer to having the depth needed to compete in the conference, especially along the front seven.

    Guys like Lyndell and Tyler Johnson have shown the skills needed to be on the field, even if they don't start.

    If the Pokes can continue to have recruiting success, the team should be able to play even better defense next season.

    With a team that scores as fast as Oklahoma State, your defense is never going to look elite.

    That said, if the team continues to improve its depth and gets back to forcing turnovers, they have a chance to become one of the better defenses in the Big 12.

The Quarterbacks

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    Having three quarterbacks who could legitimately start at most programs in the country could turn into a problem, but for now, let's look at the positives.

    All three quarterbacks bring their own strength to the position and it's still hard to know which one will be starting on opening day.

    Clint Chelf doesn't have J.W. Walsh's legs or Wes Lunt's arm, but he has shown the leadership and poise needed to deliver quality performances against tough competition.

    Plus, it's hard to argue with the numbers he put up once he did take over starting duties late in the season.

    As mentioned, Lunt likely has the best arm out of the three, however, he also broke down on the road against Arizona and Kansas State. He just didn't look ready to be the quarterback at a major university.

    With a year under his belt, he could be ready mentally to use his great physical skills and take the starting job back from Chelf. 

    We'll just have to wait and see.

    The wild card in all of this is J.W. Walsh, who had the best game of the season against Texas.

    That said, his amazing rushing ability is probably best used in red zone packages, where he can be Oklahoma State's version of Blake Bell.

    Regardless of who starts, any program would be jealous of the Cowboys' depth at the most important position in football.

Mike Gundy

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    Record wise, 2012 was the worst season for the Cowboys since 2008.

    Most people would view that sentence as a negative one, but considering the team went 8-5 amid so many injuries and losses from the previous year, we mean it as a positive.

    Head coach Mike Gundy has turned this program into one of the best and most consistent in the Big 12, and has them contending amongst the best in the nation year-in and year-out.

    That's not going to change in 2013.

    Gundy might very well be the best coach in the Big 12 right now.

    He can recruit with the best of them and does an even better job of grooming those recruits, making stars out of low-rated recruits like Justin Blackmon and Kendall Hunter (per Scout.com).

    He's also one of the best offensive minds in the country and connects with his players well, making them play even harder.

    Simply said, as long as Mike Gundy is the head coach, this program should be viewed as a contender in the Big 12.