If success was somehow awarded in gut punches, Oklahoma State would be the undisputed king of college football and quarterback Clint Chelf would be the Heisman Trophy winner.
For having 10 wins, perhaps no team lost more heartbreakers in 2013 than the Cowboys. The Pokes were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl when Oklahoma connected on a game-winning touchdown in the Bedlam rivalry to end the season. An end-of-game fumble returned for a touchdown resulted in the Sooners winning 33-24, but the damage was done.
Oklahoma would go to the Sugar Bowl with an at-large berth, stunning Alabama 45-31; Oklahoma State watched its conference title hopes slip away.
The Cowboys also dropped a head-scratcher of a game to West Virginia, 30-21, in September. A mixture of turnovers and special teams blunders for Oklahoma State contributed to the loss, and the Mountaineers (4-8) won just one game the rest of the season.
Similarly, a series of mistakes cost the Pokes in a 41-31 loss to Missouri on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl.
Chelf threw two picks and lost a fumble with under a minute remaining, which was returned 73 yards by Mizzou's Shane Ray for the game-sealing touchdown. Chelf played well in the second half of the regular season, highlighted by the 49-17 win over Baylor in November, but he's had his share of turnover issues as well.
Against the Tigers, one Chelf interception came on an ill-advised throw on the run when he could have scrambled for positive yards. He also missed a few wide open receivers, including Josh Stewart on a fake bubble screen.
Though the Cowboys finished with 548 yards, things didn't really pick up until the fourth quarter. That's when Chelf and running back Desmond Roland found success in the ground game. As has been the case in the past couple of months, when OSU's offense was able to run the ball, the rest of the offense opened up and the points followed.
For the majority of the game, though, the Pokes were stagnant on offense. Roland had a hard time getting going—head coach Mike Gundy briefly switched to Jeremy Smith and Rennie Childs to try to find a spark—and Chelf couldn't find open receivers.
Then, there was 34-yard field goal that kicker Ben Grogan missed as the kick bounced squarely off the top of the right goal post. Though the placement of the ball is actually quite impressive in retrospect and probably could never be duplicated on another try, the fact remains it counted for nothing.
For what it's worth, Oklahoma State committed a delay of game penalty which moved the attempt to 34 yards from 29.
The Cowboys, who rank tied for 90th in the country in penalties per game, also racked up 100 penalties yards on 10 infractions. Fifteen of those yards came on a defensive pass interference call that wiped out a pick-six by Tyler Patmon for the Pokes.
"I felt as if both guys were competing for the ball,” head coach Mike Gundy said via The Oklahoman. “I didn't really see the pass interference.”
It's hard to point to just a few things that decided the game, but the combination of Grogan's missed field goal, the negated pick-six and Chelf's fumble inside the Mizzou 30-yard line are three events that really hurt the Cowboys.
The miscues certainly weren't limited to Oklahoma State, however. The Tigers had three turnovers of their own. It wasn't a particularly clean game. But, in that vein, the Cowboys have been one of the best teams in college football in forcing turnovers, ranking fourth in turnover margin.
Known for offense and big plays, Oklahoma State actually relied on its defense in 2013. First-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has coached up one of the best defensive groups in Stillwater, if not the best, in recent memory. The Pokes were especially good at two things: swarming to the ball and taking it away.
Highlighted by cornerback and Thorpe finalist Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State's defense, especially its secondary, could play with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Friday night, Oklahoma State's defense played well enough to win despite giving up 34 points. It's definitely odd that, in a year when Oklahoma State's defense consistently played at an elite level, its offense didn't.
It's that backwards narrative which could make 2013, a season of what-ifs, even more gut-wrenching for Oklahoma State.