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When Oklahoma State fans think back on 2013, they might remember it as the “What Might Have Been” season.
The Cowboys would have won the Big 12 if they had simply beaten what turned out to be a dreadful West Virginia team or come up with a stop against an Oklahoma team that couldn’t find a passing game until the final drive.
Instead, Oklahoma State finished in a second-place tie in the conference and allowed rival Oklahoma to seize the at-large BCS bowl slot.
Returning to the same position could be a challenge in 2014.
The Cowboys had six all-conference performers a year ago, including Justin Gilbert—the league’s leader in interceptions.
All six will be gone next year, as will be all-conference offensive lineman Parker Graham, quarterback Clint Chelf, receiver Josh Stewart and a host of others.
To make matters worse, coach Mike Gundy’s team opens with a neutral-site game against defending national champ Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
If the Cowboys are to repeat their success from a year ago, continuing to win the turnover battle would help. They finished fourth in the nation in 2013 with a plus-15 turnover margin.
Of course, this year they will have to do so while breaking in a myriad of defensive starters.
One of the positives of Gundy’s indecisiveness at the quarterback position is that J.W. Walsh—the likely starter next year—has already taken several meaningful snaps.
Walsh’s athleticism makes him a threat with his arms and his legs. In six-plus games as the starter, he threw for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for three more.
Tailback Desmond Roland should provide Walsh a running back in the backfield after rushing for 811 yards and 13 TDs.
Gundy’s track record means it’s worth mentioning incoming quarterback Mason Rudolph as a possible contender.
Though Oklahoma State loses three of its top four receivers, the program never seems to lack for potential superstar replacements. This year is no different, with Jhajuan Seales apparently ready for a bigger role.
The bigger problems come with special teams and defense.
Special teams concerns might haunt Oklahoma State coaches this offseason. The unit likely cost the Cowboys the game against West Virginia, and kicker Ben Grogan made just 61 percent of his field-goal attempts.
The biggest concern, though, comes from a defensive unit that ranked toward the top of the Big 12 in several key statistics in 2013.
Can Oklahoma State reload instead of rebuilding on that side of the ball?