Midway through the season, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are 5-1 and 2-0 in Big XII play. Though the Cowboys hopes were dashed after falling to the Houston Cougars in Week Two, they have continued to battle through all the adversity they have faced thus far this season.
An analysis of every Cowboy unite, keying their strengths, weaknesses, and potential, has shown that head coach Mike Gundy and his staff have all the talent they need to compete in the national spotlight. It's just can and will they do so. Now it's time to view the Oklahoma State midseason report cards and see just how much work is needed to reinvigorate the Cowboys.
Senior quarterback Zac Robinson has played a majority of the season without his two most lethal targets. Running back Kendall Hunter has been sidelined with an ankle injury while wideout Dez Bryant has been suspended indefinitely by the NCAA, pending further notice.
That hasn't stopped Robinson and his options from coming alive after the upset lost to Case Keenum and the Cougars. After winning two nonchalant games against Rice and Grambling State, Oklahoma State hit the road to College Station. The Cowboys didn't disappoint as they battled through an offense showcase, as neither team could slow down the other, winning 36-31.
The real story, though, has been the development of the younger receivers for the Cowboys. Sophomores Hubert Anyiam and Dameron Fooks, as well as freshman Justin Blackmon, Isiah Anderson, and Tracy Moore have all begun to make plays and show Robinson that he can have faith when throwing them the ball.
Another key for the Cowboys hot start in Big XII play is senior running back Keith Toston, who took Hunter's starting spot after he went down. Toston has lived up to his history for the Cowboys, being very steady-handed and running extremely hard, breaking tackles, and moving the ball down the field.
Overall, however, the Cowboys have still struggled with consistency. Oklahoma State has managed to produce enough to win games, and Gundy has put together great strategies to give Robinson and company a chance to do so.
Entering the final stretch of the season, the Cowboys hit the road to play Baylor before returning to Stillwater for a Halloween showdown against the Texas Longhorns. Gundy must find a way to muster enough firepower, given that Bryant does not return to the lineup by then.
After a fantastic start against the Georgia Bulldogs, when the Cowboys virtually shot down the Bulldog offense after what seemed like a walk in the park down the field for a touchdown, the Cowboys defense faltered against the highly athletic offense that came with Houston.
Seniors Parrish Cox, Andre Sexton, and Patrick Lavine have played well thus far, Cox shutting down Georgia Receiver AJ Green while Lavine and Sexton effectively contained and shut down the running game. After two games when the starters played very little time, the Cowboys showed frustration and confusion against the Texas A&M Aggies.
Against Missouri, a team known for its passing game, the Cowboy secondary finally started to make some plays and gain confidence. Though the defensive line didn't provide much pressure on Missouri's quarterback, the secondary got the job done with jarring hits, interceptions, and knockdowns.
Overall, the Cowboy defense has played solid, showing a much improved talent and depth base compared to last season. They'll have to continue to improve as Texas and Oklahoma approach. To take control of the Big XII, the defense is the key to almost everything the Cowboys hope to obtain.
Special Teams: C
The Cowboy special teams thus far, Parrish Cox and Dez Bryant at the beginning of the season, were the two-headed monster that sparked fear into the hearts of their opponents.
Now, however, the country's most lethal return man stands alone on both kickoff and punt returns. Cox has yet to break one large return, but he has been capable of making just enough plays to give the Cowboy offense an advantage.
So the only defect in the special teams is the lack of Bryant and the inconsistency of field goal kicker, Dan Bailey. Quinn Sharp, however, has developed to be one of the best punters in the country.
Coaching Staff: B
Mike Gundy and his staff have had some very odd things happen to what looked to be an explosive roster at the beginning of the season.
An offense returning it's three most explosive weapons plus a solid proportion of its offensive line seemed to show that the Cowboys could be moving toward yet another high-octane year.
The defense, at the beginning of the year, was another story. Newly appointed defensive coordinator Bill Young was brought in to simplify the Cowboys defensive scheme and to build a depth chart for the future.
Throughout the losses of Bryant, Hunter, and senior linebacker Orie Lemon, both offensive and defensive staffs have had to find ways to keep the Cowboys winning.
Young did so by starting senior Donald Booker, who has improved quite dramatically in each and every game.
Gundy, however, has had to use his inexperienced receiving core and Toston, as well as senior running back Beau Johnson.
With Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Colorado, and Iowa State left on the schedule, the Cowboys road to the Big XII Championship seems relatively smooth.
However, the Cowboys can't afford to let any of these games become a speed bump. Texas and Oklahoma seem the most probable games to cause the Cowboys problems.
Should Bryant return to the lineup by the Texas game, the Cowboys could then become the most dangerous team in the Big XII. If not, Robinson and company just need to continue what they've been doing: keeping everything simple and making plays.
The remainder of this season now falls upon Robinson, Toston, and the Cowboy defense. Any hopes of making one last run at a BCS bowl game and the conference championship are on their shoulders.