|Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press|
|Oklahoma State's young quarterback -- J.W. Walsh -- vies to be the next great Big 12 passer.|
No Brandon Weeden, no Justin Blackmon, no problem? Even with three quarterbacks shuffling in and out of the lineup because of injury, Oklahoma State put up passing numbers that were almost identical to 2011 without the obvious star power. Head coach Mike Gundy is a man with a great offense, but he will need his top senior defenders to deliver takeaways (posted a plus-33 turnover margin as the team went 23-3 in 2010-11, but finished dead even last season) for Oklahoma State to return to a BCS bowl. The offense leads the way on the field and in the draft of late, but that should tip toward the other side of the ball next May.
Draft 365: Top NFL players from Oklahoma StateTake a look at the top former OSU players that are currently in the NFL.
Top senior prospects
CB Justin Gilbert: A great athlete, Gilbert is looking for a bounce-back campaign, as he didn't intercept a pass in 2012 after posting five picks as a sophomore. Scheme rarely asks Gilbert to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, but he has the size to do so. He is a terrific kick returner, with five scores and an impressive 26.5 yards per return average. Gilbert should be capable of contributing immediately on special teams, but will need time to refine his press technique.
DT Calvin Barnett: Barnett provided the Cowboys with an immediate jolt after transferring in from junior college, leading the team with eight tackles for loss. He must show greater consistency play-to-play and game-to-game but has the size and power to dominate games. He originally signed with Arkansas.
RB Jeremy Smith: Smith ran for 371 yards and eight touchdowns on 70 carries as the nominal No. 2 to workhorse Joseph Randle (a fifth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2013 NFL Draft). Smith should put up good numbers given his recent history, but he must show some special trait to elevate himself as more than the product of a great system.
S Shamiel Gary: Gary started for two seasons at Wyoming before transferring to Oklahoma State, so he has a wealth of experience to call upon. He had 59 solo tackles and was solid on the back end in his first year in the Big 12, but he had just one tackle for loss. Accounted for two interceptions and one forced fumble, so creating more impact plays will be key.
WR Josh Stewart: An outstanding slot receiver, Stewart keeps the chains moving but is capable of delivering big gains after the catch. He broke off a 64-yard punt return last season and will get more chances on special teams this season. How close he measures out to his listed height of 5-foot-10 will certainly be of interest to scouts.
QB J.W. Walsh: Walsh threw for 1,564 yards and 13 touchdowns against three interceptions while completing 66.9 percent of his passes and went 3-0 as a starter. Mobility (5.8 yards per carry and seven scores as a redshirt freshman) could give him the edge over senior Clint Chelf in the battle to be the man this season. Skill set and system should meld perfectly for Walsh, making him a strong candidate to emerge as the next great Big 12 quarterback.
OT Devin Davis: Davis started two games as a redshirt freshman and played in five others. At 6-5 and 298 pounds, he has tools that will be worth monitoring in seasons to come.
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Three must-see games of 2013
Aug. 31 vs. Mississippi State: The trench battle between Calvin Barnett and Bulldogs left guard Gabe Jackson will be one to watch, as Mississippi State looks to re-establish its ground game. The Cowboys were stout against the run in 2012, holding seven opponents under four yards per carry.
Nov. 2 at Texas Tech: After a junior season he described as just average, Justin Gilbert can show he is back to form by again putting the clamps on under-the-radar Red Raiders receiver Eric Ward. Gilbert broke up two passes last season as the Cowboys took their fourth straight win in the series.
Dec. 7 vs. Oklahoma: Bedlam could end up as the de facto Big 12 championship game. Sooners defensive back Aaron Colvin has played corner and safety, and should be up to the task of covering Josh Stewart in the slot. Stewart had 11 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown last season, but the Cowboys came up on the wrong end of the in-state rivalry, losing 51-48 in overtime.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.