In preparation for the upcoming deer season, my dad and I spent the better part of Tuesday positioning trail-cams at strategic locations on a remote ranch approximately two hours from home. As has become our custom during these trips, we passed much of the time together in discussion of Oklahoma State football. As avid followers of myriad and varying Oklahoma State news sources, we were surprised at the number of areas where our "educated" opinions – steeped in the narcotic of insider information – proved very different from reality. Whether our expectations were textbook cases of confirmation bias, simple ignorance, or truly unforeseeable events mattered little to our conversation; more than anything, we enjoyed recounting the many surprises on the twisted road that has been the 2013 OSU football season. From quarterbacks to coaches, a few of my favorites are highlighted below:
- Caleb Lavey: The emergence of Caleb Lavey as an All Big 12 linebacker is probably my favorite story of the season. Going into the spring game, I would have picked Ryan Simmons, Shaun Lewis, and Jeremiah Tshimanga - in that order - as the linebackers best primed for a breakout season. For the last two seasons, I viewed Lavey as a smart player and competent run stopper better suited for the B1G than the spread-happy Big 12. Were Joey Harrington to describe him, Lavey would be "the role player who never quit, despite lacking 'star power'." As difficult as it is for me to disagree with Joey Harrington, paragon of broadcasting excellence, I have finally jumped on the Lavey bandwagon. Lavey has already surpassed his tackle totals for last season and is on pace to nearly double his tackle per game average. And in a twist I never expected, Lavey is also second on the team in interceptions (4), having caught everything thrown his way. If Lavey continues to be a tackling and interception machine, I promise to forget last year's goal-line encounter with the "Belldozer". Funny as it might have sounded last year, I am beginning to believe Lavey will get a chance to play on Sundays.
- Kickoff Coverage: Following Quinn Sharp's departure, I was convinced the 2013 kickoff coverage team would prove ruinous to the Cowboy defense by routinely allowing opponents excellent starting field position. Sharp's ability to kick the ball out of the end-zone made the 25 yard line the de facto starting field position for opposing teams and that seemed the best possible outcome. Retaining a graduate assistant as the special teams coach only compounded my fears. Yet, based exclusively on anecdotal evidence (my search for reliable statistics on average drive start was futile), Oklahoma State seems to have dramatically decreased the opponent's average starting field position resulting from kickoffs. With only one or two exceptions, kickoff coverage has been very good and (notably) resistant to "trickeration" (see Texas Tech, Texas). While it is probably true that Sharp's absence forced the GA to practice coverage more earnestly, I believe the bigger impact has been made by Kip Smith's high kicks and the upgrade in both speed and talent brought in from the most recent recruiting classes. Thankfully, the days of purloining starting defenders for kickoff coverage seem but a distant memory.
- Quarterback(s): It may seem the obvious choice, but the quarterback "situation" (to put it kindly) was also surprising to me. I was convinced going into the season that Walsh was the man for the job and that both QBs would see the field until Chelf faded into obscurity. In my opinion, Walsh had the highest ceiling of the front-runners while also providing two additional years of continuity as team leader. In his limited opportunities early, Chelf's play did little to inspire confidence while Walsh provided the missing "spark" the offense so desperately craved. Since retaking the helm, however, Chelf has won me over with his play. Chelf is not flashy and he doesn't put up gaudy statistics on a weekly basis, but his leadership and steady game management has been very effective down the stretch. Oh – and the "Walsh package" we were assured was to remain a key component of the offense? Gone. So much for the two QB system!
- Jhajuan Seales: Early reports out of practice seemed to indicate that Jhajuan Seales, Marcell Ateman, and Brandon Sheperd would be seeing quite a bit of playing time, with the true freshman Ateman garnering most of the attention. Ateman immediately impressed by starting against Mississippi State and Sheperd also flashed greatness on occasion – most notably on kickoff return. Seales, however, has become my favorite of the young receivers. His ability to catch with his hands and high-point the deep ball have been very impressive – especially against UTSA and UT. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that Seales was offered late in the recruiting process and largely flew under the recruiting radar. The new #81 appears to have a bright future ahead of him!
Glenn Spencer. West Virginia. Desmond Roland. Ben Grogan. I could probably talk about this team's surprises for the rest of the week. Which is precisely why I love college football. After OSU beats the sober Sic 'Ems on Saturday, I'll have a new set of surprises and facts to digest during deer season and then it's on to Bedlam.
Enjoy the moment OSU fans. We'll all be relegated to reading practice reports again soon enough.