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Could OSU be the top Big 12 defense in '15?

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The Cowboys return a talented group of veterans and youngsters on defense.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State defense suffered its fair share of growing pains during the 2014 season, but one thing was obvious, it was a very talented group. After a slew of injuries, everything finally seemed to click in the bowl win over Washington allowing essentially only 15 points (one of UW's TD's was a kick return) to an offense that put up 30 PPG last season. OSU also held a pretty powerful Washington rushing attack, averaged 188 per,  to only 101 yards on the ground, although the argument can be made that OSU got up big early forcing UW to throw which is a valid point.

However OSU brings back 8 of the top 10 tacklers from last season, and should have a ferociously good secondary in '15 to pair with Big 12 sack leader Emmanuel Ogbah. A secondary with possibly the best cover corner in the conference, Kevin Peterson, the ever-improving Ramon Richards, and both Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers back and another year more experienced at safety. The wildcard will be getting Ashton Lampkin back healthy. Lampkin, who had 2 INT's and a defensive TD in just 4 games last season, could give OSU the best secondary in the conference and frankly one of the top in the country. Peterson, Richards, and Lampkin with Sterns and Flowers over the top is a scary proposition for opposing offenses, one that is needed with the air raid being all over the Big 12. Having a veteran group in the secondary should also lead to an uptick in turnovers after averaging just 1 per game in '14. That expected uptick, something Gundy said is crucial recently at Big 12 Media Days, will be key in this defense turning the corner. The secondary being potentially dominant will give guys like Ogbah more time to get to the QB as they will be having to go through more progressions thus forcing them to hold the ball longer. If healthy, its plausible Ogbah could get up to around 15 sacks, up 4 from last season. Ryan Simmons, entering what feels like his 34th year in Stillwater, and Seth Jacobs will anchor an experienced linebacking corps and should provide a lot of leadership.

The conference's top defense, TCU, loses a ton of production, as does the 2nd best Big 12 defense last season, Kansas State. TCU was ranked 18th in total defense last season according to ncaa.com but they lose the quarterback of the defense, Paul Dawson, as well as 4 others that played significant roles in '14. In all, TCU loses players that accounted for 42% of their INT's, 41% of their tackles for loss, 28% of their sacks, and 233 solo tackles. Not exactly an easy void to fill. While, TCU is sure to still be a very talented defense, a step back is realistically expected after losing all that production and leadership. Kansas State also loses 5 of their top 10 tacklers from last season, and with an offense that lost Lockett and Waters they will be on the field much more than last season putting a lot of pressure on a young defense, similar to what happened in Stillwater last year. Baylor is worth noting because they will likely be in the running next season for the top defense in the conference as they return almost everyone except Bryce Hager, although he was a 3-year starter and their leading tackler.

OSU went through plenty of growing pains last season, but those growing pains should pay dividends this upcoming season. Many young guys got valuable experience, with a year under their belts and several veterans like Simmons and Ogbah back OSU will be a dangerous defense in 2015. Add to that, an improved offense under Rudolph will allow them to actually catch their breathes, something they couldn't do last year with Garman throwing a pick every 12 plays and going 3 and out every drive he didn't throw a pick on. Expect them to be a top 3 defense in the conference, at the very least, and barring any major injuries and production in the right spots its not hard to envision a 2015 season in which they are best defense in the conference. One thing is certain, expectations are high for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball in 2015.