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Three Storylines: Keys to the second half of the season.

These are the three storylines that I hope ring true during a week of much-needed rest for Oklahoma State.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

It’s bye week, y’all.

I’m sure the football team needed it, but I’ve got to say, I’m kind of thankful it came this week too. It gives a chance for some much needed mental recuperation, especially as we head to the back half of this season. What’s the best thing about a bye week?

You can’t lose!

With such an emotional first six games of the season, I can only imagine that there is some mental exhaustion in the locker room. From the shocker against Central Michigan to the gut-punch against Baylor, and last week’s 24 point rally against Iowa State, this bye week came at a perfect time for OSU. Because of that, I’m looking forward to the next half of the season.

Here is what I will be watching for as the season unfolds.

The next three weeks are critical.

Oklahoma State comes out of the bye week and hits the road for two of those three weeks. I guess that is part of the problem with playing five of the first six games at home; you’re on the road a lot in the late stages of the season. That said, OSU rolls to Lawrence next Saturday, welcomes West Virginia to Stillwater for homecoming, and squares off with Kansas State in Manhattan.

Are any of those certain wins? HOT TAKE ALERT: Given the way KU nearly knocked off TCU last week, I think OSU needs to be on high alert in Lawrence. West Virginia is a solid team and Skyler Howard is playing very well. Kansas State is probably decent, but in Manhattan, they’re pretty dang good.

Oklahoma State has to protect the home field, and win games that they’re supposed to win. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? You have to win games in which you are simply the better team. On paper, for these three games, OSU is probably the better team. Win these next three, and Oklahoma State is now a respectable 7-2, ranked, and probably right in the mix for the Big 12 title. Lose one of them, and an underwhelming season is close to becoming a reality.

Where is the running game at the end of the season, and is it improving each week?

This is where I start to think about the trajectory of the Oklahoma State football program. No, it doesn’t all hinge on the running game. Quite frankly, very little of it does.

For Oklahoma State though, it is important that there is an improved running game by the end of the season. It’s important for more reasons than just being able to run the football. As this season will inevitably come to a close, our focus will begin to shift to 2017. With the potential to bring back Mason Rudolph, James Washington, most of the offensive line, and some talented new faces, expectations should be sky high.

But not if the running game isn’t noticeably better than it was at the beginning of the season. While you could argue that it is already where it needs to be, we still saw a team struggle to run the football against one of the worst rushing defenses in the country in Iowa State.

You can bring back all of that talent and experience yet still have doubts about the course of the next season if there’s not an improvement. For the sake of our sanity, and the outlook on the immediate future of OSU football, let’s hope the improvement continues.

This team needs to find an identity.

We are six weeks into the season, and it feels like we have seen six different Oklahoma State football teams, doesn’t it? From the “bombs away” offense we saw against Pitt to the pro style ground-and-pound approach against Baylor, it seems like this team is changing its’ identity every week.

Smarter football minds than I could tell you why, but it doesn’t seem like it’s because of a lack of personnel. No, the offensive line is not top-notch. But it also is not horrible. It has been consistently average all season, and in my opinion, is what held OSU back last season. It is better this season, yet the offense is still searching for something to hang its’ hat on.

Thinking back to the 2011 team, they would do whatever they wanted and opposing defenses had no answer. The identity of that football team was to throw it around the yard and score a lot of points. What is the identity of this football team? Get out with a win? It’s not clear at this point, and I hope that by seasons’ end, we have a better idea of who this team is and what we can expect in 2017.