After six weeks of the 2016 season, we’ve learned quite a bit. For starters, 2016 is a drama queen of a year. Five of the Cowboys’ six games so far this season could be categorized as stressful. Okay, maybe Texas wasn’t THAT stressful, but can you honestly tell me you didn’t tense up a bit when D’Onta Foreman broke that 62-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter? I did. And the fact that a game in which Oklahoma State held a double-digit lead for the entire second half felt as uneasy as it did is proof that 2016 has us all a little rattled.
So maybe we all needed a bye week just as badly as the team did. A week off is good medicine. It’s a good time to take a step back and realize this team is still 4-2, not that far from being 6-0 instead, and could still factor into the Big 12 title race. It’s also a time to stock up on the fortitude, because we could be in for a wild ride the rest of the way. The Pokes are less than a week away from the surest win remaining on the schedule, and that’s a Kansas team that’s starting to look like its tired of being a doormat. Oklahoma State has had close calls in Lawrence before, and the Jayhawks really should have beaten TCU two weeks ago. After Kansas, its a gauntlet of games the Cowboys appear talented enough to win but inconsistent enough to lose. Should be a fun ride, Cowboys.
Before we get back to sweating out every third and 12 for another six (hopefully seven) games, let’s take a look back at the first half of the season and answer the three questions we’ve been looking at week to week so far:
What did we know about this team coming into this season?
What have we learned about this team so far this season?
What do we still not know about this team at this point in the season?
What We Knew
This team is far from perfect. There was a fair amount of optimism entering 2016, and for good reason. Mason Rudolph was returning after his first full season at the helm, there appeared to be depth and talent on the defensive line, and OSU had a stable of wide receivers that would make just about any college coach jealous. But there was also a fair amount of concern. We all watched the end of the 2015 season, so we knew coming in that there were question marks. We knew there were areas that would likely be weaknesses and, largely, those concerns have proven valid. The secondary has struggled mightily and, outside of Baylor, arguably has not yet faced its most difficult challenges. The offensive line is improving, but its still an inconsistent unit that struggles at times. Rudolph has sometimes struggled with checking out of plays and has continued his baffling bout with fumbling the football. But its not all bad. Far from it, in fact. The expected strengths of this team have been solid and there have even been a few positive developments along the way.
What We Learned
One of those developments is that the Cowboys are just fine at defensive end, not just in the future but now. It was difficult not to worry about the position after the departure of the immensely talented Emmanuel Ogbah, the criminally underrated Jimmy Bean, and often overlooked Trace Clark. The trio was ridiculously productive and, even though we knew there was talent waiting in the wings, the concern was that the shoes were just too big to fill for the young guys remaining. There was certainly excitement about the futures of Jerrell Owens and Jordan Brailford, but many assumed OSU was a year away from having dominant defensive ends again. So far in 2016, however, the group of defensive ends have exceeded expectations. What has been most impressive is that they’ve performed so well with Brailford missing half the season so far. The depth has been a really pleasant surprise as Cole Walterscheid and Tralund Webber, in particular, have stepped in and played some great football and are currently first and second on the team in tackles for loss. There are no seniors in this group and only one junior (Webber), and they all appear ahead of schedule.
What We Still Don’t Know
Which is the real 2016 Oklahoma State? Is it the team we saw against Central Michigan who, regardless of the inexcusable mistake by the referees, played a subpar game against subpar competition? Is it the team that completely controlled a game on the road against Baylor? Is it the team that somehow managed to lose that game anyway? Is it the team that shut down a potent Texas offense down the stretch on their way to an 18-point win? Is it the team that was manhandled by Iowa State through most of three quarters? Or is it the team that erased a 17-point deficit in the blink of an eye? The scariest answer for Oklahoma State fans might simply be: yes. There have been many times this season when its felt like this team was finally establishing its identity, but I’m not sure it truly has yet. Flashes of brilliance have alternated with maddening mistakes. This team seems set on not doing anything the easy way, but more often than not it finds a way to get it done. And maybe that IS their identity. Maybe this team is all of the above. Maybe these Cowboys are like a 2013 Russell Westbrook and we’re just going to have to take the bad with the good because in the end there’s going to be a lot more good and it could all be building to something special. Only time will tell, but I can promise you this Cowboy fans, they’ll have us all on the edge of our seats every step of the way.