Jan. 10, 2013
There is an adage in football - if you have two starting quarterbacks, that means you have none. So what does it mean if you have three starting quarterbacks?
Oklahoma State authored its own answer to that question in 2012, as injuries forced coach Mike Gundy into starting three different quarterbacks and all three delivered Big 12 conference victories. In fact, the trio of Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh remarkably combined to quarterback the Cowboys to a top-10 national finish in scoring offense (third), total offense (fourth) and passing offense (seventh).
The productive play of OSU's quarterbacks during an injury-ravaged season at the most important position in all of sports is at the core of why the Cowboys were able to compile a solid 8-5 record that included a 5-4 record in Big 12 play during a year that provided enough adversity to bury many teams. And this was not against a weak or watered-down Big 12 - the conference placed a staggering nine of its 10 teams in bowl games.
There is little question that the quarterback position was the central storyline of the 2012 Oklahoma State football season. It played out like this:
While the productivity of the quarterbacks amid unusual circumstances was the central storyline of the season, it certainly was not the only one.
On the offensive side of the ball, junior running back Joseph Randle earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and was a workhorse for the Cowboys all season. While the quarterback position was a revolving door, Randle was a rock that kept the OSU offensive machine going regardless of who was at quarterback.
He carried the ball 274 times for 1,417 yards with 14 touchdowns and added 28 catches for 224 yards. He performed his best when his best was needed most, racking up 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Texas and 113 rushing yards and four touchdowns at Oklahoma.
Randle and sophomore receiver Josh Stewart were Oklahoma State's two most consistently productive offensive weapons, with Stewart contributing 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns, plus eight carries for 120 yards and a score. Stewart also had a 64-yard punt return in the first quarter of the bowl game that set up an OSU touchdown at a point where the game was still in doubt. Stewart's 101 catches for 1,210 yards in 2012 made him the third-most productive sophomore receiver in school history, trailing only Justin Blackmon - who had the most productive sophomore season in NCAA history on his way to winning the first of his two Biletnikoff Awards as America's top receiver - and Dez Bryant, who was a Biletnikoff Award finalist his sophomore year.
Randle and Stewart were the two players most opposing defenses keyed on during the season, but the truth is that Oklahoma State's offensive balance was perhaps its biggest strength. The Cowboys led the nation with a staggering 20 different players scoring touchdowns in 2012. A school-record five different players logged 100-yard receiving games and Chelf, Lunt and Walsh became the first trio in Big 12 history to pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.
The theme of balance spread throughout the roster, as OSU had 20 different players make their first career start in 2012, the sixth-highest total in the country.
One area that was not balanced was the kicking game, where Quinn Sharp monopolized the action. He handled the kickoff duties, the placements and the punting chores and was superb in all areas, becoming the first three-time All-American in school history after the American Football Coaches Association named him first-team All-America kicker.
Sharp led all kickers nationally with 2.15 field goals per game and ranked second among all NCAA players - and first among kickers - with 12.00 points scored per game. Though he did not punt enough times to qualify for the NCAA individual statistical rankings (his 46.3 yards-per-punt average would have been good for fourth nationally), Sharp was the driving force behind OSU leading the Big 12 and ranking third nationally in net punting. For the second straight year, he was honored as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
Perhaps the area where Oklahoma State improved the most from 2011 to 2012 was on the interior of the defensive line, where Calvin Barnett made his presence felt from the beginning. Barnett wasn't spectacular on the stat sheet (30 tackles, eight tackles for loss and one sack), but he was a consistent menace in opposing teams' backfields by disrupting the timing of running plays and forcing quarterbacks out of the pocket. For his efforts, Barnett was voted as the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year by the league's coaches.
He and linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey were the most consistent players on a Cowboy defense that shut down two of the nation's most potent offenses in Texas Tech and West Virginia and also held bowl-bound teams from Louisiana, Iowa State, TCU and Purdue below their normal production in terms of both points and yards.