STILLWATER — We've reached the halfway point of the Oklahoma State regular season, a time in college when there's often significant evaluation.
It's been a sometimes inconsistent 2012 for the Cowboys, going 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12 through their first six games in the season following a historic 2011 campaign.
And injuries, especially at quarterback, have been a dominant storyline. First, true freshman starter Wes Lunt went down with a left knee/ankle injury on Sept. 15. Then came Sunday evening's stunning news that backup-turned-starter J.W. Walsh had played through a season-ending knee injury he sustained in the first quarter of Saturday's victory over Iowa State.
Here's a midseason progress report — a midterm, if you will — for the Cowboys.
Best win: Iowa State
The Cowboys put together their most complete performance of the season against ISU, a squad that came into the game ranked 24th in the first BCS standings and the team that squashed OSU's national title hopes last season.
The defense dominated an offense it probably should have handled, allowing just 10 points and making 11 consecutive stops after the first quarter.
And Walsh was much-improved in the passing game — even without starting receivers Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson — throwing for 415 yards, the ninth-best total in school history. That performance becomes even more impressive now, given that he was playing on a knee that is hurt enough to sideline him for the remainder of the season.
Worst loss: at Arizona
With how poorly Texas' defense has played this season, it could be argued that the Cowboys should have simply won that game, controversial touchdown call or not.
But OSU self-destructed in Tucson in Week 2, committing 15 penalties for a school-record 167 yards and turning the ball over four times. Arizona has struggled since that game, going 1-3 in Pac-12 play so far. That makes the loss look worse.
Best offensive player: Joseph Randle
With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon moving onto the NFL, Randle needed to become the Cowboys' go-to offensive player this season. And he has, ranking eighth in the nation in rushing yards (127.50 per game) and scoring eight touchdowns so far.
Randle also continues to climb in OSU's record book. His 2,433 career rushing yards ranks 12th in school history, while his 34 rushing touchdowns are tied with Tatum Bell for fifth all-time at OSU.
Best defensive player: Calvin Barnett
Before the season, Mike Gundy called Barnett the junior college player most physically ready for Division I football he's coached.
And so far, we've seen why.
The big defensive tackle has16 tackles (3.5 for loss), four quarterback hurries, one pass break-up and one fumble recovery. He's also helped plug the middle for an OSU defense that ranks 36th in the nation against the run (128.83 yards allowed per game).
If Barnett also becomes a player that can consistently sack the quarterback — he doesn't have one yet this season — he will become a terror for opposing offenses.
Note: Should give a hat tip to Shaun Lewis here, as well. He's been made several big plays so far this season, leading the Cowboys in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (2.5) while also recording a forced fumble, two pass break-ups and two quarterback hurries.
Top newcomer: J.W. Walsh
Turns out we've seen Walsh for the last time this season. But overall, the redshirt freshman quarterback was solid — sometimes excellent — while filling in for Lunt for nearly four games.
Walsh currently ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency (163.78 rating) and threw for 1,467 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He was just 161 passing yards away from breaking Donovan Woods' OSU freshman record set in 2004.
The dual-threat Walsh had limitations in OSU's spread offense, and really, really struggled to throw the ball downfield against Kansas. But he led the Cowboys to a 3-1 record and is not the reason they lost to Texas.
Biggest surprise: James Castleman
Barnett's mate on the interior has also been one of the Cowboys' top defenders and young stars.
Castleman entered fall camp third on the depth chart but quickly ascended to a starting spot and has become a key contributor. He has 21 tackles (3.5 for loss), 0.5 sacks and two pass break-ups.
Biggest disappointment: Turnover production
Hard to single out one player or position group when the Cowboy defense ranks 111th in the nation in the category in which it most prides itself.
OSU has forced just six turnovers in six games, though two came Saturday against ISU. Perhaps that will kick-start a higher turnover rate for the second half of the season.
Best uniform: Black helmet, orange jersey, black pants (Texas)
This was my favorite look from 2011 when the Cowboys sported it for Bedlam, and it looked just as sharp against Texas. The black helmet is simply fabulous.