STILLWATER — Oklahoma State closed its 2012 season in convincing fashion, throttling Purdue 58-14 in the Heart of Dallas bowl to finish with an 8-5 record.
Before the bowl game, coach Mike Gundy called the journey a roller coaster. And in a lot of ways, it was.
The Cowboys sustained several key injuries, particularly at quarterback, where three different players started and won Big 12 games. They lost two conference games in the final minute of regulation or overtime. They tumbled from BCS aspirations to the bowl that picks eighth in the Big 12 pecking order in an eight-day span.
Here's a look back at the 2012 season:
Offensive MVP: Joseph Randle
For an offense that went through more than its fair share of injuries, Randle was consistently ready in the backfield. And, once again, he was consistently productive. He finished with more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns and was an All-Big 12 selection. Now, he has a decision to make about whether he will return for his senior season or enter the NFL Draft.
Defensive MVP: Calvin Barnett
His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he was the immediate force on the interior the Cowboys expected him to be before the season — and perhaps even more. The Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year tallied 30 tackles (8.5 for loss), one sack, four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup and was a key contributor for an OSU rushing defense that ranked 36th in the nation, allowing just more than 140 yards per game.
Free safety Daytawion Lowe, who led the team with 75 tackles and also tallied two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery (for a touchdown) and four pass breakups, also deserves a tip of the hat.
Biggest surprise: Clint Chelf
This could, really, go to the entire quarterback position, which kept the Cowboy offense rolling despite consistent change. But who saw Chelf's improbable rise from third-teamer to bowl MVP coming? He stepped in when Wes Lunt sustained a concussion against Kansas State in early November, and went on to start the final five games and beat West Virginia, Texas Tech and Purdue. Gundy gave the junior another endorsement after the bowl game, saying Chelf will be the No. 1 quarterback when spring football begins.
Biggest disappointment: Cornerback play
Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert were touted as the Big 12's best cornerback duo entering the season — and for good reason. They combined for 10 interceptions last year and were an integral part of OSU's big-play defense. But in 2012, neither Brown nor Gilbert picked off an opposing quarterback. And they both gave up too many plays through the air, whether it was over the top in the early part of the season or by allowing a large cushion on short and intermediate routes down the stretch. OSU ranked 112th in the nation in pass defense this season, allowing nearly 286 yards per game.
Best win: Iowa State (Oct. 20)
This may seem like a curious choice, given that it came at home over the team that finished ninth in the conference standings. But heading into that contest, OSU had sandwiched a bye week with the heartbreaking — and controversial — loss to Texas in the Big 12 opener and an uninspired performance in a six-point road win at Kansas. But the Cowboys dominated the Cyclones, launching an impressive 5-1 stretch through the middle of the season where every victory was a blowout. Not to mention, J.W. Walsh played nearly the entire game with a fracture on the side of his knee. That deserves kudos.
Worst loss: At Arizona (Sept. 8)
Still hard to believe that the Cowboys bolted out to a 14-0 lead in this one, with Lunt looking like a current and future star. But the Cowboys self-destructed, turning the ball over four times and committing 15 penalties for 167 yards.
Hardest senior to replace: Quinn Sharp
This one's easy. Sharp was the do-it-all kicker — and one of the best in the nation. He was named the Big 12 co-Special Teams Player of the Year and a second-team All-American at kicker by the Walter Camp Football Foundation after nailing 28 of 34 field goals, averaging 46.3 yards per punt and booming 71 touchbacks on kickoffs. A case could be made that he was the best or most valuable Cowboy this season.
Best uniform combo: TCU
The all-black color scheme wasn't new. But the helmet logo, featuring a gray outline of Phantom Pistol Pete, was. And it was sharp and sleek and downright awesome. Cowboy fans clamoring for an orange helmet also got their wish, with the Cowboys trotting out two different versions featuring Pistol Pete and a black outline of OSU as the logos. Of the new color scheme combos, the orange-orange-white look worn on Senior Day against Texas Tech was solid.
Biggest offseason storyline: Bill Young's future
Yes, Gundy needs to hire a new offensive coordinator. Yes, there will be some sort of spring battle at quarterback. But these are things we know. We don't know if Young will return as defensive coordinator.