STILLWATER — Oklahoma State's home finale Saturday afternoon against No. 23 Texas Tech will be a time bid farewell to some beloved Cowboys.
Like Quinn Sharp, the kicking master and perhaps OSU's most valuable player. Or Brodrick Brown, the undersized-but-tenacious cornerback who earned the nickname “Bulldog.” Or Lane Taylor, the anchor of the offensive line who is expected to make his 46th career start Saturday.
But the celebration could really say more about the OSU program's future, and is another sign of the program Mike Gundy has built in Stillwater.
The Cowboys sit at 6-3 with three regular-season games to play, and every single touchdown has been scored (or thrown) by a player expected to return next season. Of 10 individual takeaways tallied by OSU this season, eight have come from non-seniors. And seven of the Cowboys' top 10 tacklers are expected back in 2013.
“It's not like what it would have been last year,” said coach Mike Gundy, referring to the departure of stars Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. “It was like, ‘Golly, all those guys are leaving?'
“There's a group of them leaving (this year), but there's a pretty strong group coming back.”
A strong group that includes youngsters like Josh Stewart, who has emerged as the Cowboys' prime receiving target and a versatile offensive weapon. Or former youngsters who are growing into veteran leaders like safety Daytawion Lowe, receiver Charlie Moore and linebacker Shaun Lewis. Even a three-man carousel with inexperienced quarterbacks has, for the most part, produced wildly positive results.
Adding to that is the fortunate news OSU has received in recent weeks that fullback Kye Staley has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and injured receiver Tracy Moore is on track for a medical redshirt.
Of course, it's not a guarantee that all of these players expected to return will make an impact in 2013 and beyond. Running back Joseph Randle, one of the nation's premier running backs, could declare for the NFL Draft. A quarterback — or even two — could transfer after playing well in their stint as the starter. Injuries happen, as the Cowboys have learned so well this season.
But senior defensive end Cooper Bassett is satisfied with what he's leaving behind as he prepares to take the field at Boone Pickens Stadium for the final time.
“OSU's going to win multiple Big 12 championships and hopefully a national championship here pretty soon, because we're very close,” he said. “This program's been built up, and it's not a flash in the pan. With the coaching staff we have and the players we continually bring in and the support we get week in and week out…it's here to stay.
“I can't be happier to know that I'm leaving this place and it's going to continue to get bigger and better, and I get to come back and watch and enjoy and remember when.”
2012 OSU SENIOR CLASS
Isaiah Anderson, WR
A speedster whose final season has been hampered by a finger injury.
Cooper Bassett, DL
A versatile lineman who has become a starter and fan favorite.
Brodrick Brown, CB
An All-Big 12 performer a year ago but still looking for his first interception of 2012.
DeJuan Davis, DL
A special teams contributor who has worked on both lines during his career.
Alex Elkins, LB
His journey from an open junior college tryout to starter for the Cowboys is a remarkable story.
Evan Epstein, C
A transfer from Air Force who became the starting center in his final season.
Tyler Fields, LB
A special teams contributor and key member of scout team.
Wes Harlan, H
Has never bobbled a snap during his Cowboy career.
Maurice Hayes, DL
A 300-pound interior lineman who has seen game action during his career.
Justin Horton, TE
A contributor on offense whose final season was cut short due to an injury sustained in the Iowa State game.
Jarid King, DL
A scout team member who has seen game action during career.
Andrae May, CB
Worked his way back from an ACL injury sustained during spring practice.
Nigel Nicholas, DE
Moved from tackle to his natural position of end this season and became a part-time starter.
David Paulsen, FB
Mostly a special teams contributor, but has played on offense during career.
Ryan Robinson, DE
A starter at end and arguably one of the most underrated Cowboys.
Jonathan Rush, OL
Returned for his sixth season as a starter at left guard.
Quinn Sharp, K/P
The reigning Big 12 Special Teams player of the year and perhaps the most valuable Cowboy.
Lane Taylor, OL
A staple on the offensive line and leads the team with 45 career starts.