The preliminary college football watch lists keep rolling out. And with each one, OSU players — defensive players — continue to gain inclusion.
Tackle Calvin Barnett on the Outland Trophy list.
Safety Daytawion Lowe on the Thorpe Award list.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert on the Hornung Award list.
Barnett, Gilbert and linebacker Shaun Lewis all on the Nagurski Trophy list.
Did anybody see the Cowboys play defense in 2012? And it wouldn't take a comedian to suggest, quite simply, no.
Yet there's four players gaining recognition for rating among the nation's best. That's more than one-third of the Cowboys defense. And representing all three levels of the defense, too.
Now for a disclaimer: these early watch lists are lengthy and often appear to be all-inclusive. Repeated revisions and cuts are coming before any ballots become relevant.
Still, for a team with perceived problems when it comes to limiting yards or points, it's more reason for increased optimism for a special season in 2013.
The offense figures to be potent again, with essentially nine starters back on that side of the ball, plus several exciting new faces hoping to force their way on the field. And you'll find some Cowboys in play when the watch lists for the Lombardi, Biletnikoff, Davey O'Brien, Doak Walker and Walter Camp awards are revealed this week.
More than anything, OSU's offense (and reputation for outrageous offensive numbers) is the reason many are projecting the Cowboys for the top of the Big 12 standings.
And yet, for the Pokes to challenge for a championship, the defense must cooperate.
In last season's 8-5 finish, OSU surrendered at least 41 points in all five setbacks. The defense regularly struggled to get off the field or make a play, losing twice — to Texas and Oklahoma — on those teams' final offensive snap.
So why the early love? And so much optimism for a defensive turnaround?
Glenn Spencer's ascension to defensive coordinator status coupled with a promise of more aggressive game planning for one.
But also a belief that OSU's defensive talent is better than revealed in 2012.
Count Spencer among the believers.
“They're mine and I love them to death,” Spencer said recently. “And I have the confidence we're going to get it done. I love those kids, especially the ones who have bought in and are selling out in the summertime. I have confidence we can make it work.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. includes Gilbert and Barnett among the best NFL prospects at their positions entering the season.
Lowe has been a consistent force for the Cowboys and Lewis has been steady and reliable.
And beyond the watch lists are emerging young players such as tackle James Castleman, linebacker Ryan Simmons, safety Lyndell Johnson, end Jimmy Bean and corners Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, among others, who have OSU insiders raising the bar on expectations.
Now for another disclaimer: we've heard such optimism before, most notably in the run-up to last season, when Cowboy defenders talked openly, even boastfully, about shouldering their share of the load. And we know how that turned out.
So there's a show-me stance to take in regard to 2013.
“Until the lights come on Aug. 31,” Spencer said, “there's still that thing of, ‘Hey, we have to go out and prove what kind of defense we are.'
“It's all about what you do with the next opportunity. And all the talk and the hype and predictions really don't mean anything.”
Well, it does mean something.
It means there's reason for hope. And optimism.
And in July and August, that counts for something for a fan base so desperately wanting more.