STILLWATER — Oklahoma State's 2013 season is in the books, a 10-3 campaign that ended with two down-to-the wire, disappointing losses in Bedlam and the Cotton Bowl.
There's still plenty of time to evaluate and reflect on the season that was. But here are five early questions the Cowboys face as they head into 2014.
1. Who's the starting quarterback?
For the third consecutive spring, the Cowboys will stage a quarterback derby.
J.W. Walsh, who started five games in 2013 before being replaced by Clint Chelf in mid-October, will try to win that job back. His task, again, is to prove he's become a more consistent passer, particularly on throws to downfield and to the outside.
Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph, who will enroll early to participate in spring ball, should immediately challenge for the job. The 6-4, 215-pounder had a monster senior season at Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern, capping a Class 4A state championship run with eight touchdown passes in the title game. His high school runs the same system as OSU, the Air Raid spread.
Also in the mix are Daxx Garman, a strong-armed junior who seems to have settled in at OSU after bouncing around during his high school and early college career, redshirt freshman Richard Lagow, a surprise transfer from Connecticut who arrived during fall camp, and redshirt freshman Jake Hubenak, a walk-on who suffered a season-ending knee injury as a high school junior before staging a big senior campaign at Georgetown High near Austin.
2. How does the defense rebuild?
Glenn Spencer did a masterful job in his first season as coordinator, turning an experienced group into arguably the best unit in the Big 12.
But the Cowboys lose seven starters — tackle Calvin Barnett, end Tyler Johnson, linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, cornerback Justin Gilbert and safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary — plus key reserves like linemen Davidell Collins and Anthony Rogers, linebacker Joe Mitchell and cornerback Tyler Patmon.
Returning starters in tackle James Castleman, end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson will need to immediately take on a leadership role. Guys like tackle Ofa Hautau, end Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Ashton Lampkin need to emerge as consistent producers.
The 2013 season was largely about tweaking the OSU defense's attitude and approach. The 2014 campaign will largely be about developing players.
3. Does Josh Stewart return?
At Cotton Bowl media day, Stewart floated the idea of forgoing his senior season and declaring for the NFL Draft. If he leaves, OSU would lose its most versatile offensive playmaker and a true special teams weapon.
Should Stewart leave, junior David Glidden and junior college transfer Tyreek Hill — an elite speedster who can play slot receiver and running back — would appear to be the players most ready to fill that role. Redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples, another fast slot guy, could also help.
The Cowboys also lose Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, which means they will need increased production from sophomores Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman on the outside. OSU could also benefit from the return of Austin Hays, who had a very productive 2012 season as a true freshman before injury limited him to just one game in 2013.
4. Does the coaching staff stay intact?
The Cowboys' staff underwent a major overhaul last offseason, replacing both coordinators and hiring three new position coaches.
One of those hires, safeties coach Tim Duffie, came extremely late after former cornerbacks coach Jason Jones left for Mississippi a week before spring ball began.
Other than offensive line coach Joe Wickline (hired in 2005) and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer (hired in 2009), every assistant coach has been at OSU for three years or less.
5. Which newcomers make an impact?
With several key contributors now departing the program, the door is open for newcomers to step right in and contribute in 2014.
Hill and fellow junior college transfer Devonte Averette, a linebacker, have already signed their letters of intent and will be on campus for spring ball. Rudolph, obviously, has a chance to become OSU's second true freshman starting quarterback in three seasons. Linebacker Gyasi Akem and receiver Keenan Brown are four-star recruits expected to sign in February.
Redshirts who garnered praise during bowl practices include end Vili Leveni, linebacker Dawson Bassett, defensive backs Jerel Morrow and Darius Curry and offensive lineman Zachary Crabtree.