There's still room for good defense, by the right definition.
“If you get us the ball back, we can score more,” said OSU tailback Joseph Randle. “They led the country in that, so we scored a lot of points. The offense got a lot of shine, but you can't take away from them the fact that they took the ball away a lot and got us the ball.
“They did their part last year. And I think they'll do that again this year.”
The Cowboys could do that — and more. Eight starters return, and there's a sense that the unit is just now maturing. The linebacker trio of Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Alex Elkins returns intact and ranks among the best in the Big 12.
The secondary is stacked, too, with cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert ranked among the top three defensive backs in the conference by ESPN's K.C. Joyner. Safety Daytawion Lowe, who led the team in tackles a year ago, returns.
And the biggest boost should come up front, where the Cowboys enjoy rare depth, as well as talent at all four spots.
For a change, there's a positive buzz about the defense.
“It's a great feeling,” said senior defensive end Cooper Bassett, “because ever since I've been on defense it's been, ‘Well, the defense is a question mark. The D-line is the weak point.'
“So it's nice to hear everyone give us respect and give us some credit. But at the same point, we haven't done anything yet. We haven't won any ball games. We haven't stopped anyone in 2012. But we do have talent.”
The Cowboys did lose three key elements from last year's defense: ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones and safety Markelle Martin. That's talent and leadership that must be replaced.
“The defense is gong to be fine,” Jones said. “We can be replaced with guys who have already played big-time football.”
And even in his absence, Jones would revel in a rise of the Cowboys' defense.
“Since I've been at Oklahoma State, defense has always been a stepchild,” Jones said. “People are always talking bad about our defense.
“Having watched the young guys who came here as freshmen with their eyes wide open, because they were scared, watching them succeed will be enough for me.”