The positives attached to this Oklahoma State football season are plentiful.
The Cowboys are 8-0 for just the second time in school history and for the first time since 1945. They're No. 3 in the BCS Standings and possess one of the top offenses in the country. And the exposure of their brand nationally has never been better.
Then there's the perceived sore spot: the defense.
OSU's critics are quick to point out the Cowboys' place in the defensive rankings: No. 111 of 120 in total defense, No. 101 in pass defense, No. 84 in rushing defense and No. 62 in scoring defense.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy admits he's hardly satisfied.
“We've got to get better on defense,” Gundy said. “We've got to improve in certain areas of the kicking game (No. 111 in punt returns). Our players understand that. We've never said that we have all the answers on defense.
“One thing that I like with our team is we're very active, we play a number of players and I think they're fresh and they play hard.”
And they force turnovers, better than any other team in the country.
“They're flying around,” Gundy said. “They're around the ball a lot, and I think that contributes to our turnovers. We do give up some yards. We've given up some points, but for the most part, if you look at the defenses in our league, there are teams that are giving up quite a few yards and teams that are giving up quite a few points.
“We'll continue to get better. We'll try to correct mistakes. We need to be more sound.”
Baylor coach Art Briles, whose Bears were battered in Stillwater on Saturday, said what the Cowboys do right on defense shouldn't be overlooked in assessing the team's place in national title conversations.
“I think they're certainly a living testament to that (with) stops in the red zone and turnovers,” Briles said. “If people are moving the ball between the 10s, it doesn't really matter, as long as they're not scoring points.
“And Oklahoma State's really good offensively.”
RANDLE: RUN FIRST
Cowboys running back Joseph Randle poses a serious threat running and receiving.
The versatile Randle has 21 receptions to go with his team-high 842 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
And yet, Randle prefers to run, first.
“I would've been a wide receiver if I liked catching that much,” Randle said. “When they call a run play that I know can be successful, I'm definitely like a bull at that point and I just turn on a different mode.
“It's my turn and we're about to go do what we have to do, so I feel like we can make a big play at any time, anywhere on the field.”
OSU continues to hold the No. 3 spot in the BCS Standings and stands to move up with a win Saturday, with No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama squaring off.
“We have to win first,” cautioned Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. “If we don't win, we'll drop to whatever. We've got to take care of business; that's our first and foremost goal.
“We've got to keep winning and the rest will take care of itself.”
THREE IN ONE
Cowboys punter/kicker Quinn Sharp already owned two jobs — punter and kickoff specialist — and stepped into one more this season, assuming the field goal chores vacated by Dan Bailey.
Sharp has excelled at all three, ranking third nationally in punt average (47.59), No. 8 in scoring (10.88) and No. 1 in touchbacks (38) on kickoffs for the third straight season.
“He's been tremendous for us,” Gundy said. “Somebody put together some kind of statistic that had his field goals, his kickoffs and his punting and what he's given us. He's been really good.
“He's been three guys, and we've talked about it. We're pleased that he's able to stay healthy and fresh in handling all those duties.”
The Cowboys are monitoring Sharp's daily activity in an effort to keep him going strong.
“(Special teams coordinator) Joe DeForest has done a great job of limiting his reps on certain days,” Gundy said. “On Sundays, he doesn't kick at all. He doesn't kick at all on Monday. He does a little bit of one on Tuesday, a little bit of the other on Wednesday and both on Thursday.
“We're very pleased with his production up to this point.”