STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Buried amid the excitement of competing for a Big 12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff last season was the fact that Oklahoma State struggled on defense at times, surrendering 151 points in its final three games - all of them losses.
On top of that, the Cowboys lost their best defensive player to graduation as All-American defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, moved on to the NFL.
Coach Mike Gundy and his staff are hoping that increased depth developing at several positions will lead to better play this season.
''We need to develop another corner to make me feel a little better, but in the front seven, we have guys that by midseason could give us quality playing time in conference play,'' Gundy said. ''We have key positions that we need players to stay healthy, like always, but if we're fortunate, we could be deeper on defense by mid-season.''
The Cowboys ended up ranked 96th in the nation (out of 128 Division I schools) in total defense. They allowed 430 yards per game along with 29.0 points, ranking 86th in the country. It was a problem that caught up to Oklahoma State, which was 10-0 and ranked fourth in the nation in mid-November. Two losses to close the season and another loss in the Sugar Bowl left a bad taste.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is hoping that his returning players will benefit from the playing in those high-stakes contests.
''We've got a lot of guys that have played, so that experience is hard to coach,'' Spencer said. ''So much on our side of the ball is reaction to what you're getting and different looks, when somebody changes something up at the first of the game that you've never seen before. We struggled at times with that last year, and then hopefully this year, with experience and guys that have played the game, they can make quicker adjustments than we had.''
With Ogbah gone, senior safety Jordan Sterns, who topped the team with 108 tackles last year will be counted upon to provide leadership.
''He's always been a physical player, he's been tough, he's been reliable for us,'' Gundy said of Sterns. ''The leadership that he can show to the younger players, with him being a veteran player, will be important to our team. He needs to continue with the toughness and the attitude that he brings to the back of our defense.''
Oklahoma State also feels comfortable with the array of talent on the defensive line, as sophomores Jordan Brailford, Trey Carter and Jarrell Owens step in after the departures of Ogbah and Jimmy Bean.
''We like Jordan, Jarrell, and the young line that we have,'' Gundy said of the defensive ends. ''It may be halfway through the season before we can see those guys show up the way we want them to. They're still young, but we like the future.''
Defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements is looking forward to big things from tackle Vincent Taylor, a junior who compiled five sacks and 48 tackles last season, as well as senior Motekiai Maile and sophomore Darrion Daniels.
''I think Vincent's doing a good job of being a leader for us,'' Clements said. ''Leadership is two-fold. You've got to lead from the front, and you've also got to lead from behind. We've got to get some young guys to do that also.''