Packed with a senior-laded group, the Cowboys rolled to a 9-4 record and finished second in the Big 12 with a 6-2 mark. After losing all those players, the Cowboys were pegged by everyone for a slide, and picked by some as the Big 12 South's likely cellar-dwellers.
Instead, the Cowboys look like they're going to put together an even better year, sitting with an 8-1 mark after nine games, including a 4-1 stint in conference play. And they've done it largely by simply reloading on a thought-to-be depleted offense, bringing in stud offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and making the offense even better.
The Cowboys' scoring output of 46.3 points per game is nine points better than the Big 12's second best team. Oklahoma State's 549.2 yards per game average is tops by more than 60 yards.
They've achieved that through a swell of individual talent. The Cowboys are first in the league in passing offense and third in rushing offense, while boasting the Big 12's top passer, rusher and receiver.
Most offenses revolve around the quarterback, and the Cowboys have a good one in Brandon Weeden. In his first year as a starter, the 26-year-old Weeden has emerged as one of the Big 12's top signal callers, passing for 331.3 yards per game and throwing 26 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. The junior is accurate, completing 67.2 percent of his passes, and throws a nice deep ball.
The running game was buoyed by the return of Kendall Hunter from injury. The senior has run for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year, while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Only listed at 5-foot-8, Hunter can hide behind his offensive linemen before bursting to daylight and is incredibly quick and shifty in the open field. Freshman Joseph Randle provides a nice change of pace, while Bryant Ward has done a nice job as a blocking fullback.
Receiver Justin Blackmon has been arguably the Big 12's best player this season. Despite missing a game following an off-field incident, Blackmon has 75 catches for 1,285 yards and 15 touchdowns. A big-play threat who also has a rushing and return touchdown on the year, Blackmon is just a sophomore and has drawn comparisons to both Michael Crabtree and former Cowboy Dez Bryant. He's hardly alone in the Cowboy receiving group, as players like Josh Cooper are also capable of making big catches.
The offensive line is big, good and young. None of the five starters is a senior this year, with four juniors and a sophomore. That's good news for an offense that loses very little heading into next year. Despite winging the ball all over the place, this group has allowed a league-low nine sacks this season.
Defensively, the Cowboys are a middle-of-the-pack group in the Big 12. Like most Bill Young defenses, they're better at stopping the run (third in the league) than they are at stopping the pass (11th).
For the most part, the Cowboys lack explosive playmakers on that side of the ball, though they have recovered 13 fumbles, tops in the conference. They are also No. 3 in the league in red zone defense, but are in the bottom third of the Big 12 in sacks.
Unlike on the offensive side, the defense doesn't have much with regard to outstanding individual talent. No Cowboy ranks in the league's top 10 in interceptions, tackles for loss or sacks.
The defensive line doesn't have a great pass rusher, though defensive end Ugo Chinasa can cause some problems at times. At linebacker, Orie Lemon has 86 tackles and generally is the most active player defensively. The safety group of Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas is an athletic one, and a good one.
Quinn Sharp is arguably the Big 12's top punter. He leads the league in yards per punt (47.3), while the Cowboys also lead the league in net-per-punt average. Dan Bailey is also among the league's best, topping the league in field goal percentage (he's hit 18-19) and scoring (11.7 points per game). He has a leg as well, with a 52-yarder to his credit.
QB: 3 Brandon Weeden (6-4 219, Jr.)
RB: 24 Kendall Hunter (5-8 200, Sr.)
FB: 37 Bryant Ward (5-11 237, Sr.)
WR: 81 Justin Blackmon (6-1 205, So.)
WR: 7 Michael Harrison (6-1 212, Fr.)
IR: 25 Josh Cooper (5-11 188, Jr.)
IR: 9 Bo Bowling (5-9 183, Sr.)
LT: 75 Nick Martiniez (6-4 315, Jr.)
LG: 70 Jonathan Rush (6-4 308, Jr.)
C: 74 Grant Garner (6-3 291, Jr.)
RG: 68 Lane Taylor (6-3 315, So.)
RT: 73 Levy Adcock (6-5 318, Jr.)
DE: 50 Jamie Blatnick (6-3 263, Jr.); OR 99 Richetti Jones (6-3 270, Jr.)
DE: 91 Ugo Chinasa (6-5 255, Sr.)
DT: 95 Chris Donaldson (6-1 296, Sr.)
DT: 46 Shane Jarka (6-3 298, Sr.)
SLB: 11 Shaun Lewis (5-11 212, Fr.)
MLB: 41 Orie Lemon (6-1 243, Sr.)
WLB: 42 Justin Gent (6-1 225, Sr.)
CB: 6 Andrew McGee (6-0 190, Sr.)
CB: 19 Brodrick Brown (5-8 188, So.)
SS: 10 Markelle Martin (6-1 202. Jr.)
FS: 12 Johnny Thomas (5-11 202, Jr.)
K: 95 Dan Bailey (6-0 197, Sr.)
P: 13 Quinn Sharp (6-1 194, So.)
LS: 69 Mark Yerry (6-2 250, Jr.)
H: 11 Wes Harlan (5-7 171, So.)
KR: 12 Thomas
PR: 25 Cooper