Big 12 spring battle spotlight: Oklahoma State OL

Oklahoma State struggled up front for much of last season before rapidly improving late in the year. How the Cowboys shape their front will go a long way in determining whether they can return to being a conference contender in 2015:

Departed: Daniel Koenig and Chris Grisbhy, both versatile starters the last two seasons, have graduated, as has reserve tackle Brandon Garrett.

Spring contenders: Junior Paul Lewis, junior Michael Wilson, sophomore Zachary Crabtree, sophomore Jesse Robinson, junior Victor Salako, junior Brandon Pertile, sophomore Brad Lundblade, redshirt freshman Lemaefe Galea'i, redshirt freshman Matthew Mucha, redshirt freshman Deionte Noel, senior Devin Davis, sophomore Jaxon Salinas and sophomore Jack Kurzu

Summer contenders: True freshman Johnny Wilson, true freshman Vaimoe Sekona

The skinny: It took most of the 2014 season but the Cowboys finally unearthed a winning combination up front. The return of Crabtree to right tackle from an injury helped fuel the turnaround and stabilize a line that surrendered a Big 12-worst 40 sacks.

Even with the departures of Koening and Grisbhy, next season the Cowboys should go from having one of the thinnest and inexperienced lines in the league to one of the deepest and most seasoned. One big reason why is the transfer of Salako. Because UAB is shutting down its football program, Salako is eligible right away. He started the last two seasons at left tackle for the Blazers and should step into the same role for Oklahoma State. Pertile, a junior college transfer who chose the Cowboys over Florida, could push for time, but at the worst will bring immediate depth to one of the bookends.

The Cowboys figure to be in good shape on the interior, too. Lewis solidified the center position late last season. As part of the ongoing shuffle, Michael Wilson had to play left tackle last season. But with the arrival of Salako, he'll be able to shuffle back to his more natural spot at guard. Several others will be in the mix at the guard spots, including Robinson, Galea’i and Noel.

Prediction: Salako will be one of the top offensive newcomers to the Big 12, giving quarterback Mason Rudolph a bonafide protecter. Under new position assistant Greg Adkins, the rest of the line will pick up where it left off last season, giving Oklahoma State the level of blocking it has been accustomed to during its recent rise.