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Oklahoma State's most indispensable player: QB Mason Rudolph

This week, we've been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, the player each team could least afford to lose to injury.

We're knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue the series below with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Most indispensable player: QB Mason Rudolph

2014 stats: 853 yards, 57 percent completion percentage, 6 TDs, 4 INTs

Why Oklahoma State can't afford to lose him: This one was tough. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is an All-American-caliber terror off the edge. And the Cowboys have one of the best backup QBs in college football in J.W. Walsh.

But it's impossible to overlook how the Cowboys were completely transformed when Rudolph took over at quarterback for the final three games last season. Oklahoma State instantly snapped out of its funk -- and its five-game losing streak -- to stun Oklahoma (Rudolph, by the way, was the first Oklahoma State quarterback to beat the Sooners in Norman in 13 years) to reach a bowl game. There, Rudolph and the Cowboys dispatched of Washington and its star-studded defense to improbably finish with a winning record.

Rudolph was the biggest -- and pretty much only -- difference between the Cowboys that were mired in mediocrity, and the Cowboys that finished with two straight wins as underdogs. Rudolph didn't put up monster numbers, but he brought a swagger and savvy to an Oklahoma State offense that was desperately in need of both. Suddenly, Brandon Sheperd looked like one of the best possession receivers in the Big 12; James Washington, one of its most lethal deep threats. And an offensive line that had been a sieve all season rapidly shored up its gaps. Rudolph, it seemed, gave the rest of the Cowboys confidence.

For that reason, optimism has returned to Stillwater despite the struggles for much last year. The Cowboys have been picked to finish as high as third in the league behind co-favorites TCU and Baylor. Had it not been for Rudolph, Oklahoma State likely would fall in the bottom half of the preseason conference poll.

Sure, the possibility is there for Rudolph to have a sophomore slump. After all, his sample size is rather small. On the other hand, the chance is also there for him to be even better with a few more games of experience behind him.

As TCU found out in 2014, having big-time quarterback play can make all the difference. The Cowboys just might have a big-time quarterback themselves in Rudolph.