Coming into this season, Oklahoma State coaches knew they would be young on defense, with seven first-time starters playing in the season opener. They needed some of them to step up and develop into top-notch contributors quickly.

While the Cowboys' inexperience on both sides of the ball has been a major factor in their disappointing season (5-6, 3-5 in Big 12), sophomore defensive tackle Emmanuel Ogbah has been a standout.

As a freshman reserve, he had four sacks to tie for the team lead in 2013. This season, his 11 sacks rank second in the Big 12, while his 1.0 sacks per game tops the conference and is fourth in the nation among defensive linemen. He also has 42 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five pass defenses and one forced fumble on the season.

"He's doing great," coach Mike Gundy said. "He's matured, grown up. He's come in as a guy that's gotten really big, committed to the game, playing hard. He's really been a good football player for us. He's been a good leader."

Junior linebacker Ryan Simmons said he believes offenses have to account for Ogbah. And as much as it may seem that Ogbah came out of nowhere, he really didn't surprise too many people inside the program.

"I thought he would have a real good year, from what I saw last year," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "He's playing well and meeting expectations. As coaches, we're always trying to get them to take the next step, so we're pushing him, and hopefully he's not satisfied with how he's been playing."

Added Gundy: "We thought he was going to be a good player, but you never know. He's a young player, so he didn't have a lot of experience in key situations, so it's really hard to predict what they'll do."

Ogbah credits his faith in God, as well as a lot of hard work, with his success this season.

"It wasn't easy coming into the season," said Ogbah, who has eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in the last six games, all against Big 12 foes. "I had a mantra that I had to do big things to help my defense out, so that's what I've been doing. I worked hard to get this far, so I'm not really surprised that I'm here, because a lot of hard work went into that process."

With one final game to play, this Saturday at No. 18 Oklahoma in the annual Bedlam rivalry game, Ogbah hopes to help the Cowboys snap a five-game losing streak. That would also leave them with six victories, making them bowl-eligible and extending the program's school-record bowl streak to nine.

"I really want to get this win for our seniors," said Ogbah, "because this could be our last game, and we want to get the bowl game for them and end up with a bang, since the season didn't go as we planned. That's the goal."