Big 12: Mike Gundy

The words of Mike Gundy left no doubt where he stands when the subject of Oklahoma State's running game is broached.

"We are a very average football team, I think everybody is aware of that," the Cowboys head coach said. "We have to establish a running game on offense."

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brody Schmidt/AP PhotoThrough three games, Cowboys RB Desmond Roland has carried the ball 33 times for 123 yards.
When it hosts Texas Tech on Sept. 25, OSU will enter Big 12 conference play averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which ranks seventh in the conference. It's unusual territory for the Cowboys, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry --ranking second in the Big 12 behind Baylor (5.1) -- and 181.3 rushing yards per game during the previous five seasons.

Gundy was particularly unhappy with the Cowboys' running game after OSU's win against Texas-San Antonio last weekend as he knows his team will have to establish a more balanced offensive attack if they hope to insert themselves in the Big 12 title race again this season. The Pokes had 49 carries for 162 yards (a 3.3 yards per carry average) against UTSA.

"Our offense relies on the run and throw," Gundy said after OSU's 43-13 win against UTSA. "We're very balanced, and if we're not effective in one area, we have to manufacture a way to be effective in the other."

The Pokes' offensive line was solid in the season-opening loss to Florida State but hasn't built upon that performance, taking a step backward in wins against Missouri State and UTSA to finish their non-conference campaign.

"We just didn't block anybody," Gundy said. "We didn't move anybody out there. I'm sure there is a contributing factor, which is the youth. We're going to have to move people out of there if we're going to play in this league because we aren't going to be able to protect and throw the ball down the field every game. We have to get better up front."

The ups and downs along the offensive front aren't unexpected for OSU. The Cowboys have 47 career starts among its five starting offensive linemen including 11 combined starts among sophomore center Paul Lewis, sophomore right guard Zac Veatch and redshirt freshman right tackle Zachary Crabtree. The inexperience is one reason OSU ranks ninth in the Big 12 and No. 77 among FBS schools with 23.8 percent of its rushes resulting in zero or negative yardage.

The weekly progress of the offensive line will be a glimpse at the impact of new offensive line coach Bob Connelly, who took over for long-time offensive line coach Joe Wickline after Wickline left for Texas after last season.

Yet, it's not all doom and gloom for OSU's running game which still finds itself among the Big 12's leaders in multiple categories. The Cowboys rank third in rushing yards (529), second in rushes of 10 yards or more (21) and are one of four Big 12 teams with at least 300 rushing yards before contact this season.

"We just have to get better each week," Gundy said. "They've got three games under their belts and there's some youth there so we just have to bring them along. We have to improve them."
Four hands, not two, hold the destiny of Oklahoma State's future.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsJ.W. Walsh is the Cowboys' starting quarterback, but he's hampered with a foot injury.
All signs point to quarterbacks J.W. Walsh and Daxx Garman taking snaps for the Cowboys as the 2014 season progresses.

Walsh, OSU's starter, injured his foot during OSU's 40-23 win against Missouri State and the extent of the injury remains unclear with coach Mike Gundy saying Walsh would be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Garman stepped in for Walsh against Missouri State, going 16 of 26 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in his first action as a Cowboy. He would start if Walsh's injury keeps him on the sideline against Texas San-Antonio on Saturday.

Counting on multiple quarterbacks is not unusual in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In fact, it has become commonplace.

Since Brandon Weeden left the program after leading OSU to its lone Big 12 championship in 2011, the Cowboys haven't gone a full season with a clear No. 1 signal-caller. In 2012, Wes Lunt, Clint Chelf and Walsh each started games under center. Last season, Walsh and Chelf each took turns as a man running OSU's offense.

It should be no surprise the Cowboys will use multiple quarterbacks again, particularly considering Gundy has been saying as much since preseason camp began.

Walsh brings a strong running element to the Cowboys' offense. With the junior under center, OSU is more apt to harken back to the days of Zac Robinson, when quarterback run-game schemes were a staple. During his career, Walsh has averaged 19.5 pass attempts and 156.5 passing yards per game along with 6.2 carries and 33.9 rushing yards per game. Only TCU's Trevone Boykin (759) has rushed for more career yards than Walsh (677) among active Big 12 quarterbacks.

Garman brings more deep passing to the table, making the offense look like it did with Weeden behind center with OSU counting on the pass to create matchup nightmares for defenses. Last weekend was his first football game since 2009 -- Garman missed his senior year in high school and sat out a redshirt season at Arizona before transferring and sitting out a year at OSU -- but the junior's passing ability was on full display and has been praised by Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich since the spring.

[+] EnlargeDaxx Garman
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsQB Daxx Garman provides solid skill and ability to throw the ball down field in the Cowboys' offense.
"We, as an offense, want to maintain balance regardless of who's at quarterback," Yurcich said. "We want to complement ourselves and J.W., a lot like Daxx, can make a lot of throws down the field. When you talk about arm strength, J.W. Walsh has a very strong arm and Daxx has a very strong arm. They both have their strengths. Obviously, Walsh is a little bit better of a runner."

This season, 12 of Walsh's 36 passes have traveled 10 "air yards" or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In other words, his passes have traveled 10 yards or more in the air on 33.3 percent of his total attempts. Walsh was 4 of 12 for 97 yards, one touchdown and one interception on those attempts.

Meanwhile 14 of Garman's 26 passes last Saturday traveled 10 yards or more in the air, 53.8 percent of his throws. Garman was 7 of 14 for 208 yards and two touchdowns on those attempts.

To be fair, Walsh's numbers came against defending national champion Florida State while Garman's numbers came against FCS foe Missouri State. Nonetheless, it's pretty clear Garman provides a better deep passing threat than Walsh as the numbers support the differences we see in OSU's offense when Walsh or Garman is under center.

And that's why OSU was talking about using both quarterbacks before the season even began with Gundy saying on multiple occasions that Garman was ready to help the Cowboys' offense in 2014.

If Walsh is out for an extended amount of time, the deeper passing game will emerge as a bigger part of the offense as the Cowboys strive to transform the offense to fit Garman's strengths.

But the coaching staff insists the foundational aspects of the offense will remain.

"The ability to play-action, throw your quick game, throw your drop-backs, and then being able to change your pace with tempo and be able to complement yourself is the key," Yurcich said. "Regardless of what quarterback is in."

OSU, WVU look to build off openers

September, 2, 2014
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Oklahoma State and West Virginia might both be 0-1.

But the way they lost their openers has completely changed the outlook for the rest of their seasons.

For the better, too.

The Cowboys took defending national champion Florida State to the wire. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Alabama.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's Kevin White had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
 Before last weekend, Oklahoma State was thought to be in rebuilding mode. Facing a brutal schedule, West Virginia seemed headed for another year without a bowl.

Not anymore in Stillwater.

And not anymore in Morgantown.

“They should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way we played,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his team. “The second half we were very competitive. Once they got up and going and realized they could play with the speed that Florida State brought to the table, they were much better. And so I think there’s a certain amount of confidence they should have developed from that game.”

The Mountaineers should take plenty of confidence out of their opener with Alabama, too.

West Virginia went into Atlanta almost a four-touchdown underdog. But on the first drive, the Mountaineers took it right to the Crimson Tide. Rushel Shell grinded out tough yards between the tackles, while quarterback Clint Trickett fired completions all over the field. The opening drive stalled inside the Alabama 5-yard line, leading to a field goal. But the Crimson Tide quickly learned they’d have a fight on their hands.

“We’re not interested in any moral victories,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “But we felt like we could play with those guys. And went into the game with a good frame of mind that was going to happen. And it did.”

Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still learning Holgorsen’s offense, Trickett looked like a completely different quarterback. With perfect poise and even more perfect hair, he completed 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards -- the second-highest passing total a Nick Saban defense had ever allowed at Alabama.

“Clint is a completely different quarterback than he was last year,” West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson told reporters after the game. “People are basing our team off of what we were last year. We were inexperienced last year. Everybody now has a year under their belts. We’re healthier, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but most of all we’re more experienced, and Clint’s the No. 1 difference.”

Mario Alford and Kevin White were difference-makers, too. Against one of the top-rated defensive backfields in the country, White showed he could flourish as West Virginia’s first go-to wideout since Stedman Bailey. White hauled in nine receptions for 143 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Alford, meanwhile, kick-started a return unit that ranked last in the Big 12 last fall, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Mountaineers should get better, too. They struggled to contain Alabama’s powerful rushing attack up front. But at the back end Karl Joseph finished with 18 tackles and Daryl Worley pick off a pass, underscoring the playmaking West Virginia will have in its secondary this season.

Ultimately, the Mountaineers dropped too many passes and coughed up too many touchdown chances to pull off the upset. But along the way, they learned they can play with anyone in the country, which should do wonders for a program that has struggled the past season-and-a-half.

“Our guys are in a good place right now,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the standard that we need to play with. And if we can play with that kind of mentality the whole year, we’ll have a good team.”

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start, J.W. Walsh and the Cowboys regrouped against defending champion Florida State.
 If the Cowboys continue playing the way they did in Arlington, Texas, they might have a great team.

With the fewest returning starters among any team from a Power 5 conference, Oklahoma State’s young squad seemed to be on the verge of getting blown out after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter.

Instead, the Cowboys hung tough. Quarterback J.W. Walsh settled down after a rocky start. Tyreek Hill began running away from anyone wearing a white Seminoles jersey. And Oklahoma State’s defensive line began imposing its will against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a Florida State offensive line starting five seniors.

"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," Gundy said. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, but they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."

Every time Florida State made a play, the Cowboys answered. And only after the Seminoles -- who won every regular-season game last season by least two touchdowns -- recovered an onside kick in the final minutes could they rest easy.

The Cowboys figure to be favored in at least their next five games, with the key tilt coming Sept. 25 at home against Texas Tech. And as Saturday showed, Oklahoma State has the pieces to transform its season outlook from rebuilder to Big 12 contender.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we had our mistakes, but there's obviously a lot of talent,” said slot receiver David Glidden, who hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb against the Seminoles. “There are a lot of guys who can play the game of football pretty well.”

The Cowboys and Mountaineers didn’t win Saturday. But based on how they played, plenty of victories could be on the way.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- In 2007, Oklahoma State opened Mike Gundy’s third season as coach on the road against Georgia.

The Cowboys lost by three touchdowns, but the defeat marked the launch of one of college football’s most successfully sustainable programs since.

Over the past seven seasons, Oklahoma State has more wins than the Bulldogs. More wins than Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and Florida, too.

And only four wins fewer than the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, who the Cowboys open with this weekend.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State coach Mike Gundy enters the season with an inexperienced lineup, but his program has surpassed expectations before.
But Oklahoma State’s program sustainability will be put to the test this season.

No power five conference school has fewer returning starters this season than the Cowboys’ nine. Oklahoma State will be starting a trio of new receivers. The secondary is mostly green. Same with the offensive line. The linebacking corps, too. And though junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has been around, he has never fully been the guy before, either.

With all that to overcome, can the Cowboys avoid a rebuilding season and cement their elite sustainability by simply reloading yet again?

"We’re going to find out," Gundy said. "I think there are some really talented players on this team. They just don’t have any experience. And until you get out there and do it, you don’t know what to expect."

It won’t take long for the Pokes to find out just what kind of team they have.

Florida State returns the bulk of a squad that mowed through the competition on the way to capturing the national championship. Reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back at quarterback for the Seminoles, who could wind up being double-digit favorites against every one of their regular-season opponents.

"We’ve embraced this game," Gundy said. "We’re playing the best team in the country. We’re playing the best player in the country. This will give us a good idea where we’re at -- what a great opportunity."

Seven years ago in Athens, Georgia, the Cowboys discovered they weren’t quite ready to clash with the premier clubs in college football. Oklahoma State hung tough in the first half, but was outclassed in the second, as Georgia's combination of quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno propelled the Bulldogs to a 35-14 win against the Cowboys. Georgia went on to win the Sugar Bowl and finish 11-2.

Gundy cautioned that these Seminoles are at a different level than the 2007 Bulldogs. But after 66 wins, pristine facilities and better recruiting classes, these Cowboys are at a different level than the 2007 Cowboys, too.

"We were a more experienced team back then -- we weren’t in the situation we are now from an inexperienced standpoint," Gundy said. "This is the most difficult year we’ve had when it comes to returning players.

"But the players competing now, two years from now could very well be more talented as a group than what was there (in 2007)."

The Cowboys, however, don’t have two years. They only have a few days. And armed with just a couple dozen players who have actually stepped on a field in a big-time college atmosphere, this is the most monumental retooling effort Gundy’s staff has ever faced in Stillwater.

"This is, by far, the most inexperienced defensive unit I’ve ever taken into a game," said coordinator Glenn Spencer, Gundy’s now longest-tenured assistant. "It’s a different year for us. We have a lot of players that are inexperienced, and they’re learning on the run."

But Oklahoma State has precedent for defying preseason expectations despite inexperience.

Going into 2010, only Bowling Green, East Carolina and Colorado State had fewer returning starters than the Cowboys. Some prognosticators even picked Oklahoma State to finish dead last in the Big 12 South. Nobody had heard of receiver Justin Blackmon. Few knew who quarterback Brandon Weeden was, either.

But behind the most prolific pass-catching duo in school history, the Cowboys reeled off 11 wins to finish in a tie atop the South standings.

"We’re a winning team -- that’s the attitude around here," said linebacker Ryan Simmons. "The new guys that haven’t had a chance, it’s their time now. We’re definitely a young team, but it’s a reloading year. We have the guys to get the job done."

In the past few years, only a handful of programs have proven they have the sustainability to produce winning teams every year, no matter what. Bedlam rival Oklahoma is one of those programs. Oregon, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU and Florida State are a few of the others.

The odds are stacked against the Cowboys becoming a winning team again this season. The odds are even longer that Oklahoma State will be competitive against the vaunted Seminoles.

But since that Georgia opener seven years ago, the Cowboys have proven their program is on solid ground. This season, they have the chance to prove their sustainability is among the elite, too.
Don't blame Mike Yurcich if he settles in for some down time this week, turns on The Discovery Channel's Shark Week and feels like he can relate.

After all, the Oklahoma State Cowboys offensive coordinator had to feel like he was thrown to the sharks during his debut campaign in the Big 12 after leaving Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) University to become main man at the helm of one of college football's most explosive offenses in 2013.

[+] EnlargeMike Yurcich
Brandon Wade/AP PhotoAs Mike Yurcich enters his second season at Oklahoma State, the offensive coordinator says he has finally settled in to the job.
"If you think about it, he went from the local hometown newspaper to USA Today," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "It's a little different."

Different life. Different home. Different region of the country. Everything changed for Yurcich after Gundy's surprising decision to hire a coach with zero experience as an offensive coordinator at an FBS school.

Now, heading into his second season, it is Yurcich who has changed.

"He's taken control in practice," Gundy said. "He's involved in every step, in the huddle and coaching everybody on the field.

"He's just different now than he was."

Yurcich was aiming to keep his head above water in a lot of ways a year ago. Heading into the 2014 season, the Pokes' OC feels more prepared for the task at hand with a year of experience as a Big 12 offensive coordinator under his belt.

"Anytime you're able to look at defenses the second year, their schemes and look at your game plan from a year ago, now you have something to balance it with," Yurcich said. "When we were in 2013 and I'd look back at 2012, you're still looking at that defense, so you are, in essence, looking at it for a second time. But you weren't there, you didn't experience it. And I think that experience, the second time around, is invaluable."

It's not like Yurcich's debut season was a flop. As the Cowboys' offense grew into its identity, so did Yurcich. The Cowboys finished second in the Big 12 in points per game (39.1), third in yards per play (5.91) and first in red zone efficiency (75 percent) during his first season in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

"He did a good job last year," Gundy said. "We had a couple issues here and there that kept us from being as good as we needed to be, but with his presence we got better on offense. Games 4, 5, 6 he started to get a feel for exactly who we were. I think he grew with the team."

Now Yurcich feels like the offense is his. And the Cowboys' players can sense a new level of confidence and conviction in the words of the second-year OC.

"His confidence overall [has increased]," junior receiver David Glidden said. "Being able to take control of the offense and take control of what he wants done. Last year was more of a group effort as far as getting things done, he was obviously the top guy and running it, but this year there's a little more of a sense of control of what he wants to get done and accomplished."

Heading into preseason camp, Yurcich had a pair of goals for his offense.

"(First) becoming a smart offense, an intelligent offense," he said. "That's really about repetition and being organized on my end. As a coordinator I feel like that's my responsibility to make sure everybody is on the same page to know what we're doing and why we're doing it so there's a purpose behind it."

Another focus for Yurcich is laying the foundation for any success the Pokes' offense will have in 2014.

"[Secondly] having a great effort when we hit the field, having good attitudes and learning to practice with a purpose," he said. "We don't practice at 3:30 on a Tuesday because it's 3:30 on a Tuesday, we practice at 3:30 on a Tuesday because it's the next opportunity to get better. We understand that, we did last year and those things are the building blocks to understanding how important ball security is, to understanding what tempo means and when we go faster to play really fast without any hesitation.

"Those are the building blocks then you go from there."
Trevor Knight, OklahomaStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThere's reason for optimism in the Big 12 following Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.

Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.

"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?

"I don't see why not."

At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.

But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.

[+] EnlargeStrong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie strong is hoping to return Texas, the last Big 12 school to play for and win the national title, to its former national standing.
The title drought can be attributed, in part, to bad luck. But it can also be attributed to Oklahoma slipping a bit and Texas slipping a bunch over the past few years.

After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.

After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.

But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.

Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.

But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.

Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.

"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."

The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.

But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.

"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"If those other (conferences) round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Art Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
The Cowboys were ranked second in the BCS standings in 2011 before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game.

Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.

"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."

Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.

"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."

The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.

Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.

Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.

Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.

Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.

"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.

"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."
At first it seemed like Oklahoma State's band members got lost.

Seconds later their purpose became clear as they entered OSU's Sherman E. Smith Training Center at the end of football practice and surprised Cowboys coach Mike Gundy on his 47th birthday.

"It was a lot of fun," Gundy said. "I have a really good relationship with the band; those kids do a great job. I don't know who contacted them but it was good for them to come over and good for the players to see that. It's good to have something different from football all the time."

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Key returners: CB Kevin Peterson, DT James Castleman, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Key losses: CB Justin Gilbert, WR Josh Stewart, QB Clint Chelf, DT Calvin Barnett

Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 vs. Florida State (in Arlington, Texas); Nov. 22 at Baylor; Dec. 6 at Oklahoma

Projected win percentage: 63.4 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins

[+] EnlargeKevin Peterson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Cowboys will rely more heavily on Kevin Peterson in the defensive backfield with the departure of Justin Gilbert.
Instant impact newcomers: HB/WR Tyreek Hill, LB/S Josh Furman. Hill, as the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year, brings plenty of hype along with his track speed and big-play ability. Furman, a graduate transfer from Michigan, brings much-needed experience as a defender with the versatility to play multiple roles for the Cowboys.

High point from 2013: The Cowboys hammered Big 12 champion Baylor at home 49-17 to put themselves on the doorstep of a second Big 12 title in three seasons. OSU’s defense shut down a record-setting Bears offense, making Bryce Petty look human on a chilly November night in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Low point from 2013: The following week the Cowboys watched Oklahoma come into Boone Pickens Stadium and take away their Big 12 title hopes with a late upset victory. It was easily one of the most disappointing defeats under Mike Gundy.

All eyes on me: The quarterback battle could extend deep into the season, like it has for the past two years in Stillwater. People tend to forget just how productive J.W. Walsh has been during his time under center for the Cowboys. He’s 6-2 as a starter and only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (86.7) and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb (79.7) have better adjusted QBRs than Walsh’s 77.8 during the past two seasons. But former walk-on Daxx Garman, who is expected to play against Florida State in the opener, has the ability to push past Walsh on the depth chart and emerge as the main triggerman for Mike Yurcich’s offense.

Keep an eye on: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, WR James Washington. After a solid redshirt freshman campaign, Ogbah has the chance to emerge as an impact defender for OSU’s defense this fall. Defensive line is the deepest position on OSU’s defense and Ogbah could make it even deeper if he forces his way into the starting lineup and begins to fulfill his potential. Much like Ogbah, Washington plays the deepest position on his side of the ball. Nonetheless there’s plenty of buzz around the true freshman and he could make an immediate impact.

They said it: “They're still very young. We've got a number of players that have a lot of experience and understanding, and then there's a gap. Then, we have more players that are talented, but don't have any experience. It's really the best definition of where we're at right now as a defense.” -- Gundy on OSU’s inexperienced defense

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
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DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.
DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.

Big 12 media days roundtable: Day 1

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
7:30
PM ET
video
It was an action-packed day as Big 12 media days opened in Dallas, Texas. Baylor carried itself with the look and confidence of the defending Big 12 champion, while Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made it clear that change is on the horizon for college athletics. ESPN.com Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon answered four questions in our roundtable to conclude the first session, which was comprised of Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech.

What stuck out to you most?

Trotter: The confidence Baylor carried throughout the day. The Bears are the defending Big 12 champs, and they walked and talked like it Monday. Defensive end Shawn Oakman even took issue with Oklahoma getting voted as the preseason favorite, saying Baylor's 41-12 win over OU last season showed that the Sooners' "product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field." Bears coach Art Briles said the preseason seeding was fair because OU beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while Baylor fell to UCF in the Fiesta. But there’s little doubt the Bears will go into this season with the swagger of the league's best team.

Olson: Other than Bowlsby's scorched-earth, "Winter is Coming" assessment of today's NCAA, I enjoyed Briles' presence at this event, as always. He had his usual great lines -- when Baylor was called a heavyweight, he said "I try to eat as healthy as possible" -- and Texas charm, but unlike last year he's not out to play hype man for his program. He was resolute in saying he's aiming for the College Football Playoff and that OU deserves to be the Big 12 favorite considering how last season ended. He also seems to have taken it personally that QB Bryce Petty wasn't a Heisman finalist last year. With former Texas coach Mack Brown now out of the picture, it appears Briles is the guy reporters love to gravitate toward. He seems as confident and relaxed as ever when it comes to his team's chances in 2014.

Chatmon: Bowlsby didn’t mince words at all Monday. He kicked off Big 12 media days with a bang, talking about the need for restructuring in the NCAA, the possibly bleak future of some Olympic sports, and the potential for cheating in college football nationwide. The cheating discussion was easily the part that stood out to me, as Bowlsby’s candor was unexpected. “The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently,” he said. He went on to say he didn’t think it was rampant and didn’t have any concerns “on a local basis” when asked specifically about the Big 12.

What's something new you learned?

Trotter: TCU added Texas A&M transfer quarterback Matt Joeckel in the spring. But Trevone Boykin is not going to relinquish the job and slide to receiver without a fight. “He wants to be the guy,” coach Gary Patterson said. Whether at receiver or quarterback, Boykin is going to help the Horned Frogs offensively. But he’s going to try to help them at quarterback first.

Olson: I was hardly surprised, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy loves Tyreek Hill. OSU will play Hill at running back and receiver, and Gundy said his goal is to get the speedster the ball 15 to 20 times a game. Hill was voted Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and Gundy admitted that the blueprint for how to maximize Hill's talent hasn't completely come together yet. But the guy has a chance to be a Tavon Austin-type playmaker all over the field. Gundy would be wise to put the keys to the offense in Hill's hands, and it's good to see that the coach gets that.

Chatmon: Sam Eguavoen is a confident guy … who doesn’t like spiders. The Texas Tech linebacker has a lot of confidence in the Red Raiders’ potential this season, pointing to Tech’s narrow road setback to Oklahoma as a key moment in 2013: “If it wasn’t for the out route to a slot receiver, we had that game. The bowl game showed what we’re capable of. That’s the expectation for this season.” Eguavoen went on to say he’d pick Tyrese Gibson, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant to kick it with if he could hang with celebrities. He was then asked about Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones, who gained national attention for posting photos of her hunting exploits in Africa this summer, and responded with this gem: “I’ve killed a couple of roaches before, but she’s out here killing bears and tigers, and I’m scared of spiders. I respect her. If I ever see a lizard in my backyard, I’ll have to hit her up.”

Your favorite exchange of the day?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAccording to Baylor coach Art Briles, Bears quarterback Bryce Petty has "name recognition" all the way up to Salem, Oregon.
Trotter: Briles was in fine form Monday. Besides verbally tussling with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher about the Big 12 not playing a conference title game, Briles explained why QB Bryce Petty has a better chance to win the Heisman this season. “Go to Salem, Oregon ... and talk to the guys at the Dairy Queen that follow college football and say, ‘Bryce Petty.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that quarterback from Baylor.’ That’s why. Because he’s got name recognition.” Petty certainly has more name recognition, though maybe not so much in Salem. A Portland radio station called all six Dairy Queens in Salem to see if anyone had ever heard of Petty. The results for Petty weren’t good.

Olson: Patterson elicited a lot of confused frowns when he said, regarding his changes on offense, "I like Gatorade. When you have to beat people 17-13 just drinking water, you'd like to be able to go back and find out what the different Gatorades are and do everything, you know, for a few years, Rose Bowl year and all that when you score a lot of points." Makes no sense, right? What Patterson was getting at is that, when you're coasting at the end of a blowout win, there's plenty of time for sports drink taste-testing on the sideline. That's a luxury the Frogs rarely enjoyed last year. So, uh, his new offense wants more points and more blowouts. At least, I think that's what he meant ...

Chatmon: Anything Oakman-related was gold. As the hashtag #OakmanisSoBig began to make waves during media days, the Baylor defensive end said his favorite was “#OakmanisSoBig his cereal bowl has a lifeguard." The Bears’ beast of a defender went on to question Oklahoma’s win over Alabama and its preseason favorite status in the Big 12. “It’s kind of disrespectful. You have your starting QB back, most of the front line back, and you’re still ranked No. 2. That doesn’t make sense to me. We beat OU,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia will take over the stage in Dallas. What are you looking forward to Tuesday?

Trotter: The newcomer to the league, Texas coach Charlie Strong, will be in the house. Mack Brown was always great in the media days setting. How will Strong acquit himself in his Big 12 media days debut? A good first impression can go a long way.

Olson: Gee, I wonder if Strong is going to face any scrutiny? He's the Big 12's only first-year head coach and he's hoping to change the perception that he's not a savvy public speaker. Plus, Mack was kind of the king of soapbox speeches and offering his take on college football issues at media days. So I'm guessing the many reporters who crowd around Strong will be practically waiting for him to slip up. He's always said he's OK with the media responsibilities of being Texas' head coach, and his performance Tuesday is truly inconsequential to the big picture, if you ask me. But can Strong make a good impression and inspire some believers on Tuesday?

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to what West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will say as a huge year looms for the Mountaineers. The veteran coach is hitching his future, to begin the season at least, on the shoulders of senior quarterback Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have plenty of skill-position talent and could have an explosive offense with good quarterback play, but people tend to forget WVU had superb quarterback play with Geno Smith in Year 1 in the conference and still finished 7-6 in 2012. So I’m interested to hear what Holgorsen has to say about his defense and the changes on that side of the ball, as well.
Clint ChelfAP Photo/Tim SharpClint Chelf threw for 2,169 yards and 17 touchdowns for Oklahoma State last season.
Last season, Clint Chelf joined Brandon Weeden as the second Oklahoma State quarterback ever to earn all-conference recognition.

After losing his starting job to J.W. Walsh after the second series of the season opener, Chelf came roaring back to reclaim the starting position and fuel the Cowboys to a seven-game winning streak.

Despite watching nearly half the season from the sideline, Chelf finished eighth nationally in Adjusted QBR.

Chelf, who is currently working out in his hometown of Enid, Oklahoma, still hoping to get a shot in the NFL, spoke with ESPN.com this week about Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State’s 2014 prospects and the time Boone Pickens danced in the locker room.

What did it mean to you to become the second quarterback in school history to earn All-Big 12 recognition?

Chelf: It’s really cool. That’s something I was honored to hear. At the same time, it doesn’t make me angry, but it makes me wonder what might have happened if I had gotten more snaps and gotten to play more games. But that’s something you go down in history for, and I’m honored by it.

You guys were literally seconds away from winning the Big 12 championship, and you would have been the hero having led the offense to the late go-ahead touchdown. What was going through your mind when Jalen Saunders caught that touchdown pass for Oklahoma at the end?

Chelf: Disappointment, I guess. I really felt like when we went down and scored, I thought, with the way our defense was playing all year, that we had won it. Unfortunately, they made some big plays. It was just overwhelming emotions after they scored. That’s something I’ll always remember, that was a tough loss for us, and for me especially. It was as opposite end of the spectrum as you can get in two minutes. We were ecstatic and thought we had just won the Big 12 to absolutely disappointed. It was really tough.

On the other side, what was your favorite moment from last season?

Chelf: My favorite moment would probably be catching a pass against Baylor. That whole Baylor game obviously was a lot of fun. As a quarterback, that’s something you don’t get a chance to do. That was really a fun atmosphere.

What was it like playing under Coach Gundy?

Chelf: It was really kind of surprising how it worked. My first year there, he was still involved in our offense. He was more hands on with us, so he got to be around us a lot. But the next couple of years we hired Dana (Holgorsen) and Coach (Todd) Monken, and (Gundy) was never around us. The two offensive coordinators were with us in meetings, on the field, and (Gundy) was kind of more on the defensive side. At the end of the Coach Monken era, Coach Gundy came back in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and he was around us again. He’s an offensive-minded football coach. He’s a good guy. He broke things down for us where all the guys in the room could understand. He relates to the guys well. Everyone knows about his dancing. It’s fun. Guys see we have a coach that will act goofy with us and isn’t afraid to be around us and let his hair down. That’s just how he is. Around us, behind closed doors, he’s a good guy, he’s not afraid to have fun. I think that helps him relate to the guys.

So was he more around the offense again this past season?

Chelf: Yeah, he was more around. Just with the dynamics of it, Dana and Coach Monken were older guys that had been around. Monken was from the NFL. Dana had been an offensive coordinator for a long time. Coach (Mike) Yurcich, it was his first time being at a big-time school in a big-time conference. So I think Coach Gundy, it’s not like it was him coaching, it was Coach Yurcich, but Coach Gundy was around more than he was with the other two guys.

There has been some speculation that maybe Gundy and (former Oklahoma State offensive line coach) Joe Wickline were calling plays at times last season instead of Yurcich. Any truth to that?

Chelf: I think as far as calling plays during the game, Coach Yurcich was calling plays. When we went in for adjustments, everybody would put in their ideas about what would work. Having guys like Coach Gundy, Coach Wickline, those are guys Coach Yurcich could look to and listen to when they had ideas. Those are people you listen to. They influenced (the offense), but they didn’t try to take anything away from Coach Yurcich. I think it was a group effort. I think (Yurcich) called the plays, but they all gave suggestions.

Do you have any good Boone Pickens stories?

Chelf: After we won the Big 12 championship in 2011, he came in and did a little Gundy impersonation, and showed us his moves. They were pretty cool for a 70-year-old billionaire. That was probably the funniest one that I can remember.

Who is the better dancer, Gundy or Boone?

Chelf: I’d have to say Boone, for being the older guy. I think he had a little bit more rhythm.

Moving to this season, what is the key to Walsh playing more efficiently the way he did two years ago?

Chelf: What’s going to help him is having those athletes around him. I think they’re going to be really deep at receiver this year. With J.W., everyone knows he can run and make plays with his legs. What helps him is if you can get him going early with quick passes and let him make some plays running to get his confidence up. I think that really helps him the whole entire game. Getting him going early is a big key for him.

The players all talk about Walsh’s leadership. What is it that makes him a good leader?

Chelf: He’s really relatable to all those guys. He hangs out with all them. He’s also a hard worker. I think that’s probably his biggest asset. Those guys see him in the weight room. When they’re running, he’s always out in front. Guys respect guys like that and he gives the younger guys someone to look up to.

With so much turnover from last year, what are your thoughts on the Cowboys this season?

Chelf: It’s going to be tough. I think that’s something everyone should be prepared for. Anytime you lose 28 seniors and guys that pretty much all played, that’s going to be hard to replace. At the same time, I think they have a lot of talent at the skill positions, and with J-Dub, I think they’re going to be fine. And then on defense, they’re going to be young and have growing pains. But at the same time, Coach (Glenn) Spencer is one of the best defensive coaches I’ve ever been around. He has his guys prepared and ready to go. I think that’s going to be huge for the defense, having him on their side. But it’s also going to be a hard season, I think.

Some people probably don’t know this, but you grew up in Enid with former Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box, who passed away suddenly in 2011. How tough was that and what do you remember about Austin?

Chelf: It was really tough. I remember the day. I was sitting in the exact same spot I’m sitting in right now. I was one of the first ones to find out in my family. My brother was home, I went in there and told him and my mother. They were shell-shocked. That was one of my brother’s best friends. They played everything together since they could walk. I was kind of the tagalong with them. It was a tough time. The one thing I remember about Austin, whenever he walked in the room, it didn’t matter if there were a hundred people or 10, you could always hear him. He was always loud and charismatic and funny. I’ll always remember that. He was a great guy, and someone I looked up to since I could walk. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to play quarterback. Watching him do some of the things he did at Enid was inspiring. It was a tough loss. But we always remember how Austin was growing up. Kind-hearted and a great guy.
Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to take a look at what the season might look like if everything fell into place for each school, the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we'll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong, the worst-case scenario.

Let's continue with Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtA quick start by J.W. Walsh against Florida State could inspire Oklahoma State to a banner season.
BEST CASE

Led by a 300-yard passing day by quarterback J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State shocks the nation with a double-digit win over Florida State to kick off the season. Postgame pictures of former OSU standout and current Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant celebrating the win with current OSU players immediately becomes the lasting image of college football’s opening weekend.

And that’s just the beginning.

OSU extends its win streak to four after Walsh out duels Texas Tech’s Davis Webb in late September. Cowboys fans ride the wave of Walsh’s success, making “Our W is better than your W” shirts after the win, complete with strikethroughs of Webb and Jameis Winston's names.

The Cowboys' undefeated run through October starts to remind people of Mike Gundy’s 2011 team, which defied preseason expectations with a 12-1 mark. Receiver Jhajuan Seales, with over 1,000 receiving yards in the first eight games, is validating his reputation as the Cowboys’ next elite pass catcher.

Kansas State ends it all, handing OSU a road loss to start November as the youth of Gundy’s squad finally rises to the forefront in a game full of mental mistakes and miscues from the Pokes. The Cowboys rebound with a home win over Texas, but Art Briles and Baylor hand them loss No. 2 in Waco, Texas, the following week.

Two losses in its last three games sets up a huge Bedlam tilt with Oklahoma, which is undefeated and appears to be a shoo-in for the College Football Playoff and Big 12 title. Revenge is sweet for OSU as they leave Norman with a double-digit win and knock the Sooners out of playoff and Big 12 title contention.

Cowboy players use the word “Payback” after the game, making it clear what they had been talking about for the past week. Walsh finishes the year with over 3,800 passing yards and Seales cements All-American honors with a 200-yard performance against the Sooners.

An Alamo Bowl win over UCLA ends another 11-2 campaign in a season that didn’t begin with high expectations. Gundy smiles with pride and preseason prognosticators agree to a five-year hiatus from projecting OSU’s record until 2020.

WORST CASE

OSU is destroyed in the season opener against Florida State, with the Seminoles defense scoring more touchdowns than the Cowboys offense can muster in the blowout loss. Gundy has no answers after the game and seems shell-shocked as he just keeps mumbling, “My visor didn’t fit right” when asked a question.

His squad shakes off the loss, winning back to back games over UTSA and Missouri State, but Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders storm into Boone Pickens Stadium and hand the Cowboys their second blowout in four games. Webb throws for 623 yards and seven touchdowns in the win, which sees the Cowboys young secondary bust a coverage on four of those seven scores.

The Cowboys are able to knock off Iowa State at home and Kansas on the road before a turnover-filled loss at TCU results in a quarterback change from Walsh to ballyhooed freshman Mason Rudolph.

Thrown into the fire, Rudolph gets grilled.

The freshman struggles but OSU finds a way to beat West Virginia thanks to a late touchdown and a special teams score. Rudolph's struggles continue as the Pokes end the season with four straight losses to Kansas State, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma.

A 5-7 finish leaves the Cowboys licking their wounds heading into 2015 despite positive signs for the future from Rudolph, who passes for six combined touchdowns in losses to BU and OU in the final two games. After the Bedlam loss, Gundy is unyielding in his stance that the Cowboys taking their lumps will pay off in 2015.

Two weeks later Gundy announces his stock options in various companies, namely hair gel and private jet enterprises, have paid off to the tune of $82 million dollars. Knowing that number matches his career win total at OSU, Gundy takes it as a sign and retires.
Coaches and players alike can make a name for themselves on third down. Receivers earn reputations for their ability to move the chains, signal-callers separate themselves as clutch performers and coaches’ creative play calling rises to the forefront during those key moments.

A closer look at the production of Big 12 offenses and defenses on third down can provide a glimpse at how champions are made and reveal areas of improvement heading into the 2014 season.

The stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information, are from conference games only during the past two seasons in an effort to provide a fair baseline for every team. The teams are listed alphabetically with third-down conversion rate, opponent third-down conversion rate, yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more and yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more serving as the four key categories to show production on third down, or lack thereof.

Some thoughts and notes:

  • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage in the past two seasons, and it’s no major surprise to see the Wildcats sitting atop the conference, as Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are efficient and productive. Playing three different quarterbacks -- Collin Klein, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams -- during this stretch, K-State has the Big 12’s top raw QBR on third down (85) in this span. However, Waters’ 57 raw QBR on third down was the lowest of the trio. He’s expected to be KSU’s starter this fall and will need to play better on third down if the Wildcats hope to make a Big 12 title run.
  • Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, the only other teams joining KSU with better than 40 percent conversions on third down, combined with the Wildcats to win 92 games during the past two seasons. Third-down success on offense and overall success seem to go hand in hand.
  • [+] EnlargeBill Snyder
    AP Photo/Matt YorkBill Snyder's Kansas State teams have excelled on third down, a big reason for the Wildcats' recent success.
    Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, the bottom three teams in third-down conversion percentage, will enter 2014 with new offensive coordinators, underscoring the importance of third-down success.
  • TCU’s defense was exceptional on third down, leading the conference with a 31.9 percent opponent third-down conversion percentage. If the Horned Frogs continue that production, and the offense improves its 31.3 third-down conversion rate, TCU could return to a bowl in 2014. New coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are tasked with jump-starting the Horned Frogs offense.
  • Oklahoma State allowed just 34.7 percent opponent third-down conversion rate, joining TCU as the lone Big 12 schools under 35 percent in that category. An underrated defense is one reason Mike Gundy's squad won 18 games while playing musical chairs at the quarterback position during the past two seasons.
  • Baylor and Kansas State are in the bottom half of the Big 12 in opponent third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons, a sign that stellar defense on third down is not a requirement to win the Big 12 title. KSU was sixth at 40.5 percent, Baylor was ninth at 44.2 percent. The Wildcats won the conference title in 2012, Baylor won in 2013.
  • West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas are the teams in the bottom half of the conference in third-down conversion rate and opponent third-down conversion rate. Those three teams combined to win 12 conference games in the past two seasons.
  • Baylor led the Big 12 in yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more with a 6.97 ypp average. The Bears' explosive offense was joined by Oklahoma (6.96), Texas (6.89) and West Virginia (6.43) as the lone teams to average at least six yards per play in that scenario.
  • Texas Tech, at 4.68 yards per play, is surprisingly low in this scenario, rating ninth in the conference . The Red Raiders’ offense is consistently among the Big 12’s best but this is a clear area of improvement for Kliff Kingsbury’s squad.
  • OSU sits atop the conference at 3.98 yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more, another sign of how underrated its defense has been over the past two seasons.
  • KSU is the only other team that allowed less than five yards (4.23) in that scenario and is the only team in the top half of the Big 12 in yards per play and yards per play allowed in that scenario. Third-down success, on both sides of the ball, was a big part of KSU’s ability to consistently win (and surprise) during the past two seasons.
Could Oklahoma State surprise the nation and make an appearance in the College Football Playoff?

Travis Haney, our colleague at ESPN Insider, took a closer look at the Cowboys’ chances Insider today with three reasons why Mike Gundy’s program will make the playoff and three reasons why the Pokes will not make the playoff.

One reason the Cowboys could earn a playoff berth is junior-college signee Tyreek Hill, writes Haney:
“Reports from Stillwater indicate that Tyreek Hill could be a dynamic playmaker, which is why he deserves his own category here. … The objective: Get him the ball, preferably in space. Coach Mike Gundy told me he would ideally like to see Hill receive 20 touches per game at running back and receiver. "It's our job to get him going," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich told me. "We have to make sure to prepare our talent for [the opener against] Florida State.”

One of the reasons Oklahoma State could struggle to make the playoff is the Cowboys' offensive efficiency, which took a step backward in 2013, writes Haney:
“Oklahoma State was the standard for offensive efficiency in both 2011 and 2012, finishing third in the country both seasons. Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was a continually unsettled situation at quarterback, the Cowboys dropped to 45th in yards per play in 2013 (5.91, compared to more than 7 in the previous two years). Clint Chelf stepped in and operated, more or less, as a caretaker of the offense, while an improved defense often kept OSU in games.”

It would be a major surprise if the Cowboys earn a berth in the College Football Playoff but, as Haney notes, 2014 could pay big dividends for 2015.
“In reality, this is a team that could set the table for future efforts. The FSU opener could give fans a nice (or unpleasant) gauge for how wide the gap is between elite and where the Pokes currently reside.”

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