NCF Nation: Jeremiah Price

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

In some quarters, his image remains framed by his celebrated postgame outburst more than two years ago.

 
 Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE
 Mike Gundy has the Cowboys at 6-1 despite being forced to replace some of his top playmakers.
But Mike Gundy, now 42, has moved way past the popular perception of that tirade to become the best coach in the Big 12 to this point of the season.

His Oklahoma State team entered the season with more expectations than at any time in the program’s recent history. Those hopes only grew after the team's victory over Georgia in the season opener boosted them to No. 5 in the nation.

But even after a loss to Houston in the following game that turned on two tipped passes, Gundy has persevered over a unique set of challenges unlike any he has ever faced during his coaching tenure.

The Cowboys have overcome the loss of Kendall Hunter, the 2008 Big 12 leading rusher who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of an ankle injury.

Dez Bryant, the program’s preseason All-American candidate at wide receiver and punt returner, played in only three games before he was ruled ineligible over his dalliance with former NFL standout Deion Sanders.

The Cowboys learned Tuesday that Bryant won’t return this season, just adding another obstacle to challenging for their first Big 12 South title.

“We hope that our plan and our scheme is far enough along that we can have some variation [in players],” Gundy told reporters. “The thing you always worry about as a coach is, ‘Is your plan for the week good enough and then can your players step up and make some plays?’

The Cowboys have done just that since the loss of Bryant and Hunter, two of their top three playmakers.

Keith Toston has emerged as a consistent producer in Hunter's featured back role, producing 606 rushing yards to rank fourth in the conference.

Bryant caught a higher percentage of his team's completions than any receiver in the conference last season. But in his absence Hubert Anyiam has become the featured receiver, leading the team with 25 receptions. Seven other players have caught at least eight passes this season as the Cowboys have become more balanced without Bryant.

Quarterback Zac Robinson has been the constant, keeping the team together despite all of the turmoil and personnel losses.

But Robinson admits that the notion of playing so well without Bryant and Hunter would have been a little stunning to him if he had considered it before the season started.

“I would have thought you were crazy,” Robinson said. “With some of the guys who are stepping up and producing for us, some started as third-string players. It’s been great to see them step up. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought they would have done this? But it’s a tribute to their hard work.”

Those personnel losses are only a start. Gundy kicked off wide receiver Damian Davis and Jeremy Broadway for breaking team rules. He also suspended fellow wide receiver Bo Bowling indefinitely this spring while he faces charges of possessing marijuana and anabolic steroids.

Projected starting tight end Jamal Mosley left the team just before the start of the season amid a police investigation that has yet to produce any results.

And Gundy’s defense has been wracked with injuries. Cornerback Perrish Cox and defensive end Jeremiah Price both have missed substantial time this season.

"At some point, you’d like to not talk about adversity and talk about the future, but that’s become a topic,” Gundy said.

Gundy's perseverance has caught the attention of Texas coach Mack Brown.

"I really admire Mike and their staff for what they've done," Brown said. "They just move forward. They don't talk about it. Anyiam has got 19 receptions the last two games, so he has stepped in for Dez.

"Keith Toston was an alternating back anyway, and he's done a great job for Kendall Hunter. I think Mike and that staff have done one of the great coaching jobs this year in the country."

The Cowboys are now 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big 12 South, a half-game behind the Longhorns. They are 14th in the latest BCS poll and have all of their goals still in front of them.

Gundy credits his team for its resiliency.

“When you have as many off-the-field distractions and injuries or things come up that we have this year, you have to have leaders other than the coaches,” Gundy said. “That’s just the chemistry of your team and they enjoy being around each other and enjoy practicing. So no matter what happens, they’ll buy in and go play hard.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


1. Texas: The Longhorns took the weekend off to prepare for Colorado. The break almost came at a bad time for Texas, considering their performance against UTEP last week. And after the Miners’ stunning upset over Houston Saturday night, how good does Texas’ beatdown victory over the Miners look now?

2. Oklahoma State: After a week off, the Cowboys will travel to Texas A&M this weekend. The break was good for Mike Gundy’s team as it gave key players like Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, Kendall Hunter and Jeremiah Price a week to heal. But the Cowboys might have received another injury concern when learning emerging freshman running back Jeremy Smith could be undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

3. Kansas: Maybe the Jayhawks’ victory over Southern Mississippi doesn’t look as attractive today, after the Golden Eagles’ loss at UAB. But Kansas still heads into Big 12 play heavy with momentum after the week off. The Cyclones have a score to settle with Iowa State after the Cyclones’ near-upset last season at Ames. Figure that Kansas will be focused for this one back home.

4. Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini begins Big 12 play with one of his toughest Big 12 games first as the Cornhuskers travel to Missouri on Thursday to start conference play -- a place where they haven’t won since 2001. The Cornhuskers’ defense has been emerging in recent weeks and will be the key for their effort on Thursday night. And, yes, the Cornhuskers might have a score to settle with new Missouri quarterback -- and former Nebraska commit -- Blaine Gabbert.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners dropped their second one-point decision of the season, struggling without much offensive firepower when Ryan Broyles joined Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford on the sideline. And that lack of productivity finally bit them when the Sooner defense finally wore down late against Miami, allowing the Hurricanes to kill the clock. Bob Stoops has always excelled when his back was against wall and facing big challenges. He might be facing the biggest test of his 11-season coaching career with the Sooners in the next few weeks.

6. Missouri: The Tigers have been the biggest early surprise in the conference and take a big step forward into North title contention with a victory over Nebraska. A win would continue their recent mastery over the Cornhuskers and prove their 4-0 start was no fluke. One particular key will be running the ball against the Cornhuskers, keeping Gabbert out of long-yardage situations against Nebraska’s fearsome pass rush.

7. Texas Tech: Mike Leach might be facing a rarity as Taylor Potts attempts to overcome a concussion that idled him for much of Saturday’s victory over New Mexico. Steven Sheffield immediately juiced the Red Raider offense, scoring on his first four possessions. But as the Red Raiders get ready for Kansas State, Leach has to be concerned about Tech’s five turnovers vs. New Mexico and the five sacks allowed after yielding only six in the first three games. Tech’s defense has some improvement as well after allowing New Mexico to produce its season-high in passing and total yards last week.

8. Baylor: Impressive relief performances by Nick Florence and Jarred Salubi enabled the Bears to finish off a 3-1 nonconference record. It won’t get any easier as Baylor travels to wounded Oklahoma for its conference opener. The defense remains a concern after Kent State rolled up season-best totals of 424 total yards and 259 passing yards. But Baylor’s special teams came up big with three blocked kicks -- two by Jason Lamb and one by Phil Taylor.

9. Kansas State: Bill Snyder had a trick up his sleeve and pulled it by using transfer Grant Gregory as his starter. Gregory responded with a strong night (206 passing yards, two TD passes, one TD run) to direct a comeback that produced the tight victory over Iowa State. The triumph helps Kansas State claim its first conference game for only the second time in the past nine seasons. And KSU’s victory was preserved by a blocked extra point with 36 seconds left by Emmanuel Lamur -- Kansas State’s 36th blocked kick since 2002.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones had their chances before a disappointing loss to Kansas State that was settled on a blocked extra point in the last minute. The Cyclones played well at times without leading offensive threat Alexander Robinson, but were done in by too many defensive mistakes in critical situations and a lack of offensive rhythm. Three fourth-quarter three-and-outs on offense and two fumbles were simply too much for the Cyclones to overcome.

11. Texas A&M: After a fast start, the Aggies were exposed down the stretch by a faster and more talented Arkansas team to provide for their first loss of the season. It looked like 2008 all over again as the Aggies struggled to protect Jerrod Johnson. And after dominating early against Arkansas, Von Miller and the Aggies’ pass rush disappeared for most of the game. Those struggles mean that Mike Sherman has his work cut out as he starts facing even stronger teams in the Big 12 South.

12. Colorado: It won’t get any easier for Colorado as the Buffaloes face Texas and Kansas the next two weeks after their disappointing 1-3 record in nonconference play. They showed flashes at West Virginia, but were undone by the same problems that have vexed them all season. Their lack of productivity and defensive struggles are best indicated in this statistic: Colorado has produced only two plays of 40 or more yards in the first four games of the season, compared to allowing 11 plays of 40 yards or more on defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Most observers are expecting a lot of points Saturday night at Faurot Field -- a game that could resemble an Arena Football League shootout considering the explosive offenses of Missouri and Oklahoma State.

It's understandable why, considering some of the numbers coming into the game. The Tigers rank second in scoring and the Cowboys are third. Missouri's defense is 83rd overall in total defense and 114th in pass defense. Oklahoma State's is 114th in sacks and 116th in tackles for losses.

Even with those daunting indicators, OSU linebacker Patrick Lavine says he doesn't care what dire defensive predictions are floating around days before the game.

"That doesn't bother us. The defense is going to go out there and play as hard as we can regardless of what is being said," Lavine said. "We've progressed so much from day 1 to where we are now. We're building some confidence and I think we'll show it when we get our chance."

The Cowboys' improved defensive work has been one of the biggest surprises in OSU's 5-0 start that's its best since 2004.

The OSU defense went into a feeding frenzy in its 56-28 victory over Texas A&M, providing five first-half turnovers and three three-and-outs to spark the early knockout.

"Our staff has really done a good job in the last nine months of building on the success we had in the bowl game and bringing the team together and really making [sure] they understood what we were trying to accomplish Xs and Os wise," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "The players have rallied together in running to the football."

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