The Oklahoma State running attack instantly got better when Barry Sanders, Jr., chose to transfer from Stanford to OSU.
His father, Barry Sanders, Sr., won the Heisman Trophy in a storied career for the Cowboys. And the elder Sanders was one of the best running backs in NFL history when he played for the Detroit lions.
During a recent teleconference for Big 12 football coaches, OSU coach Mike Gundy was asked to comment on the transfer of the son of a Cowboy legend.
“I can’t talk about him at all,” Gundy said. “I got in trouble the last time someone asked me about him.”
Oklahoma State had a great passing attack last season but the running game did not measure up to recent standards for the Cowboys. Part of the problem was the lack of a standout running back and there were questions about the offensive line.
“We’re improved in both areas,” Gundy said. “We still have a ways to go. When you are trying to develop an offensive line, it’s the one position that doesn’t happen as fast as others. So there’s no question in my mind that we are improved. We want to be able to rush the ball more effectively than we did last season.”
Gundy can talk about spring football, and especially his search for a backup to starter Mason Rudolph at quarterback.
“I though that Taylor (Cornelius) threw the ball around real well,” Gundy said following the spring game. “John (Kolar) handled himself fairly well for the first time being in the spotlight. We were able to run the ball a little bit. Each one of them showed some signs that they were moving in a positive direction in the first time being out there in front of the crowd.”
Rudolph is a junior and is expected to be one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the conference, if not the nation. The fourth quarterback on the roster is Gabe Neph, a redshirt freshman from Owasso.
Rudolph was thrust into the limelight as a freshman due to injuries during his sophomore year. Last year, J.W. Walsh was healthy and he shared some playing time with Rudolph.
“I think J.W. helped him a lot, just in the maturity standpoint,” Gundy said. “Not only Mason but our team. Mason’s done a good job this spring. He’s always been a good leader. He’s tough. The players respect him. He played the Baylor game with a broken foot. And he played in the bowl game when he was probably only 60 or 70 percent. You develop some leadership and some respect from the team in those areas. He’s matured. He’s played now in 14 games and he kind of in a veteran mode. He sees things and handles things better.”
The spring game is fun for fans but is not a great barometer.
“You can’t really judge spring games,” Gundy said. “It’s very difficult in a lot of different areas. The only message I would have is that we are improved in the running back position and we’re improved up front in the offensive line. It’s going to take some time but we are getting better each day.”
Former OSU player Emmanuel Ogbah had 13 sacks in 2015 and is expected to be a high draft pick in the NFL. Former OSU defensive end Jimmy Bean is a pro prospect.
“I think that he will get drafted late,” Gundy said of Bean. “Again, I don’t pretend to know enough about what their thoughts are on each one of the players. I’ve always liked the way that he’s improved over the last two or three years and developed his body. I think he’s a late bloomer. I would expect somebody to take him late. If not, he will certainly be in a good camp and have a great shot to make a team, in my opinion.”
The Big 12 coaches were asked about expansion of the league to 12 teams and the reinstatement of a championship game.
“I don’t know exactly what expansion anyone would be discussing,” Gundy said. “I have never thought that a team or a league that has 10 teams that played each team throughout the season needed a championship game because everybody gets an opportunity to compete with each school so there shouldn’t be any question at the end of the season who the champion is.”
The recent ban on satellite camps for colleges who want to run camps off campus could have a deep impact on Oklahoma State in terms of evaluating young talent and recruiting. “We are not sure yet what we are going to do,” Gundy said about the new satellite camp restrictions. “We are going to wait to see what happens when they make the final decision. My guess is that they will make some adjustments and we won’t have to face this issue. But if we do, then we’ll have to come up with a plan to try to identify players in some other way.”
Gundy is predicting a successful run this season, due in part to the leadership of players like Rudolph, Zac Crabtree, James Washington, Chad Whitener, Vincent Taylor and others.
“This is a good group,” Gundy said. “And we have good leadership. We are a fairly mature team right now. They have done a nice job of handling the circumstances and pushing hard in the offseason.”
OSU lost its last three games, including a 20-48 defeat by Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl and 23-58 loss to Oklahoma in the Bedlam match.
Those setbacks have not discouraged his team, Gundy said.
“These guys understand football,” Gundy said. “Anytime you are playing in a high-level competition in bowl games like we are, when things don’t go well, you have to come back and play next week. It’s no different than when Ole Miss thumped Alabama during the season. These guys, they don’t let a lot of things bother them. They get up and get going and get ready for the next one.”