TCU has a quarterback who is a Heisman hopeful but some think that Oklahoma State has the second best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference.
And the Cowboys may have the best backup quarterback in the conference, if not the country.
Quarterback Trevone Boykin of TCU was named the preseason All Big 12 quarterback and is high in Heisman speculation.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy has already named sophomore Mason Rudolph as his 2015 starter and he will be backed up by J.W. Walsh, a former starter who has won some games for OSU.
Last season, Gundy pulled true Rudolph off a redshirt and he came in to win the Bedlam game at Norman and the bowl game. Rudolph hit 19 of 35 attempts against OU and passed for 299 yards against Washington in the bowl game.
“Well, now I wish I had another year with him,” Gundy said during Big 12 Media Days in Dallas. “It’s really difficult to predict how redshirt years will take place, especially at the quarterback position. I think most teams across the country now feel very lucky to have two players at the quarterback position that they can put out there and feel comfortable and run the offense.
“In our situation last year, the way we handled Mason obviously was what we thought was best for our football team, and it worked out for us in the long run. But you would always like to have the extra year. It certainly paid dividends for us to play him at the time that we put him in.”
Walsh ended his freshman season as the OSU offense leader with 1,854 yards of total offense. As a sophomore in 2013, he started five game and played in eight.
Last year, Walsh started and nearly engineered an upset of then-No. 1 Florida State. But in week two, Walsh got injured and was lost for the rest of the season.
“We’re very lucky to have J.W. Walsh on our football team,” Gundy said. “J.W. is going to play. He’ll be a factor in the success of our football team this season. But at that time (when Rudolph was named a starter), we just felt like it was best for Mason to understand that he needs to be the leader on our offense, and the players need to start rallying around him as their quarterback.
“Obviously, we had success at the latter part of the season with him.”
The decision to name Rudolph the starter has paid dividends.
“It’s much different,” Gundy said. “He’s the leader on our offense. He’s worked hard this summer. He’s shown signs of toughness. And he has to continue to push forward.
“It’s only human nature to get comfortable in things we do in life, not only as a player but in the professional world.
“I like where he’s at at this time. And if he continues to work, be a student of the game, distribute the ball the way he needs to, the way we ask him to, depending on what style of defense we’re going against that week, toughness and leadership are very important, in our opinion, at the quarterback spot.”
Will Rudolph be as good as some recent OSU quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden (with the Dallas Cowboys) or Zac Robinson?
“We’re going to find out,” Gundy said. “I think, at this time next year, we could probably get a more accurate answer. He’s played in three games (versus OU, Baylor and Washington).
“It’s important to us at Oklahoma State that our quarterbacks are tough, durable, and they’re gritty and they’re good leaders. I think he’s shown signs of that.
“The time he puts in the classroom, studying, understanding how to distribute the ball, take what the defense gets him is going to make all the difference.
“We see it across the country, certainly in the Big 12 Conference, and at every level of football, if your quarterback plays well, it gives you a chance to have a really good season. If your quarterback is average or you get into a situation where you’re playing multiple quarterbacks from an injury standpoint, then it’s difficult to have a lot of success in most cases.
“So at this time next year, if he plays throughout the season and we go the direction that I think our football team can go, I could give you a really accurate answer. Right now it’s just way too early.”
The Big 12 has gained a reputation for good quarterbacks, particularly due to the spread offenses.
“I think that the intangibles the quarterbacks bring to the table — you can go back the last five or six years in the Big 12, and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had not only some good quarterbacks but some great ones,” Gundy said. “Multiple first-round picks, guys that are taken the first pick in the NFL Draft. And they’re different in their own way, and they have intangibles.
“Like Boykin at TCU, there’s times he’ll make really good throws, and there’s times he’ll take off on quarterback draw. And then we’ll run a little option, and then he’ll scramble around and find a receiver downfield. His way of success is much different than Brandon Weeden’s. Brandon might move in the pocket and then just throw a dart 45 yards on a line and hit a receiver, much different than another player.
“So it’s the intangibles and their ability to make a play and overcome one of two things — one, a poor play call, or, two, a missed assignment with the other ten guys on the field.
“In our opinion at Oklahoma State, that’s what separates quarterbacks.”
OSU’s defense could be better this season – three Cowboys are preseason All Big 12 picks.
“We put a lot of importance in planning in our defense about four years ago,” Gundy said. “We felt like we needed to be more competitive on defense, and we built up our numbers. We allotted more scholarships on that
side of the ball than we did on offense. I think it’s paying off for us now at this time.
“We have a good group on defense. I think we have some young players that should show up this season that most people are not aware of. They’ve been in our program a couple years, and we feel good about what they’ve done up to this point.
“So we’ll see how they start in September. We’ll see if we can bring them along and get them ready to play, and for that stretch during the season in conference, where usually determines which direction teams go.
“But that second group of guys on our defense that we’ve stressed over the last three or four years should be the ones that help us this season.”
OSU and the Big 12 have drawn criticism for lacking a lot of marquee nonconference opponents. OSU will play Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and The University of Texas at San Antonio.
Some think the weakness of the nonconference schedule contributed to TCU and Baylor being left out of the four-team national championship playoff last year.
“I think that we have a good plan at Oklahoma State,” said Gundy. “ I’ve put a lot of thought into what our coaching staff thinks is best for Oklahoma State, and I’m comfortable with the schedule that we have over the next five or six years. I think we’re scheduled all the way up through maybe six years.
“I think it’s really good for our football team and good for our school. I still am a strong supporter of Big 12 Conference and each school plays each team, and I think that’s a sign of strength in our league. I think right before Ohio State beat Wisconsin by a large margin, we had a good chance to get two teams in.
“So I don’t know that we need to overreact. I think that our conference is strong. I have a lot of confidence in our league office, Commissioner (Bob) Bowlsby and the staff and the direction they’re taking us and that we’ll make the right decisions. For that reason, Coach (Mike) Holder, myself, we need to make the right decisions in our scheduling, and I think that we’ve done a good job up through the next five or six years.”
OSU was not eligible for a bowl game until the last game of the season and that drew some negative comment from billionaire Boone Pickens, who has given millions to the Cowboy football program.
“I don’t think that you think about something of that magnitude at that time,” Gundy said. “But we’ve come a long way in the last six months, not only as a football team, as a coaching staff, an organization, as a university, and the relationship with Mr. Pickens communication has been tremendous.
“I know I feel a lot better. I’m sure he feels better. Things have been really good for us over the last six or seven months, and we’re very proud to be where we are, and we’ve made some great strides.
“So we’re excited about the future, and we’re all pulling together again.”
OSU was picked to finish fourth in the conference behind TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma.
“I think, if we played well and take care of the ball, that we’ll have an opportunity to win the league,” Gundy said. “We have good young players. We’ve got some depth. Like most years, we have to stay healthy at certain positions.
“But we’ve certainly worked toward that goal from winter conditioning through spring ball and summer conditioning. We like our football team. I like our coaching staff. I like how the team cares about each other. And as I said, we get good quarterback play, take care of the football, force some turnovers on defense, and we should have an opportunity to win the league.”