Coach Mike Gundy thinks Oklahoma State football may be poised for an outstanding season in 2017.
Already ranked No. 11 in the preseason coaches poll, the Cowboys return one of the best offenses in the nation with a top-rated quarterback and one of the best receiver corps in America.
“We’ve evolved into something really special at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said during Big 12 Media Days. “As I look back over the year, last season, not only on the field, but our team GPA was a 2.9 this last semester. Our young people are volunteering time in the community. It’s just a culture that’s something that maybe I didn’t even expect we could create at Oklahoma State. It’s brought a lot of excitement into this season.”
Even though Coach Bill Snyder has been coaching for a longer time that Gundy, with the retirement of Bob Stoops at OU, Gundy is the coach with the most continuous tenure in the Big 12.
“I’ve been around a long time and have a long history in not only the Big 12 but the old Big Eight in this part of the country,” said Gundy, who played at OSU and was an assistant before becoming head coach. “So I feel like from that standpoint, I can bring a lot to the conference. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had great camaraderie amongst the coaches in this league, and I look forward to that. But I’m a much different person and coach than I was 13 years ago. I would say patience has played a big role in that, and over a period of time, I’ve learned to have a lot of fun.”
You can see the impact of OSU when the Cowboys barely missed the BCS game (due to an upset loss to Iowa State) and that may have accelerated the switch to a four-team national championship playoff.
“We’ve been trendsetters in a lot of different ways at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said. “We went to a four-team playoff, maybe based on what happened with our team years ago. And unfortunately, we’re going to maybe a different replay system based on what happened to our team a year ago. I believe in the replay. I think it’s better. We want to get it right. I know it takes a little bit of time. I think any time we can go back and look and do the very best we can to make sure it’s correct and fair, I think it’s positive for football.”
Last season, OSU lost to Central Michigan when officials incorrectly gave UCM extra time after the game clock had expired. With a proper review, the Cowboys would have rightfully won that game.
The Big 12 has lost prestige nationally with the departure of some teams and now the Big 12 is the only Power 5 conference with only 10 teams. The decline of Texas plus the absence of a Big 12 team in the college playoff in two of the last three years has taken a toll.
“I think we’re all responsible for that, and I think that we’re learning as a conference, as a league,” Gundy said. “Obviously, I’m in the state of Oklahoma. We have Oklahoma State, and we have Oklahoma. I think at times the fans, whether they would admit it or not, they would rather one of the rival schools lose than win when we need them to win.
“I’ll say this, and I’ll say it again. We play Oklahoma in the middle of the year. I’ve always said, when we play Oklahoma, I want them to be 11-0. We play them in the middle this year, so 6-0, whatever it may be. I think as a conference we’re stronger than what the national media or our fan base might think. We play a little bit different style of football. It’s an exciting game of football. And I think that we all want each other to win when we’re playing nonconference games, and we’ll continue to get better and better.
“We’re going to have terrific quarterback play. And what’s interesting about our league is that, just when you think the defenses in our league won’t play well in a big game, they do play well, and I think that’s what makes it fun. So, yes, I think we’re responsible for playing the very best we can in nonconference games to help the image of the Big 12 conference.”
Gundy is the winningest coach in OSU history and he has built the Cowboys into a powerhouse.
“It’s changed over the years,” Gundy said. “At first when I got this job, I guess I wasn’t smart enough to realize how hard it was. So we just never stopped. We moved forward. We tried to make the best decisions with the resources we had. We tried to be on the cutting edge, not only Xs- and Os-wise, but from the science behind football, different ways to do things, cutting back on practices, not having full-scale tackle practices or scrimmages in the fall and spring.
“But then as we matured as a program, I realized that the most important thing we’ve done is we’ve created a culture at Oklahoma State for success in all different areas. We have some structure. We have certain ways that we expect our players to operate to be a part of our team and that we’re all lucky that we’re here, myself included, and that Oklahoma State football is by far bigger than any one person in our program, and we live by that. We’re very disciplined. We’re very structured. Accountability is important. We’re unselfish. We respect our opponents, but we don’t fear anybody.
“I think that we’ve stayed with that, and we’ve created a culture where players understand success.”
OSU returns an excellent quarterback in Mason Rudolph, a 1,000-yard receiver in James Washington and a 1,000-yard rusher in Justice Hill.
“They should be very good,” Gundy said. “We’re fortunate that we have an experienced quarterback that our team trusts. They have a lot of respect for him. He’s played injured throughout his career. He’s unselfish. We have a group of wideouts that are certainly the best as a group that I’ve ever been around. They’re unselfish. They understand that there are not enough footballs to go around. We’re going to do the best to stay involved. Some of them are going to draw a safety over the top. Some can draw a little double coverage. We have to go with our group of guys.
“We’ve evolved as a running team again in the last year with Justice. We need a backup there.
“We need to be effective and score points and be productive in the red zone from a touchdown standpoint and not turn the ball over. When we’ve had success at Oklahoma State, we’ve been very good in turnover margin. I think that’s really important for our football team.
“But I don’t see any reason to hide that on offense we should be really good and our players should expect that. They’ve worked hard, and be demanding, and should play very well early in the season.”
Part of the benefit of success is better recruiting.
“That’s another area that’s changed over the years,” Gundy said. “We go after all of the so-called top-rated guys in the country. A lot of times they don’t show interest in us, so we continue to migrate toward young men that love football, that are committed to something other than themselves. We want them to be committed to our team.
“We’ve done some research in the last few years and found that football players that think really fast, game day savvy, really cerebral players, have been and provided a lot of success for us. So we want to know if football’s really important to the young men. We want to know if they’ll be unselfish. We want to know if they’re really interested in getting an education, the way that the GPA and the eligibility requirements have changed over the last few years that I think’s very positive. A young man has to be serious about getting an education in college. If not, they’re not going to make it.
“So when you tie all those things together, and if we think that they will fit into our culture, then they’re going to be a good pick for us. And it’s interesting, if you look at the NFL draft last year – and my numbers will be just a little bit off – but the highest number of players in last year’s draft were three-star players coming out of high school. Now, you could also play the percentage game there’s fewer five-stars, but what that means is there’s going to be a lot of players out there that are good enough to play at a high level, so can we get them? We’ve had some success getting them. And if we do, can we develop them and put them into our culture, and will they have success? That’s the direction we’ve gone with recruiting the last few years.”