ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Gundy wants us to believe he might start Dru Brown ahead of redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders at quarterback.
That a senior transfer from Hawaii might win the Oklahoma State job instead of the 2017 Texas high school player of the year.
While I consider the Brown-over-Sanders possibility to be an impossibility, Gundy swears he’ll enter the Aug. 1 start of preseason camp with a 50-50 competition at QB.
During the first few days of camp, the coach says, Sanders and Brown will get the same number of snaps with the first-unit offense.
As we traveled to Texas, new co-worker Frank Bonner asked this question: “Is there a chance that Mike Gundy names a quarterback?”
Bonner, entering his first season as the Tulsa World’s Oklahoma State beat writer, was referring to Gundy’s appearance at the Big 12 Media Days event and whether the Cowboy coach might reveal a quarterback decision.
By the end of his busy Monday, Gundy hadn’t cracked. There would be no QB revelation.
For only the second time in his 15 years as the head man, Gundy apparently doesn’t know in July who his No. 1 QB will be in August and beyond.
In 2013, there was J.W. Walsh vs. Clint Chelf.
In 2019, it’s Sanders vs. Brown.
A celebrated recruit from Denton, Sanders was the 2017 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year. Recruiting in Texas sustains the Cowboy program. On the current roster, there are 46 Texans.
Typically, the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year isn’t a backup at the college level.
Brown is a California native who made 22 starts at Hawaii before making his graduate-transfer move to OSU.
It seemed like an odd choice. It seemed Brown could have been an immediate starter at any of 20 other FBS schools, but he made the decision to dive into a competitive situation at Oklahoma State.
Before the 2018 season, OSU had at quarterback a fifth-year senior (Taylor Cornelius) and had signed Sanders. During the spring — three months before Brown arrived — Gundy announced Cornelius would be the starter.
Sanders and Brown were in uniform and available last season, while Cornelius started in all 13 games. In spite of an NCAA rule that allows players to preserve their redshirt status while being involved in as many as four games, Sanders never touched the field. Brown was activated for one play in the Liberty Bowl.
Gundy’s two most significant quarterback moves involved Mason Rudolph in 2015 and Bobby Reid and Zac Robinson in 2007.
After 10 games in 2014, because of injuries at the position, Gundy made the tough decision to strip away Rudolph’s redshirt and burn an entire season of eligibility. As a freshman, Rudolph saved the season. He and the Cowboys won Bedlam in Norman and beat Washington in the Cactus Bowl.
The Reid-Robinson drama centered mostly on performance. Reid started every game in 2006, but in 2007 Gundy executed a September switch to Robinson.
Ultimately, Robinson started for most of three seasons and graduated as the program’s career leader in total offense, but in September 2007 not everyone was happy about the quarterback change.
Insiders reported there was division within the locker room. One prominent Cowboy is said to have been so upset he walked away from the practice field.
“We had to put the guy out there who gave us the best chance to make plays,” Gundy recalled. “Bobby wasn’t very healthy at times, and the other guy was making plays. Bobby had every chance to play, and to make plays. I don’t remember it being that stressful.”
My memory of that time is totally different. I sensed a ton of stress, and it was my belief Gundy felt great pressure in having to bench a big-time Texas recruit like Reid.
You remember what happened a few days later.
“I’m a man! I’m 40!”
Gundy’s unforgettable news conference was an epic release of tension.
In 1986, Gundy himself was at the center of a high-profile QB change. Several OSU players were irked when veteran Ronnie Williams was benched in favor of Gundy, then a freshman.
Brown is an older guy, but Sanders has deeper roots within the program. Sanders got to know current teammates as he was being recruited. He arrived in Stillwater in June 2018. Brown arrived about six weeks later.
With this quarterback process, there doesn’t seem to be the potential for a fractured roster.
There is a great urgency, however, for someone to be immediately effective.
In August, if Brown and Sanders get equal time with the first offense, can Cowboy wide receiver Tylan Wallace forge a chemistry with either one?
During nonconference games at Oregon State, against McNeese State and at the University of Tulsa, can Wallace — with his fourth different quarterback in four years — be productive at an All-American level?
OSU can’t afford for the sharpening process to be gradual. On Sept. 21, OSU opens Big 12 play at Texas.
“During this offseason, we’ve been working on routes during the weekends and our off days,” said Wallace, who with Cornelius last season totaled 86 catches for nearly 1,500 yards. “Just building a connection outside of the football field — getting to know (Sanders and Brown) on a personal level. That has more of a role than what people think.”
Does Wallace know what to expect in August? He says he doesn’t.
“I couldn’t even tell you, honestly,” Wallace said. “It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be exciting to watch them battle for it.”
I’ve been consistent since January with a prediction Sanders starts at Oregon State, against Tulsa, against Texas and against every other opponent on the schedule. Sanders can be a weapon in the run game. Several months ago, I wrote this: One longtime observer of OSU football rates Sanders, even as a freshman, as having the second-strongest arm of all Gundy-era quarterbacks. Brandon Weeden would be No. 1 on the observer’s list of arm-talent Cowboys.
“It’s advantageous for a team to know who their starting quarterback is going to be,” said Gundy, the man who will make that critically important decision for the 2019 Cowboys.