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Oklahoma State an Unlikely College Football Trendsetter



One of the low-humming narratives constantly accompanying Mike Gundy and his football team no matter what year or how good they are is this: Oklahoma State is sort of low-key on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to this sport.

Now I don’t mean that they are wonky and wild in a “Mike Leach’s offense” kind of way. And I don’t mean they’re bent on catch phrases and t-shirts like P.J. Fleck squads. I mean that they have figured out that to compete with the alphas of this sport, you sometimes have to zig when everyone else is zagging.

Think about all the ways Gundy has introduced innovation to Stillwater. From satellite camps to not hitting in preseason practices, Gundy has either invented or been an uber-early adopter in a variety of methodologies that would make other coaches squirm.

“At first when I got this job, I guess I wasn’t smart enough to realize how hard it was,” said Gundy at Big 12 Media Days. “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.”

Gundy talking about science, by the way, is bemusing and terrific.

“We have some structure,” said Gundy. “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.”

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or something else, but not only has Oklahoma State paved the way for some of those Tier-2 or Tier-3 programs to a high level of success, it has also pushed the entire sport of college football forward. If only inadvertently.

From the four-team playoff to a centralized rules command center in the Big 12, OSU has forced a lot of hands in the past few years.

“Well, we’ve been trendsetters in a lot of different ways at Oklahoma State,” said Gundy. “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.”

Good for society, too.

I’m not totally convinced all of this is part of some master plan, but either way, it has happened. Gundy has taken risks off the field which has allowed him to not take them on it. And now Oklahoma State is a national title appearance away from having won 100 games in the last 10 years.

So while ESPN and friends keep pumping the Jim Harbaughs of the world as those leading the charge in college football, don’t forget what Gundy has done in Stillwater. And don’t doubt what he might do next.

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