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Reader Thoughts: OSU Actually Has an OSU Problem

We’ll explain ….



After yesterday’s staggering OSU-Iowa comp, I’m back with more reader thoughts. This one required less of a response and was longer. But it was too good for only me to be able to look at it in my inbox. I wanted to share it with everyone else, too. Here you go.

Y’all are working at it, this Gundy can’t beat OU thing. It’s hard to conceptualize. But I think you’ve missed. The recruiting trope is a red herring and an abstraction. It’s impossible to quantify “better recruiting.” Services to give rough estimates, but they are rough and their predictive powers are rough. After all, only nine teams have made the CFP.

You’re unable to tell anyone serious about data the difference “35” and “22” makes because there’s no predictive power between “10” and “23.” It’s a simpler point. OSU needs a few better players. That’s all you’re really trying to get at. How many? Hard to say, depends on the year. Last year, two more good safeties would’ve done the trick against OU. This year, it seemed like a different defensive line altogether, and more size and speed at LB.

I know you need content but this isn’t content. It’s grasping. Because you’re busy grasping, you follow dead ends that tell you Gundy is an objectively bad recruiter. Again, no real way to quantify that. You’re taking rough measurements from “recruiting experts” and impressions and anecdotes received from social media. Since Gundy doesn’t play the game like Boynton does, he must be a bad recruiter. No data for that. Turn to something more truly quantifiable.

What you’re missing is the analog. What OSU is building toward is the benefit of the doubt. That’s how it will get better players. Is Michigan a better program than OSU? Not over the past 10 years. What about Florida? Same. How about Nebraska? Same. But ask almost anyone who they presume is better, and they’ll give the alternative. Every year OSU still has to prove they’re good. Every year Michigan, Florida, and Nebraska get to prove they’re not. That’s in the air football fans and players breathe. It’s the aura that comes with the benefit of the doubt.

Why doesn’t OSU have it? Because they’ve been a .500 program over the course of 100 years. That’s not going the change in 10. People don’t make decisions on hard facts, they make it on impressions. So the impression remains that lots of teams have better programs even though the W-L doesn’t bear that out.

Nebraska is the perfect example. Nobody remembers Bob Devaney. He was Tom Osborne’s predecessor. Before him Nebraska was average. Delaney took over and make them good for 10 years. Osborne built on that, but it still took him 22 years to win a title. Nebraska didn’t have a Tom Osborne problem. They had a Nebraska problem. It took generations to get over it. They’ve almost lost what they built, but not quite. Who was ranked to start the year? Not OSU, who’d won 17 games the previous two years, but Nebraska who’d won 8. Why? Benefit of the doubt. Oh, and the last four years Nebraska had “top 25 recruiting classes.”

I think it’s a good comp, but the comp takes 25 years, a kind of patience we don’t like. OSU doesn’t have a Gundy problem. OSU has an OSU problem. Why would a really good player pick OSU over the 30 or so teams that get the benefit of the doubt? Maybe Gundy is an amazing recruiter for convincing anyone of that, especially an impressionable high school kid. Riley doesn’t need to explain to any good high school player why he should pick OU, except against Alabama and Clemson, and maybe Ohio State.

The way that changes is by being good for a really long time, like 20 years. Where a whole generation presumes OSU is good. Then it’ll get the benefit of the doubt. Then ESPN will talk differently about it, and its players. Then the NFL will presume the good guys at that school are not system players, just good ones. Have you noticed what turned the head on the air raid? OU. Everyone presumes their players are good, system be damned.

If OSU wins 8-11 games for 20 years that’ll happen, but it remains at a major disadvantage. But that disadvantage may only mean three or four players. Who knows? It has to withstand the coming and going of teams. Look at TCU, not bowling. Will Iowa State last. Texas is back. Baylor IS back, but name the private schools with sustained success. And then there’s OSU, in the hunt almost till the end, like it has been for most of this decade. Think of your children. They’ve never known a bad OSU program. A couple mediocre teams? Sure. But the bounce back is there.

Even if Hubbard and Wallace are gone, they won’t be worse. The QB play will be better and that makes everything better. Look at Brooks on Saturday night. He’s getting yards because of Hurts. So, another 8-10 win season. Frustrating, but still building a foundation, rather placing an ever more fortified wall between the program and the all time .500 mark. The stronger that wall, the greater the benefit of the doubt. That’s OSU’s problem. Not Gundy, not OU, not recruiting. Human nature, and the act of presumption and expectations. It’s an anthropological question not a sports one. That’s the narrative.

Please don’t ever start an Oklahoma State website, Justin F. You will embarrass ours.

I agree with a lot of this, and it gets at an even bigger societal problem: That change only happens with lots of time, and time is the thing we’re least willing to wait on.

The one thing I keep going back to: Clemson. Clemson is historically good but not great. A nice number of wins. A solid winning percentage. But not in the OU-Ohio State stratosphere. Then Dabo swooped in and made magic.

I get what Justin is saying, and I don’t necessarily disagree with it, but I think there’s a way to speed up the time thing by trying harder in recruiting. Also when you say there’s “no data for that” in relation to success in recruiting, there is. It might just not be as good as we’d like it to be.

And I know Gundy is doing the recruiting thing this week, but does anyone who follows OSU football think he’s pouring himself into recruiting generally like other coaches are? Maybe I’m on an island there, but I kind of doubt it.

Anyway, a wonderful and kindly critical email from Justin F. that I had to share. Thank you for your thoughts — all of you who email me — and thanks for humoring me in mine.

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