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It’s Time To Recalibrate What This OSU Team Can Be



I think it hit me between when Mason Rudolph released the ball and when Tyron Johnson went semi-Jason Terry in the end zone at the beginning of the first quarter against Tulsa for his first catch as an Oklahoma State Cowboy. I can’t pinpoint the exact time or specifically what hit me, but I know that in the time that ball was in the air, I realized something: This team can win it all.

Those of you more astute than me might be saying, “Yeah, of course,” but the reality of the situation is that you don’t know what you’re getting with any team in any year until they flip the lights on and Mike Gundy’s mullet waves in the prairie wind. We thought OSU’s receivers would be great. We thought Rudolph would be more efficient than an assembly line. We thought Justice would be served.

But we didn’t know.

And now we do.

I thought last week that there were two ways the Tulsa game was going to go. Oklahoma State was either going to do that thing where they let bad teams hang around before putting them away with talent and depth at the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth. Think of the following games in the last two seasons: Central Michigan (2015), Iowa State (2015), Iowa State (2016) and Texas Tech (2016) (we won’t even speak of CMU 2016).

Or they were going to come out swinging like they heavyweight they can be and drop anchor as one of the five or eight best teams in the country. Gundy-coached teams have a tendency to choose the former route. It’s an infuriating song and dance to us plebeians who consume the games.

Go for a throat, Gundy! we shout. And he rarely does.

This team, however, looks like it will go for its own throats with or without Gundy’s stamp of approval. I give Mike Yurcich credit for acknowledging that he has more weapons at his disposal than Alexander the Great and letting those weapons self-detonate. He orchestrated a brilliant performance in which Oklahoma State gained 10 yards per play for just the third time in 155 Gundy-coached games.

Six-hundred and forty yards in 63 plays. It was astounding.

And of course it is easy to overreact to one game. It’s almost impossible not to. But when you combine what happened last Thursday with the way this team has been talking all summer and Gundy’s tour de salons of the midwest United States, it’s hard to not see everything through Rose-colored glasses.

That’s why I was surprised on Tuesday when the large majority of you said this team is about what you thought it would be or maybe a little worse.

Really, the majority of you thought this team, which has won eight one-possession games in the last two years, would obliterate a halfway decent Tulsa team in Game 1? Oklahoma State could have scored 75 points on Thursday if it wanted to. Maybe more. And for as confident as Gundy has seemed all spring and summer, even he was a bit surprised by the output.

Here is a quote from the postgame sheet.

On if he was surprised that they were able to overwhelm Tulsa

Gundy: “Yes, and again they’re young. I’ve said this and I mean this, Coach Montgomery is a great football coach. What they do is good and it’s been proven over the years. I hate to speak for them, but when you have an inexperienced quarterback, it’s difficult to do things. I was pleased at our run defense. I thought that was very good and really set the tone for the game.”

Yes, he was surprised OSU was able to overwhelm Tulsa like that. Maybe that’s just coachspeak and he actually did expect that, but Gundy is big on not know what you’re getting until Bullet does a lap and the gate swings open. Maybe he didn’t completely know what to expect. It took me aback as well.

My biggest takeaway from Thursday, among several big ones, is that this Oklahoma State team is really, really good and has a better chance of winning it all than the one in 2011 did (if only because the teams who get to play for it all have doubled since 2011).

Ramon Richards touched on this on Monday when Hayden Barber interviewed him.

“We’re going to break on (Big 12 champs coming out of practice),” Richards said. “We’re going to break on many other things such as national champs. Anything that sets a positive goal in mind.”

Then he took it a step further.

“Everyone wants to get — nah, not even ‘want,’” he said. “We’re gonna get there (to the Big 12 Championship game). That’s how we wake up every morning. That’s how we go to sleep.”

So maybe I’ve been an Oklahoma State fan too long or maybe I’ve been bent towards Gundy’s conservative nature or maybe I just didn’t truly believe in this team even though I picked them to go to the College Football Playoff. That wager was less about what I thought Oklahoma State would be and more about the state of the Big 12 (at least I got one part of that equation correct).

Regardless, what I saw on Thursday evening astounded me. Over four points a drive against a 10-win team from a year ago. A professional looking like a professional behind center. More elusiveness at running back than Clint Chelf at a busted-up house party. Speed on defense. NFL talent at wide receiver only getting 1-3 targets.

And most importantly, the look. Don’t let the misdirection of the AP Poll fool you. Good teams win close games against bad teams. Great ones win close games against good teams. But truly elite teams hammer early and lean on the neon palms late. It remains to be seen whether Oklahoma State can keep up this pace throughout the rest of the fall, but what I saw on Thursday night has me banging the reset button on what I thought in the preseason.

This team has the look of a team that could be better than I ever dreamed.

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