Many times, the best job of coaching done by an individual in a Power 5 football conference is not reflected by the record of the team he leads.
A coach-of-the-year honoree typically takes his bows because he got the most out of his team’s available talent. It doesn’t matter whether that translated to a national championship, a third-tier bowl berth or simply marked improvement from the previous season.
But in the Big 12, the standings tell the story about the coach who has done the best job with his team during the 2015 season.
No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-0, 7-0 Big 12) may not win either of its remaining regular-season games as it seeks to close out an unexpected run to a conference title. Or the Cowboys may play their way into the College Football Playoff by taking down No. 10 Baylor (8-1, 5-1) and No. 7 Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1) to finish with a 12-0 record.
3 Comebacks from deficits of 15 or more points this season
Regardless of what happens Saturday against Baylor in Boone Pickens Stadium, this much is clear: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy cannot lose my vote for Big 12 coach of the year.
Too much has gone right, often in improbable fashion, to downgrade the improvement shown by these Cowboys after last year’s 7-6 season. OSU heads into Saturday’s game (6:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4) with the nation’s third-longest winning streak (12 games), including three comebacks from deficits of 15 or more points this season.
Defenders who spoke with confidence about being catalysts for a turnaround season at Big 12 media days in July have backed up those words in September, October and November. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah leads the Big 12 in sacks (11), tackles for losses (15.5) and midseason slights by Lombardi Award voters (one). OSU, which collected a league-low 14 turnovers last season, has a league-high 24 this season (2.4 per game).
Oklahoma State ranks first among Big 12 teams in turnover margin (plus-12), second in scoring defense (24.5 average) and third in total defense (393 yards per game). The offense ranks fourth in touchdowns (48) and fifth in scoring (43.6). The Cowboys are the league’s lone undefeated team despite a roster that probably would rank fourth among league schools in overall talent if judged by rival coaches or NFL general managers.
Gundy knows his team is overachieving. He admitted as much, but used different words, during Monday’s news conference in Stillwater, Okla., when he urged players to savor the journey they are taking.
“They need to embrace this moment. All of us do,” said Gundy, who was hearing rumors about his job status following last year’s 49-28 loss to Baylor that gave OSU a five-game losing streak and a 5-6 record. “In today’s society, life moves too fast. You look back and you think, ‘I didn’t even enjoy that ride,’ I think we’ve stressed that to them, as well as the importance of the next game.”
They need to embrace this moment. All of us do.
OSU coach Mike Gundy, on the Cowboys’ 10-0 start to the season
Let the record show that after last year’s loss to Baylor, the Cowboys’ 12-game winning streak began the next week. That stretch, triggered by a 38-35 win at Oklahoma, has changed all sorts of attitudes about the program and within the program.
“I really enjoy the team, and I think they’re maximizing who they are as individuals,” Gundy said. “As a team concept, we’re getting what we can get out of our football team.”
That, folks, is the essence of coaching. The Cowboys, unranked in preseason polls, are maximizing their potential in November. And, thanks to a muffed snap by the Texas punter and a botched call against Kansas State by a Big 12 officiating crew, OSU has built on early victories over the Longhorns (30-27) and Wildcats (36-34) to become a late-season playoff contender with nothing but home games remaining on its schedule.
12 Consecutive wins for Oklahoma State, third-longest active streak in the nation
With a 43-9 record in the team’s last 52 home games, there’s a good chance OSU clinches at least a share of a Big 12 title, if not a solo crown, by Nov. 28. The rest would be up to the CFP selection committee, a group most Cowboys never envisioned trying to impress this season. Some still don’t.
“I don’t really get involved with rankings,” linebacker Seth Jacobs said. “It’s just a matter of going out and playing because, when it comes down to it, it’s 11-on-11. It’s us out there playing on the field. Rankings don’t really matter at that point.”
But resiliency does. OSU has shown plenty of that by rallying from deficits in four road victories, including three 17-point deficits in a 70-53 win at Texas Tech. The Cowboys also won in overtime at West Virginia 33-26 but never trailed in that contest. What does that say about these Cowboys?
“It says that we have a lot of confidence and a lot of trust in each other,” running back Raymond Taylor said. “At no point do we give up. We stay strong, no matter how much adversity comes up.”
Sounds like a matter of coaching. Which is why Mike Gundy, in my book, already has clinched the title of 2015 Big 12 coach of the year.
No. 7 Oklahoma 41, No. 18 TCU 20 (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Sooners exploit TCU injuries, absentees on both sides of the ball while sending a message to CFP selection committee.
No. 6 Oklahoma State 41, No. 10 Baylor 34 (6:30 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4): Curse of Stillwater claims another Baylor team with lofty postseason dreams.
West Virginia 34, Kansas 17 (11 a.m. Saturday, FSSW): Mountaineers become bowl-eligible by keeping the Jayhawks winless for another week.
Iowa State 28, Kansas State 27 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): Cyclones claim a rare road victory in efforts to save the job of coach Paul Rhoads.
Last week: 4-1