For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.
YOU KNOW THE deal with Mike Gundy, right? He's a man. He's 40. So, if you've got something to say, come after him.
OK, actually, the Oklahoma State coach is now 46. But the rule still applies. If you have an issue with his football team, you're supposed to talk to him about it. So that's exactly what his wife Kristen did. And if OSU’s Week 10 performance against Texas Tech is any indication of what's to come, then Cowboys fans should thank her -- and Cowboys opponents might wish she'd never opened her mouth. Or watched film.
On Saturday night, the once-forgotten OSU squad throttled Tech 52-34, racing to 492 yards of offense, nearly 300 of which came on the ground. It was a performance that quickly reminded their Big 12 rivals why, back in August, the Cowboys were picked as the conference favorites and ranked 13th in the AP preseason poll. An inexplicable 30-21 loss at West Virginia on Sept. 28 effectively knocked OSU out of the top 20 and erased the Cowboys from the national football conscience. It also opened the door for Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and, yes, Texas Tech, to try to swoop in and take the Big 12’s coveted BCS berth.
But now that conference rolls into a brutal final month of constantly huge clashes. And now all those wannabe BCS teams have been served notice: the Cowboys aren't out of it yet. They aren’t the only ones. Throughout Week 10, a similar declaration could be heard across the Big Five:
- Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame now feels like ancient history after the Spartans stomped Michigan 29-6. Now they begin a march through Nebraska and Northwestern before hosting upstart Minnesota and then perhaps meeting Ohio State in the Big Ten championship.
- Auburn’s Sept. 21 loss at LSU is also growing smaller in the rearview mirror. After a decisive 35-17 win at Arkansas, the Tigers are now 8-1, ranked ninth in the BCS standings and are already eyeing a chance to derail Alabama’s BCS title hopes in the Iron Bowl. That is, if never-intimidated LSU doesn’t do it first.
- In the SEC East, Missouri rebounded from its lone loss -- to South Carolina on Oct. 26 -- by whipping Tennessee 31-3. Now the Tigers, too, look to ruin Alabama’s year, if both make it to Atlanta.
- Arizona State still has just one Pac-12 loss on its record, against BCS contender Stanford, and the Sun Devils are hitting their stride as the sudden favorites in the Pac-12 South. And perhaps troublemakers for Oregon in the league title game on Dec. 7. Again, that's assuming Stanford doesn’t knock off the Ducks on Thursday night.
“Anyone who thought they were out of the game hasn’t seen what we’re all seeing on tape,” Texas coach Mack Brown joked when asked about Oklahoma State, adding that he knows a little something about being forgotten after an early-season loss. “We’ve all known this conference was coming down to November. Well, November’s here.”
Yes, it is. And the teams who have learned from the losses and evolved with the calendar are the ones who are likely to make the most November noise. For signs of such an evolution, no matter how subtle, you only had to watch the Cowboys on Saturday night. Specifically, on fourth-and-goal from the Texas Tech 1-yard line with 10:27 still remaining in the second quarter.
That’s when, up 21-10 and looking to send a message, OSU quarterback Clint Chelf did something that, within Gundy's high-flying Air Raid offense, looked downright bizarre. He didn’t set up in the shotgun, but instead the senior took five steps forward and (gulp) settled in behind the center.
Of course, this is still Oklahoma State, so even its under-center formation wasn’t typical. With his left foot lined up slightly off-center, Chelf’s shoulders were closed off to the odd lineup to his right. That’s where fullback Kye Staley stood, hands leaning on thighs, behind the right guard. To Staley's right, slightly off the right heel of the tackle, was the only slightly more crouched Jeremy Seaton, a second fullback.
Tech had crammed 10 men in the box, expecting either a QB keeper or at the very least a handoff and dive from tailback Desmond Roland, who had already scored on a pair of 1-yard runs in the first quarter. At the snap, the entire right side of Tech’s defense bit hard, linebacker Will Smith even leaped into the air to meet the onrushing tailback ... but the tailback never arrived.
Instead, Chelf broke into a right-side option rollout with Roland as his backfield escort and Staley as his upfield blocker. Seaton cut left, applied a block, and slipped into the end zone. No shotgun pad meant the two backs had to hustle up and out of the chaos. But it is also what created that chaos, one whole side of the defense breaking down in one direction while the other half scrambled to chase in the other. There was no shotgun pad there, either. No room to react. And no film to show them how they should react.
You see, this was just the third goal-line play that Oklahoma State had run from under center all year long. The first two instances had been just one week earlier during a 58-27 win at Iowa State. One of those resulted in a rushing touchdown, not to mention a “told you so” from Kristen Gundy.
“I got the most pressure from my wife about being in the shotgun on short yardage and goal line and not going under the center. She’s been on me for three weeks,” Gundy explained when asked about those first two under-center plays in Ames. “She's been on me for three weeks, so I said, ‘OK, we'll take a snap under center if it makes you feel better!'”
Gundy was only half-joking. He’s heard questions about stepping out of the shotgun in the red zone throughout his coaching career. He openly admits that the Air Raid’s biggest weaknesses come about as it marches closer to the end zone and runs out of real estate to spread the field. That flaw was exposed in Morgantown, when OSU failed to score for the first time in its first 16 trips into the red zone.
To combat that goal-line sluggishness during last year’s disappointing 8-5 campaign, OSU started running the ball Tim Tebow-style, with quarterback J.W. Walsh. But since Chelf took over, that page of the playbook hasn’t been as prevalent. Now there’s a new page being written, just in time for the heart of the Big 12 schedule.
As Chelf kept rolling to his right, he started to approach the hash mark. One defender made a cut to try and wrangle him down at the 7, but was blocked just enough by Roland. Meanwhile, Staley was dragging along the 1-yard line, having drawn no fewer than three men in black.
Behind them, slicing through the middle of the giant red “RAIDERS” in the black end zone, Seaton had shed safety Tre' Porter. Chelf calmly left his feet, shot-putted the ball a dozen yards forward, over the extended hands of Staley’s escorts, and into the hands of Seaton.
Gundy is visibly pleased with his new under-center option, especially when added to the standard Air Raid stack of plays and the constant threat of bringing in Walsh. Said Chelf: “I like it. It’s different. I think we’ve given them all something to think about.”
Yes, they have. Just in time to make a run at the BCS, or at the very least ruin someone else’s.
No. 18 Oklahoma State vs. No. 15 Texas Tech - defense optional. #StoryOfTheSeason
— ESPN The Magazine (@ESPNMag) November 3, 2013