STILLWATER — Todd Monken is rarely left speechless, even for a few seconds.
But there the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator sat in his office last week, taking some time to think when asked if he's ever encountered a quarterback derby during his career quite like the one the Cowboys will hold this spring.
“That's a hell of a question,” Monken said. “I can't remember when that has been (the situation).”
These circumstances are unique. OSU has said goodbye to Brandon Weeden, the quarterback who rewrote the school's record books, won 23 games in two seasons as the starter and helped lead the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title and BCS bowl appearance. Before that was Zac Robinson, who held most of those passing records until Weeden came along and helped ignite the rise of OSU football over the past four seasons.
Now, the Cowboys have three quarterbacks — Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt — that will take equal reps this spring as they compete for the starting job.
None of them have started a college game or, really, taken a meaningful snap at this level. Two are freshmen. And one of those virtual unknowns will be asked to take the reins for a team coming off its best season in program history this fall.
“I have an expectation in a performance that I want to see from them in preparation and leadership and effort and those things,” coach Mike Gundy said, “but I don't have a clue what Wes Lunt's going to do, and I don't have a clue what J.W.'s going to do in the spring when we're playing and nobody's helping him.
“I know what kind of people they are. I know what their personality is. I know what they've done in high school. I know what their history is, but I have not seen that here.”
Gundy is quick to point out that similar questions surrounded Weeden before spring practices began in 2010, since he had essentially played only one legitimate half of football in his career at that point. But it was clear Weeden would be the starter after a few workouts. And in general, OSU has had very few questions at quarterback since Robinson became the starter early in the 2007 season.
The first two-plus seasons of Gundy's tenure had plenty of turnover at the position, however. Donovan Woods, Bobby Reid and Al Pena all started games in 2005. Then came the Reid-to-Robinson transition in 2007. Even when Gundy was Les Miles' offensive coordinator, the Cowboys switched from veteran Aso Pogi to true freshman Josh Fields.
The difference now, Gundy said, is that the Cowboys have better pieces in place to help a new quarterback have success. OSU returns a formidable running back duo in Joseph Randle (1,216 yards, 24 touchdowns) and Jeremy Smith (646 yards, 9 touchdowns), an experienced offensive line and a defense that led the nation with 44 takeaways in 2011. And Gundy trusts his offensive playmakers to shoulder a bigger portion of the load while the new signal-caller, whoever it is, gets comfortable.
“When we had Donovan and Bobby and Zac and we went through all that transition, we're in a lot better situation now,” Gundy said. “We've got better players and we have a system in place and the concept of who we are and our kids understand winning.
“It doesn't really concern me. I'm not really worried about it, because whoever takes over is going to end up finding a way to make plays and it's going to be enough for us to win games.”
Still, perhaps no position in sports is as important as quarterback. The Peyton Manning sweepstakes and the Redskins trading three first-round picks for the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III are the latest examples of that. And quarterback play is especially crucial in OSU's throw-first, spread offense.