STILLWATER — Here's one more reason to loathe the SEC: Mississippi State is to blame for eight long months of questions about Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
If the Cowboys were opening against a lesser foe from a lesser conference, we'd have avoided all of this. If the Cowboys were opening against, say, Savannah State, Mike Gundy would've already named a starter.
“Very well could have,” he admitted Saturday during the Cowboys' media day. “I would say there's probably a pretty good chance.”
No need to be all secretive with a lower division opponent.
But with Mississippi State?
I don't blame Gundy for not naming a starting quarterback.
Has the whole thing gotten goofy?
Yep, especially since we know it's going to be Clint Chelf.
But this game against Mississippi State is a must win. The reasons are many. Championship aspirations. National perceptions. Conference pride.
“I don't think there's any question,” Gundy said, “the Mississippi State game is a big game.”
Take every advantage you can get.
Now, granted, the whole cloak-and-dagger act has become comical, starting back during spring practice when three guys — Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt — were supposedly battling for the job. On April 3, Gundy proclaimed Chelf the guy.
“Chelf is our starter,” he said.
Doesn't get much more definitive than that.
“He takes all the reps with the (first team) right now,” Gundy continued. “(Walsh and Lunt) compete out there, but I don't necessarily feel like there's a battle out there to start in the first game.”
But then on April 17, he insisted he never said that.
“We haven't necessarily said anything about the first game of the season,” he said.
That would be true except for the part where he said he didn't feel like there was a battle out there to start in the first game because Chelf had won the job.
A quick note: the Chelf-is-our-starter quote is on the official OSU athletics website. OKState.com. “Oklahoma State Football Report, April 3.”
Then came the spring game when Gundy muzzled himself, saying that he wasn't going to talk about quarterbacks. Not anymore that day. Not this offseason. Not until after the opener.
Except that a couple minutes later, unsolicited, he started talking about the quarterbacks.
The wackiness continued during the annual media golf outing a week or so ago. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was supposed to play, but Gundy pulled him. And when Yurcich came to the clubhouse with the rest of the assistants to do interviews, you could guess why Gundy didn't want him spending four-plus hours on the golf course with any media members.
Clearly, Yurcich has been told not to let any cats out of the quarterback bag, lest he wanted to walk back to Shippensburg.
He looked like he wanted to run out the door any time anyone asked about the quarterbacks. When our gal Gina Mizell asked Yurcich if he liked the ongoing battle, if it fostered continued competition, he told her “I don't really concern myself with that.”
You mean the guy who will start at the position you coach in the offense you run doesn't concern you?
Didn't I say this was comical?
But here's the thing — while the execution on keeping this decision under wraps may have had some rough patches, the rationale is solid.
Make Mississippi State sweat things out a little bit. Even though everyone assumes Chelf will be the guy, what if it's Walsh instead? Defensive coordinators have nightmares about stuff like this.
What's more, Mississippi State's defensive front is a strength. But as the Bulldogs split their attention between Chelf's throw-first style and Walsh's run-first style, those defenders won't be as well-versed on the starter as they could be if they actually knew who the starter was. That increases reaction time and decreases effectiveness.
The truth is, the Cowboys aren't likely to need a bunch of extra legs up to beat the Bulldogs. OSU is a couple touchdowns better, but still, this is its first game with a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, a new feature back, a new kicker, a new punter and a new pair of starting defensive ends.
Some things are bound to go wrong.
If the Cowboys were playing Savannah State, it wouldn't matter. But Mississippi State is good enough to make them pay.
And so, Mike Gundy has sought an advantage by refusing to name a starting quarterback for eight months. Eight long, long months.
Thanks a lot, Mississippi State.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.