STILLWATER – Payne County was not a quarterback wasteland when Brandon Weeden arrived on campus in 2007.
One of OSU's five greatest quarterbacks ever, Josh Fields, was only four years gone. Weeden's head coach, Mike Gundy, was considered the school's best QB of all time. And Zac Robinson was about to take over the quarterback job and send the Cowboy record book to a new printing.
Four years later, Weeden has surpassed them all, but it's not enough to call Weeden OSU's greatest quarterback ever. He's more than that.
Weeden is a transformative quarterback. A program-changing quarterback. A culture-changing quarterback.
“Unbelievable,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. “I've only been coaching 42 years, but I've never seen anything that compares to it.”
It happens occasionally in college football. Jim Plunkett at Stanford. Turner Gill at Nebraska. Gary Sheide at Brigham Young. Jack Mildren and Josh Heupel at OU.
A quarterback shows up and so impacts a football program, it's forever elevated. Forges a legacy that goes far beyond the ballot box for bowl games or stiff-arming hardware.
Weeden is doing that at OSU in this magical season of 2011. The Cowboy offense is spectacular, but it's not like the Cowboys haven't been scoring touchdowns over the years. 1988. 2003. 2008. And most of the seasons adjacent to those. OSU has found the end zone more than a little.
But this is different. The Cowboys' success – a 10-0 record, the nation's No. 2 ranking, a berth in the Big Bowl if OSU can win at Iowa State and conquer Bedlam – has changed the landscape.
“We kind of have everything set up here,” Gundy said.
With apologies to the likes of Robinson and Gundy, not that many high school hotshots watched their feats and said, wow, sign me up.
But that's exactly what the best QB recruits will say after watching Weeden. An offense that can run and pass. An offense that doesn't huddle, because that would only cut down on the time allowed to score touchdowns. An offense that makes the quarterback a defacto coach-on-the-field. An offense that throws deep, throws short, throws intermediate, throws sideways, usually all within the span of six or seven plays.
“That was kind of our goal,” Gundy said. “To create an offense where people wanted to come.
“Recruiting, he's going to be huge for us. People are taking note of what we're doing.”
This is not to suggest that Weeden is a miracle man. That he showed up and sprinkled gold-dust over a beleaguered program. Cowboys from Bob Fenimore to Boone Pickens have laid the groundwork to give OSU a chance to win big.
Including Gundy, whose recruiting acumen is just as big a reason as Weeden's passing that the Cowboys are second-ranked. Weeden's big season is not possible without the likes of Markelle Martin, Justin Blackmon, Brod Brown, Joey Randle and Quinn Sharp.
But Weeden arrived at just the perfect time. Gundy's recruiting was elevated. Joe Wickline's O-line development was strong. Young's defense had discovered snatching the ball when it couldn't stop the ball.
Then, even better, Weeden turned out to be more than quarterback. OSU coaches knew he would be an ancient 28 in his final season. They didn't know he would be this kind of 28.
Didn't know he would be a chameleon. A coach on the field. A pal in the locker room. A leader in the press conferences.
The man with the golden arm has become more than the face of OSU football. He's become the voice of OSU football, too.
“He's been an unbelievable ambassador for us, just the way he's handled the public and the media,” Gundy said.
It is not crazy talk to consider Weeden the most important player in OSU history. And yes, that includes Barry Sanders.
Sanders forever ended the question of whether someone could win a Heisman at OSU. And that 1988 season still pays dividends for the Cowboys.
But the effects of Sanders' career are not what they could have been. Literally the same month that Sanders won the Heisman, OSU was handed a debilitating NCAA probation that sent the program into a decade-long tailspin.
The Cowboys did not soar after Sanders. They most definitely could soar after Weeden, the way that Mildren begat Thomas Lott and J.C. Watts and Jamelle Holieway. The way Plunkett begat Mike Boryla and Guy Benjamin and John Elway. The way Gill begat Steve Taylor and Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch. The way Sheide began Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon and Steve Young. The way that Heupel begat Jason White and Sam Bradford and Landry Jones.
Weeden has changed OSU football's fortunes. Now, for certain. But likely for the future, too.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Heupel & Weeden: Tale Of The Tape
Josh Heupel and Brandon Weeden were fall-out-of-the-sky quarterbacks who transformed their football programs. Heupel, virtually unwanted out of Snow Junior College, at OU, and Weeden, as a walk-on immigrant from minor-league baseball, at OSU. Comparing and contrasting the two:
Category: Josh Heupel; Brandon Weeden
Mad scientist link: Mike Leach; Dana Holgorsen
Out pitch: Lobbed changeup; Zipped fastball
Beneficiary of senior experience: Mark Mangino; Todd Monken
Link to old age: Lost Heisman to 28-year-old QB; Is a 28-year-old QB
Other sports: Spring football; Golf and baseball
Mentor: Dad Ken, small-college coach; Lonny Cobble, Edmond Santa Fe baseball coach
Pre-Bedflam outpost: Weber State; Columbus, Ga.
Warmup act: Independence Bowl; Alamo Bowl
OSU's GREATEST QBs
The five greatest quarterbacks in OSU history:
1. Brandon Weeden, 2009-11: Only all-conference quarterback of the modern era, owner of most of the school's passing records, Heisman Trophy contender, leader of the best team in school history. Any debate?
2. Bob Fenimore, 1943-46: Called a tailback in the single-wing days, Fenimore took the shotgun snap, did most of the passing and much of the running. A quarterback by any other name … anyway, Fenimore was a two-time all-American and leader of OSU's only two major-bowl teams.
3. Mike Gundy, 1986-89: The Big Eight's all-time passing leader. His numbers pale to the modern slingers, but Gundy in 1988 directed one of college football's greatest offenses.
4. Zac Robinson, 2006-09: Excellent run-pass threat who set most of the OSU passing records before Weeden.
5. Josh Fields, 2001-03: Two-time Bedlam winner, which put him in rare company, plus threw 55 touchdown passes in two-plus seasons.