DALLAS — Clint Chelf plopped his newly acquired hardware on the table next to Mike Gundy.
It might've looked that way in the news conference after the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but the truth is, the Oklahoma State quarterback knows he didn't need the game's MVP trophy to remind his coach of how valuable he's become to the Cowboys.
The on-field body of evidence continues to grow.
In a 58-14 bludgeoning of Purdue, Chelf completed 17 of 22 attempts for 197 yards and three touchdowns. His hold on the starting quarterback job has grown even stronger.
Which begs the question — has he earned the starting job for next season?
Gundy wasn't ready to answer that question Tuesday.
“But Clint has finished the year strong,” he said. “We're going to work our quarterbacks just like we would any other position, but when we start out in the spring and they go running out there, Clint is going to go running out there just like he did today.”
As the starter.
The starting job is Chelf's to lose.
There is little doubt that he has played well enough to be the starter next season. He went 3-2 in games he started, with the losses coming on the road against Oklahoma and Baylor, and those two losses could hardly be pinned entirely on him. Chelf and the offense scored a bunch of points in both games, but the defense allowed a bunch and then some.
“He played well enough for us to win those games,” Gundy said.
Still, Chelf wasn't perfect in those games. Down the stretch he was particularly off. He missed receivers. He threw behind some. He threw wide of others. When the game was on the line, he didn't make enough plays for the Cowboys to win.
Maybe that seems harsh. Maybe that feels nit-picky. But it's the truth.
Could J.W. Walsh or Wes Lunt have done any better?
I can't say.
No one can. We haven't seen either of those guys in situations like Chelf faced. Maybe they'd have played worse. Maybe they'd have played better.
And whenever these guys play on the same field, it makes differentiating between them even more difficult.
Walsh, for example, played the better part of a quarter Tuesday, and he threw for 86 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 13 yards. He was about as effective as you could imagine anyone could've been. But how did he compare to Chelf? Better? Worse? Same?
I don't know.
But here's what I do know — the Cowboys need to let this thing play out in the spring. I'm pretty sure no one in the Cowboy Nation wants another springtime quarterback derby, but this team needs to know for sure that it has the best guy.
Could that be Chelf?
Look how much he's evolved since taking over the job less than two months ago. He threw more good balls Tuesday than any previous game, looking as comfortable and controlled as ever. Clearly, the game experience and the added practice reps with the first-team offense have benefited him.
“Obviously, I want to be the guy,” Chelf said. “Now that this game's over, (spring practice is) the thing you've got to start looking forward to. I'll be ready in the spring to lead the team.”
Chelf propped that MVP trophy against his leg as he talked.
“When we trot out there in the spring, I don't plan on losing the job.”
Right now, I don't see him losing it this spring either.
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.