STILLWATER — Offensive lineman Lane Taylor joked Monday that Oklahoma State now has about 15 quarterbacks that can play.
That's a stretch, of course.
But the Cowboys do have three quarterbacks that have notched a Big 12 victory during the past month.
It's a carousel that started to spin because of injuries to starter Wes Lunt and backup J.W. Walsh, and most recently resulted in Clint Chelf getting his first collegiate start in Saturday's victory over West Virginia. All three quarterbacks were in uniform and medically cleared to play for that contest, though, and the health of Lunt and Walsh should only improve this week.
So who gets the nod this week against Texas Tech?
It's a simple question, but an odd and tricky dilemma for the OSU coaching staff. The sample size is small for all three quarterbacks, yet they've all performed well when called upon.
“It's not an easy task for us,” Gundy said. “But I'd rather be in this situation than looking for a guy to go out there and make a play.”
Gundy's general philosophy, like many coaches, is that a player will not lose his job due to injury. So does that mean the Cowboys automatically go back to Lunt, who is expected to be at full strength for Tuesday's practice? The true freshman has been knocked out of two games and missed three more because of injuries, but is still the prototype quarterback to run the Cowboys' spread offense.
But Gundy also admitted Monday that the distance between the quarterbacks has “blurred” since the spring, especially with how well Chelf has played since taking over for an injured Lunt early in the second half of the Kansas State game.
So do the Cowboys go with the hot hand in Chelf? And the quarterback Gundy said has made the best decisions and fewest mistakes of the three?
“Clint's played better than what we would have anticipated,” Gundy said. “Or at that point (at the end of the spring), he wouldn't have been third team. I don't know any other way to put it. We've been wrong before in situations.”
And then there's Walsh, who was supposedly lost for the season with a knee injury but returned to practice last week.
Since quarterbacks don't get hit in practice, Monken said it will be difficult to completely gauge how effective Walsh is running on that knee, or how he'll respond to contact. And Gundy believes Walsh still isn't ready to get back on the field.
“Can he play? He'll go out there and play," Gundy said. "We practiced him some last week. But when I watched him, I didn't think he was ready to play.
“Now, whether that could change this week, based on five more days of healing, I don't know.”
With the way OSU's practices are structured, Monken said the reps will not be split evenly between the three quarterbacks. That means the Cowboys will go into Tuesday's workout with some sort of delegation of starter, backup and third-teamer. It could change Wednesday or Thursday based on performance or health, of course, but a guy who has started for OSU within the past month will get about 7 percent of the snaps in each session.
In a way, it could help that the OSU coaches and quarterbacks have already gone through this type of decision when Lunt was named the starter following a three-man competition in the spring. Monken said he will continue to be up-front with all the quarterbacks, just like he was with Chelf and Walsh when they were originally passed over by Lunt.
“They pay me to make this decision,” Monken said. “So (I tell them), ‘Here's the reasons why, and I'm not going to waver even if you disagree with me.'
“Just like I didn't waver when Clint came in a couple weeks ago (and told me he should start). I respect your opinion. Doesn't mean I agree with it.”
That honesty is something Gundy thinks has helped foster a good relationship between all three quarterbacks, from the spring battle to the fall's revolving door. The coach also knows two guys will ultimately be unhappy with the quarterback decision made before Saturday.
But Monken echoes Gundy's view — that this is a good problem for the Cowboys to have.
“We could be sitting here going, ‘Well, J.W. didn't play well once Wes went down, and we lost that game. And then Clint had to play, and we lost that game,'” Monken said. “So now it's obvious who our guy is, but we're 4-5 instead of 6-3.
“So I guess the positive to look at is that, at this moment in time, whoever plays, our guys I think feel like gives us a chance to win.”