STILLWATER — For coach Mike Gundy, the fact that Wes Lunt is a true freshman does not really matter when it comes to the Oklahoma State quarterback race.
“If a freshman's the best player, then we're going to play him,” Gundy said. “I think that we have an obligation to the team, to the seniors, to do that.”
That does not mean Gundy has handed Lunt the job, of course. As of Wednesday, OSU's quest to replace Brandon Weeden still featured three contenders in Lunt, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh and junior Clint Chelf who had taken equal reps through 14 spring practices and will be on display in the Saturday's Spring Finale at Boone Pickens Stadium.
For the vast majority of Cowboy fans, this will be their first chance to see Lunt sling the ball in person. And the fact that the true freshman is still in the starting quarterback discussion — perhaps even leading it slightly — could be regarded as an accomplishment.
Should he win the starting nod, it would be quite rare.
Since Gundy himself took over as the starting quarterback as a true freshman during the 1986 season, only Tone Jones in 1993 has been a freshman starter at OSU.
And it's an uncommon feat across the nation, as well.
Over the past five seasons, fewer than 10 true freshman quarterbacks have started four or more games for Football Bowl Subdivision schools. And going that route has yielded a mixed bag of results.
The 2011 bunch included guys like Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who most believe will eventually evolve into a star under Urban Meyer's guidance, Texas' David Ash, who often struggled for the Longhorns, and Louisiana Tech's Nick Isham, who is thought to be the second-youngest starting quarterback to start a team's first game in NCAA history.
There have been plenty of immediate or ultimate success stories.
Robert Griffin III started his first season at Baylor in 2008 and went on to win the Heisman last season. USC's Matt Barkley started the season opener in 2009 and is a frontrunner for the Heisman this season. Chad Henne tossed 25 touchdowns and led Michigan to the Rose Bowl as a true freshman in 2004. Current NFL quarterbacks who started as true freshmen include Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Josh Freeman, Matt Stafford and Kevin Kolb. Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway won a national title as a true freshman after replacing an injured Troy Aikman midway through the 1985 season.
But there have also been stories like Tate Forcier, who started every game for Michigan as a freshman in 2009, then transferred to San Jose State in 2011 before withdrawing from that school because of academics. Or Terrelle Pryor, who starred for Ohio State for three seasons but then withdrew from the school following an NCAA investigation that would have suspended him for the first five games of 2011 for selling memorabilia. Or Mitch Mustain, who went 8-0 as Arkansas' starter but faded out of college football after transferring to USC and getting beat out by Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley for the starting job there.
Yet Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken clearly saw potential in Lunt, enough to visit him in his home in Rochester, Ill. to convince him to enroll at OSU early and compete for the starting job in spring practice. And though fellow early enrollee quarterbacks like Notre Dame's Gunner Kiel, California's Zach Kline and Texas A&M's Matt Davis were ranked higher by recruiting services than Lunt, they are currently buried on their team's depth chart, not in serious consideration to be the No. 1 quarterback.
Is part of that based on the programs' situations? Absolutely. Is it also part ability and growth? Absolutely.
“The fairest way to put it is, for where he is at in his career, in his age, in his life, he's further along than what I thought he would have been at this point,” Gundy said. “I don't know any other way to say it. He's done really well out here of not being flustered, and that's part of it. He's got to learn things happen and don't get flustered.”