BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, email@example.com
STILLWATER — In today's world of rapid reaction and instant analysis, it's easy to be quick to judge the ceiling of a college football team after just a handful of games.
Following a stunning loss at West Virginia in late September and a sluggish offensive performance in a close win over Kansas State the following week, Oklahoma State looked like a squad that was, well, pretty mediocre.
Now, after five consecutive wins, the Cowboys are back in control of their Big 12 title destiny heading into three crucial contests against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma to finish out the regular season.
Several factors have contributed to OSU's climb back into contention. Key personnel changes at quarterback, running back and along the offensive line. Some new offensive wrinkles. Natural development of players and coaches that comes with a long season.
But coach Mike Gundy zeroed on the intangible of team chemistry this week, saying that the Cowboys have grown more in that area over the last six weeks than any team he's ever coached.
“If we knew (why that was), we would do it every year,” Gundy said. “We've been fortunate here that we've had good leadership and chemistry, but this team was later in developing that.
“I didn't see it until five or six weeks ago. Now, they've kind of gelled and they really enjoy being around each other.”
The term “chemistry” is sometimes difficult to describe, and even more difficult to force.
Cowboy safety Daytawion Lowe feels it in the locker room, where “it's all fun. Not fighting-type stuff.” Linebacker Caleb Lavey feels it on the practice field, where “it's not hard to motivate guys.” Receiver Charlie Moore feels it off the field, where the entire group of pass-catchers comes to his house for a weekly dinner on Thursday nights.
“You never really know when it's gonna click,” Moore said. “Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it can take a long time.
“It's just making it happen, and it has now, so we're just gonna build on that and soak it in and continue to support each other and get closer and keep chasing this goal that we all have.”
What sparked the Cowboys' push to come together? That disappointing day in Morgantown is the easy answer, as Lavey said that's when the Cowboys “realized that we weren't invincible.”
Developing chemistry may have led to better play over the past five games. But better play also led to better chemistry.
“The biggest contributor there is winning,” Gundy admitted. “… As we've improved on offense and started to play with the defense (in) games and work together as a unit, the team's kind of grown together.”
That will all be tested during OSU's stretch run, starting with Saturday's visit to Austin for a top-25 showdown against a Longhorn squad undefeated in conference play.
But Gundy is pleased with his team's growth. And he's enjoying the process.
“This has been a fun group to coach,” Gundy said. “It's hard to take the place (of a team) when you've got a bunch of NFL players out there and you just kind of show up and make sure everybody's happy get them to play hard.
“But these guys have learned to play together and support each other, and they're playing unselfish.”