Who will be this year's Texas Tech?
Which up-and-coming outfit from a BCS conference will have a giddy, undefeated run into November? Which good-but-not-yet-great program will spoil the season of a pedigreed rival? Which overachieving squad will crack the top five and thrust itself into the national championship conversation? ¶ Like last year's Texas Tech—which started 10--0, broke the hearts of the Texas Longhorns and climbed to No. 2 in the land—this year's Texas Tech will feature a high-octane, risk-taking, crowd-pleasing offense with a seasoned quarterback disbursing the ball to a set of dazzling skill players. It will be the beneficiary of serendipitous scheduling, all but one of its toughest games to be played at home. This year's Texas Tech will ... not be Texas Tech. (Sorry, Red Raiders—you're breaking in a new quarterback.) Rather the upstart will come from among Oklahoma State, Ole Miss and Oregon.
Sure, Florida will kick it off against Texas in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7 in Pasadena, a month after Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy edges Tim Tebow in one of the closest Heisman votes ever. Now, let's get back to those three programs that are ready to crash the party....
Pay no attention to the man with the blowtorch outside the office window of Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. That office overlooks Boone Pickens Stadium, whose $282 million renovation is, at long last, nearly finished. "There's been scaffolding outside my window for four years," says the coach. Well, it's gone now, in plenty of time for the Cowboys' Sept. 5 opener against Georgia, whose task it will be to slow the most frenetic offense in college football.
Two years and two-million-plus Internet views after his postgame philippic against The Oklahoman ("I'm a man! I'm 40!"), Gundy is still a man, albeit a slightly mellower one. Leaning back at his desk, he tells the story of dropping by his middle son's Little League practice this summer. The seven-year-old Gunnar was entertaining teammates with an animated performance that included him shouting, "It's garbage!"
Asked afterward what he was doing, Gunnar told his father, "I was showing them your rant. I've gotten pretty good at it!"
The Rant, in which Gundy ripped the newspaper for its critical reporting on the demotion and status of quarterback Bobby Reid, is old news in Stillwater. "Around here nobody cares about it," says Gundy, "but when I go out recruiting, it's the first thing [parents] bring up in the home. Moms love it."
A four-year starter at quarterback for Oklahoma State in the late 1980s, Gundy spent 10 years as an assistant in two stints at his alma mater before replacing Les Miles as coach following the 2004 season. Gundy brought in coordinator Larry Fedora, who installed a fast-break spread offense that was as cutting edge as it was ill-suited to the Cowboys' personnel. Oklahoma State dropped seven of its eight Big 12 games in '05 but has improved steadily as the influx of athletes who fit the system picked up. (Fedora has since left to become the coach at Southern Miss.)
Key among those recruits is fifth-year senior Zac Robinson, the quarterback who replaced Reid. The son of an Oklahoma State alumna and the nephew of a former Pistol Pete (the school's student mascot), Robinson was overlooked by most college scouts while a wide receiver during his junior season at Chatfield High in Littleton, Colo. After being switched to quarterback as a senior, he began fielding scholarship offers, eventually rewarding the Cowboys for their early interest in him.
Now a 6'3", 218-pound dual threat with 4.55 speed in the 40, Robinson last season passed for 3,064 yards and rushed for another 562. But his most valuable asset, according to Gundy, is his football intellect. In the high-speed chess match that plays out before each snap, Robinson has mastered the art of getting the offense out of bad play calls at the last possible moment.