Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf has the confidence to be the Big 12’s next great quarterback.
Question is, can the Cowboys senior even remain the best quarterback on his own team?
And if that happens, there is a system in place in Stillwater that might actually turn a former bench warmer into a Big 12 star.
Now this isn’t because Chelf is the second coming of Brandon Weeden, but more because this league is entering that rare year where there is little star power at the most important position in college football.
The Big 12 was known as Quarterback Central not too long ago, when names like Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Robert Griffin III once dotted the landscape. All four were Heisman Trophy finalists. Bradford and RGIII took it another step and actually won the thing.
Times have changed.
The Big 12, once a conference hotbed for the position, now is the home of some really inexperienced quarterbacks.
With guys like Landry Jones, Nick Florence, Geno Smith, Seth Doege, and Collin Klein now gone, the conference title will be up for grabs this fall and could go to the team whose quarterback makes the deepest impression on the field.
Take Chelf, for instance. This time last year, he had the most experience of any of Oklahoma State’s quarterbacks, yet found himself buried on the third team behind Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh. Worse yet, the guy who spent the previous season as an understudy to eventual NFL first-round pick Brandon Weeden was unable to beat out two freshmen for the job.
Chelf eventually got his opportunity after Lunt and Walsh got hurt. He started the final five games, including the 58-14 Heart of Dallas bowl win over Purdue. Chelf’s numbers — 1,537 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions — put him in good position to compete for the starting job coming into the spring, and his play earned him that spot. For now.
Chelf will start Oklahoma State’s spring game on Saturday. From what he said to reporters earlier in the process, it’s obvious he knows there will be more battles to keep the starting gig.
“With the guys we have here, we have great quality players,” Chelf said. “I always expect to have guys coming for my job. I approach it the same way I approached it last year. They’re going to have to take it from me.”
Coach Mike Gundy did a good job of bringing the green quarterbacks along last season, making running back Joseph Randle and dynamic wideout Josh Stewart the focal points of the offense. He had to, because it was the first time in years he had an unproven behind center. One year after going 12-1 and coming within an eyelash of playing for a national championship, the Cowboys went 8-5 behind an offense that still ranked fourth in the country.
Naming Chelf the starter over Lunt and Walsh in no way guarantees that Gundy and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich — the school’s third coordinator in the last four seasons — won’t change their minds because Chelf, despite his classification, is still lacking in game experience. Before last season, he had thrown only 15 passes in three seasons on campus.
“He’s really only played in about seven or eight games,” Gundy told reporters recently. “We’re really excited about him improving each day because the strength of our offense is based on our quarterback. We don’t have very many plays and our scheme stays the same. Our offense moves very fast and we try to get the ball in the players’ hands.”
You can hardly blame for Gundy for being cautiously optimistic. Chelf had his moments in 2012, but this is just the spring, after all, and a lot can happen in fall camp, even though there is a possibility that Lunt could redshirt this season.
This is Chelf’s job to lose and there are open quarterback slots available on the all-conference team.
With a friendly schedule where the two toughest games — Kansas State and Oklahoma — take place in Stillwater, this is Chelf’s chance to make his name in a conference known for name quarterbacks.
SPRING TOUR: OKLAHOMA STATE
2012: 8-5 (5-4 in the Big 12, tied for third); def. Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
They’re gone: RB Joseph Randle, DE Nigel Nicholas, DE Ryan Robinson, OL Lane Taylor, K/P Quinn Sharp
But they’re back: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart, CB Justin Gilbert, DT Calvin Barnett, FB Kye Staley
Returning leaders: Passing — Clint Chelf (119-197-1,588, 15/6); Rushing — Jeremy Smith (70-371-8); Receiving — Josh Stewart (101-1,210-7)
Spring cleaning: Oklahoma State’s two biggest issues? Working in a new offensive coordinator for the third time in four seasons, and getting back to strong defenses of recent years
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
How Oklahoma State has fared since 2008:
2012;8-5;5-4;19/—;Heart of Dallas (L)
* AP preseason/final ranking
OUR SPRING TOUR
This is the sixth of our annual 10-day spring sweep around the Big 12 by six reporters on the American-Statesman’s college team:
April 14: Texas Tech
April 15: Kansas State
April 16: Oklahoma
April 17: Baylor
April 18: West Virginia
April 19: Oklahoma State
April 20: Kansas
April 21: Texas
April 22: TCU
April 23: Iowa State
BIG 12’S SPRING GAMES
March 30: Texas
April 6: Baylor
April 13: Kansas, Oklahoma
April 20: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
April 27: Kansas State