Clint Chelf said a thought popped into head as he watched Gunnar Gundy, Oklahoma State’s third quarterback of the game, trot onto the field in the Cowboys’ opener.
Where was this Mike Gundy in 2012?
It appears Oklahoma State’s three-QB competition will still be raging when Oklahoma State plays host to South Alabama on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN+). Through a 2-0 start, coach Mike Gundy has split playing time equally between his sophomore son, Gunnar, classmate Garret Rangel and senior Alan Bowman.
The last time OSU staged a three-quarterback competition was in 2012 between freshmen Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh and with Chelf, a junior.
The fact that Mike Gundy settled the 2012 battle in the spring and the current competition enters Week 3 is a testament to how the transfer portal has changed college football, and how a head coach in his 19th season has changed with it.
The moment Chelf learned he lost the battle is still seared in his mind. It was in April, and he went to talk with Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Chelf said they told him he played the best in camp and had the firmest grasp of the offense, but because the race was so tight, they were going to start the younger player, Lunt, a four-star recruit from Illinois.
“Obviously, I didn’t agree with it,” said Chelf, now an insurance agent in his hometown of Enid when he’s not co-hosting The Old Pokes Show podcast on the OSU Max network. “I understood from the perspective of you’ll have more time to develop that quarterback and play for the future, but college isn’t necessarily a game, in my opinion, you should always be playing into the future. You’ve got upperclassmen who have poured their heart and soul into preparing and I don’t know it’s necessarily fair to them just to pick the younger guy just to look for the future.”
Lunt started the first three games of the 2012 season, but lacerated his knee in a 65-24 win against Louisiana. Walsh started the next three games until Lunt healed. Chelf didn’t get a real opportunity until Week 8 when injuries sidelined Lunt and Walsh against No. 3 Kansas State in Manhattan.
Chelf impressed, completing 16-of-27 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. He went on to start OSU’s final five games, winning MVP honors in the Heart of Dallas Bowl with three touchdown passes in a 58-14 win over Purdue.
That volatile season at quarterback in Stillwater certainly wasn’t how Gundy designed it. When Chelf learned he lost the battle, he said Gundy told him the only way he would get to play is if Lunt got hurt and the score dictated the Cowboys needed to throw to get back in it.
Mike Gundy’s philosophy is different today, at least publicly.
“If you take the injury out of what happened back then and put that forward now, with the circumstances of college football, we would be playing both of them,” Mike Gundy said recently.
The OSU coach offered two reasons why he is now more inclined to give game reps to every player who performs well enough in practice. One, he said it could hurt his future chances in the transfer portal, which is likely to play a larger factor in how future teams are constructed.
There were 8,699 college football players who entered the transfer portal, from August 2022 to May 2023, ESPN reported. That’s more than double the total from the portal’s first year (2018-2019). OSU alone lost 18 players to the portal at the end of last season.
Players transferred in 2012, too, but was nowhere near as common, in part because those transfers were forced to sit out a year. After he was beat out, Lunt ended up transferring to Illinois. Walsh finished his career in Stillwater.
If current players see transfers to OSU — like Bowman, who came from Texas Tech — not getting to play, it could discourage future transfers. Also, if a player feels like they are performing well in practice and not getting a chance to play, nothing is stopping him from leaving.
“There’s a part of me that feels like, based on the transfer rules, that I have to be upfront and honest and give every young man a chance for the longevity of our program more so than ever,” Gundy said.
And the second reason Mike Gundy gave for spreading around game reps is he sees the human side of the equation. In 2021, Gunnar Gundy joined the Cowboys and is now engaged in the quarterback battle.
“I just kind of look at it as myself as a dad of a player,” Mike Gundy said. “How would I justify that to somebody’s mom or dad that your son came here and he never actually got a chance to get on the field and play and even though in practice he deserved it?”
Gundy said he doesn’t want any players to walk by his office in December and say they are leaving because he never gave them a chance. Players might transfer, he said, but it won’t be because they were deserving and didn’t get an opportunity to play
So come Saturday, Rangel, Bowman and Gundy are expected to have another chance to sort things out for themselves on gameday. Something that, without injuries to both quarterbacks ahead of him, Chelf wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do.
“Maybe I was a little too early on losing quarterback competitions,” Chelf said.
“I would have loved to go out and play for it on the field. So that was something that I thought of right away (when Gunnar entered the game). It was interesting to see how (Mike Gundy) has kind of evolved his coaching techniques and how he’s evolved as a head coach in general.”