Not since the 2011 Big 12 Championship season and overtime win over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl has Oklahoma State made it through a complete season with just one quarterback, and that was current Dallas Cowboys backup Brandon Weeden. That seems to be the law of the jungle in the Big 12, that you had better have multiple quarterbacks ready to go.
In college football another law is that quarterbacks aren't often willing to wait their turn or opportunity as many bolt for the next open slot on a depth chart.
In 2014, it was obvious for several reasons that coming out of camp and facing the defending national champions and top-ranked Florida State Seminoles that J.W. Walsh was the right choice at quarterback. Walsh had experience and the athletic ability to run and make plays which better evens up the numbers with the defense and can take pressure off a new offensive line that included a redshirt freshman starting his first ever college game at right tackle.
The result was a near upset. Walsh wasn't perfect but he was very good, very confident, and if not for a missed blocking opportunity by a young wide receiver then Walsh, instead of fumbling on a topsy turvy hit from an FSU safety, might have been in the end zone giving the Cowboys the lead with just a couple of minutes left in the game.
Unfortunately, Walsh would be injured on a quarterback keeper on the zone read in the score zone during the first quarter of the second game of the season at home with Missouri State. The "tough guy" still played two more plays as Oklahoma State scored, but the tendons in his foot were really damaged.
That brought in the fan's favorite going into the season in the strong-armed Daxx Garman. There was a mystery around Garman, who had not played since leading Jones his junior season in high school deep into the playoffs. Garman's arm was celebrated by many, including Brandon Weeden, who had seen him during the spring on a visit to Stillwater and bragged to the local media.
Knowing what he had, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich pulled back on the quarterback run game and started featuring verticals like the old Oakland Raiders under Al Davis when Daryle Lamonica was firing to Warren Wells. It worked for awhile as Oklahoma State won five games in a row over Missouri State, UTSA, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas.
Then in those last two wins the opposing defenses changed and started taking away deep routes and applying extra pressure on the quarterback. Garman's rust showed up in that he was struggling getting the ball out of his hands. He took a lot of hits against TCU, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Texas.
Those blows added up and before the Baylor game head coach Mike Gundy had to pull the redshirt off talented freshman Mason Rudolph.
That was a very tough call after 10 weeks to pull that redshirt. Yurcich, who had handpicked and recruited Rudolph, wanted it to be a positive and so he changed some things in going to a huddle for the first time in Stillwater since the 2009 season. He called plays to relieve pressure and not apply it to Rudolph.
It worked as Rudolph came out of the 49-28 loss to Baylor with confidence. With two weeks to prepare, he was ready for Bedlam and his 273 passing yards and two touchdown passes helped lead OSU to the overtime win and again, tremendous positive for the young quarterback of the future.
"(Mason) Rudolph has played pretty well," Gundy said after Bedlam and leading to the Cactus Bowl. "I said this after the Oklahoma game. He's made some mistakes that freshmen make, but the thing that he's given our team is some toughness. For whatever reason sometimes players light a spark with your team, and he's given us that."
That continued in the bowl game as Rudolph was again very good and threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns. There is no doubt that he is the quarterback of the future for the Cowboys.
However, J.W. Walsh returns as a senior and Gundy took time at the bowl site, as Walsh returned to practice, to make sure everybody knows that the senior-to-be has a big role with his team.
"J.W. is a special young man," Gundy said. "It seemed like every time he's just gotten started, he got injured. It's a second episode for him. He works hard.
"He looks like a linebacker now he spent so much time in the weight room working on his upper body while his foot improves, but we enjoy seeing him out there. He talks to the quarterbacks. He understands our offense. He should be able to contribute, like he has, just being around our team.
"I mentioned this to you guys two or three years ago. He pushes everybody on the team because he works harder than anybody. He always has. His dad is a coach. He was raised in a coaching family. He has been an overachiever for a long time. His role is very important to our team. We all have to have players that can make plays on Saturdays in order to have success, but there's also a role for young men that want to be a part of a team and compete.
"There's a trust factor. They're tough. They understand the system. They love Oklahoma State football. He falls in that category. We're looking forward to him getting healthy and competing again."
In spite of many fans wanting to anoint Rudolph the starting quarterback, I say that is a mistake I have seen other programs make. Knowing how the Big 12 can cause you to run through your depth at quarterback, I say have Rudolph and Walsh compete. Find a way for both to contribute. Daxx Garman will be back to add some more experienced depth. Taylor Cornelius is a 6-6, 190-pound high quality recruited walk-on who has a lot of mental experience. You have also added high school standout and early arrival John Kolar this spring.
Quarterback is deep and in better shape with talent and numbers than it has been since Walsh, Clint Chelf, and now Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt competed for the job in the spring of 2012. You hope it is not the case, but history has taught that the Cowboys may need all of them.