Oklahoma State lost cornerback D.J. McKinney to the transfer portal this week. He was very helpful to the Cowboys’ defense last season as a rotational cornerback.
OSU gained, or rather regained, Collin Oliver and Alan Bowman this week. Oliver was integral to the Cowboys’ defense last season as their best pass rusher. Bowman, granted a seventh year of eligibility by the NCAA Thursday, was a productive stabilizer as starting quarterback.
In the new math by which we measure a college football team’s roster change, this is a net gain. Good for the Cowboys. Good for Mike Gundy.
The old math had us focused on two end-of-season trademarks: departing seniors and incoming freshmen. That didn’t always set up well for Gundy, a habitual three-star recruiter to the frustration of critics who believe OSU has risen to four-star prominence.
The critics saw the proven production leaving, weighed that against the 40- or 50-something-rated signing class, and conveniently forgot that the proven production formed the base of that 40- or 50-something-rated class four years earlier.
The signing class is still a thing. OSU announced the addition of 17 3-star freshmen Dec. 20. Recruiting services Rivals and 247 rated the class No. 56 nationally.
Seniors still depart. Linebacker Xavier Benson made his goodbye official New Year’s Day.
It’s just there is a new end-of-season trademark that guides our roster evaluation. It’s something Gundy lumped with politics and religion as off-limit topics toward the end of last year.
The transfer portal.
Now that it’s a new year, and the portal math is coming out well for him, meaning Oliver, Bowman, Ollie Gordon, Brennan Presley and other OSU vertebrae aren’t entering it, I suggest Gundy start talking about it again.
I suggest Gundy tout the thing he talks most about regardless of the calendar: his Cowboy culture.
Gordon referenced his university’s president and mascot after OSU’s Texas Bowl victory over Texas A&M, his first media session since he announced his 2024 return Christmas Eve, then said: “My teammates, it might sound weird, but I fell in love being here with them. So I felt that played a huge part.”
Doesn’t sound weird to Gundy. Sounds timely.
I don’t know that Gordon, Oliver, Presley, Bowman and nearly all of OSU’s starting offensive line decided to spurn the portal, and potentially the NFL Draft in Oliver’s case, and stick around because of culture alone.
I don’t know where culture ranked when prominent OSU starters Spencer Sanders, Trace Ford, Mason Cobb, Jabbar Muhammad and John Paul Richardson all transferred after the 2022 season.
It is our reflex, though, isn’t it? To judge the foundation of a program by its player retention?
Gundy ought to seize on that. He ought to publicize the fact that while McKinney was valuable, Jaden Bray has been OSU’s only starter lost to the portal since the end of last season.
Meantime, his critics can quiet down. They don’t have to obsess over incoming transfers like they did a year ago when depth chart holes were everywhere. Wouldn’t do much good anyhow, since the only newcomers so far are former UTEP safety Kobe Hylton and former Arizona State offensive lineman Isaia Glass.
They don’t have to look over that 2024 freshman class and curse its three-star exclusivity. It should be easier to project long-term three-star growth with so many veterans returning for the short term.
That is, assuming they still use recruiting classes and eligibility expirations as the prime sources of roster change assessments. They shouldn’t.
“The age of the portal, I think this is the future, right?” Gundy said as OSU’s pre-2023 camp opened last August. “Some go out, some come in. You would like to minimize that, but I’m not sure that’s gonna happen anymore.”
It happened for the Cowboys this portal cycle, whether because of name, image, likeness endeavors or depth chart opportunities or personal aspirations or personal relationships or anything else driving college football a little crazy currently. Program culture might have even had a lot of sway.
Who knows year to year anymore?
It was just two years ago when Gundy, coming off an 11-win regular season and days from a Fiesta Bowl triumph over Notre Dame, considered the portal phenomenon and said: “This is the most movement and fly-by-night operation there’s ever been in college football.”
“Young men that are starters at places are still leaving,” Gundy went on that day. “Because of that, the instability in this game is growing year by year. What direction is that gonna go? I don’t know.”
Toward the end of his analysis, Gundy said: “You come here, you want to be a part of the team, you want to get an education, you want to be in our culture, want to make friends for life, you want to develop this young man, want to learn how to be a better husband, a better father, contribute to society, you come to school here. You want all the other stuff? You don’t come here. It’s not who we are. That’s OK. No hard feelings either way.”
It’s hard to know what OSU’s 19-year head coach thinks of the portal and the new math it has wrought today. It’s gone the way of politics and religion, remember?
More clear is that he should feel good about coming out ahead in the equation, and feel better than he did a year ago. That counts for a lot as 2023 becomes ‘24.