Sanders helps No. 12 Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
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STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy deflected credit when he reached a career milestone.

Spencer Sanders passed for a career-high 406 yards and accounted for six touchdowns and No. 12 Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan 58-44 on Thursday night to give Gundy his 150th coaching victory.

Gundy improved to 150-69 in his 18th season coaching his alma mater.

“Cool deal,” he said. “Like I told the team, it takes a lot of really, really quality people and good young men for a guy to stay in one place long enough to win 150 games. I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride.”

Sanders matched a career high with four touchdown passes and set a career mark with two rushing scores in the opener for both teams.

“Knock on wood, he’s really good,” Gundy said. “He understands our concepts. He understands second nature where to go with the ball. And it’s a big advantage for us.”

Braydon Johnson had career highs of six catches for 133 yards and Brennan Presley added five catches for 83 yards.

Daniel Richardson passed for a career-high 424 yards and threw four touchdown passes for Central Michigan. Lew Nichols III, the nation’s leading rusher last year, ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

Sanders passed for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and ran for two more scores to help the Cowboys take a 44-15 lead.

The Cowboys led 51-15 less than a minute into the third quarter before Central Michigan climbed back into the game. Jalen McGaughy‘s 54-yard touchdown pass from Richardson cut it to 58-44 with 3:15 remaining. McGaughy had six catches for 126 yards and two scores.

“As I said from the beginning, I really like our football team,” Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain said. “We’re going to win a lot of games. And those kids are going to learn from this video and we’re going to get a little bit better.”

Central Michigan outscored Oklahoma State 29-14 in the second half and outgained the Cowboys 281 yards to 138 after the break.

“It’s credit to those kids,” McElwain said. “Since we’ve been here and started to establish the program, there’s a certain mentality it takes to be a Chippewa. And these guys have started to understand a little bit what that is.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Central Michigan: The Chippewas came in with high hopes after going 9-4 last season and beating Washington State in the Sun Bowl. But Sanders was too much for them early, and they couldn’t get their running game going well enough to control the clock and slow his rhythm.

Oklahoma State: The defense carried much of the load last season, but the offense put up 531 total yards on Thursday, mostly in the first half. The running game still could use some work, though. The Cowboys had just 45 yards on 20 carries in the second half and struggled to put the game away.

“We were very effective playing fast,” Gundy said. “And one thing that works against us a little bit is once you get ahead … obviously, you don’t want to play fast. So then you slow down, and we’re probably not as good at that as we are playing fast. But I was pleased with our ability to play fast and make plays in space.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Oklahoma State could get penalized for being sluggish in the second half, depending on what else happens in the upcoming days.

GUNNAR PLAYS

Redshirt freshman Gunnar Gundy, Mike Gundy’s son, got action in the opener for the Cowboys. He did not attempt a pass, but he carried once for five yards.

The younger Gundy, a walk-on, has risen to No. 2 on the depth chart.

“This is a big deal … Everybody wants to see their kids do good and get out there,” coach Gundy said. “I was proud of him.”

NICHOLS SLOWED

Nichols rushed for 1,848 yards last season and ran for at least 100 yards his final eight games. His streak ended as he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on Thursday.

QUOTABLE

McElwain joking about Bullet, the horse that runs onto the field after Oklahoma State’s touchdowns: “When they scored 30 in a row, I was probably more concerned with that damn horse cramping up that kept running around the end zone there.”

UP NEXT

Central Michigan: Hosts South Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 10.

Oklahoma State: Hosts Arizona State on Saturday, Sept. 10.

Sanders ready to lead Oklahoma State to new heights

spencer sanders
Nathan J. Fish/USA TODAY NETWORK
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STILLWATER, Okla. — Spencer Sanders enters his fourth year as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State, and he’s happy right where he is.

“Family, culture, I like the guys I am surrounded by,” Sanders said Saturday at the Cowboys’ preseason media day. “I’ve fell in love with every group that they’ve brought in since I’ve been here. I love my five guys up front. I love my running backs, all my receivers. I even love the other side of the ball. We’re all friends on this team.”

The redshirt junior from Denton, Texas, has made 32 starts for the Cowboys, 10 more than any of his teammates on the offense. His 24 wins as a starting quarterback are the third-most in the history of a program that’s produced NFL quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph. Last season, Sanders joined Weeden as the only quarterbacks in school history to receive all-conference, first-team recognition after leading the Cowboys to a No. 7 national ranking.

Sanders also is one of only two players in Oklahoma State history to record more than 6,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards. His experience and success at football’s most important position is a huge reason Oklahoma State – coming off a 12-2 campaign that ended with a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame – has high expectations for the 2022 season.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Sanders doesn’t think the grass is greener elsewhere.

“It just kind of came together that first year I was here – I just felt welcome,” he said. “I am excited to be here. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t. This is where I want to be. This is where I should be.”

In 2019, Sanders set an Oklahoma State freshman record with 2,065 passing yards to go with 16 touchdowns, rushed for 628 yards and two scores, and was named the Big 12 Conference’s offensive freshman of the year despite missing the final two games due to injury. He missed two full games and significant portions of two others in 2020 but still finished with 2,007 yards and 14 touchdowns passing and 269 yards and two touchdowns rushing.

Last season, he was the anchor of a young offense that steadily improved, finishing with 2,839 yards and 20 touchdowns passing and 668 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. His 3,507 yards of total offense and his per-game offensive average of 269.8 yards both led the Big 12.

Coach Mike Gundy, himself a starter at quarterback at OSU for four years in the 1980s, appreciates what he has in Sanders.

“There is no substitute for experience and reps,” Gundy said. “He is really good at what we do. He can run any play in our system. All of our really fast plays that we have – I think we have 47 of them – he can run them without being coached at this point, in my opinion. We have a really simple offense, except for the quarterback. The quarterback takes time. Once they get it, they all of a sudden get better.

“It’s much more difficult to play quarterback now than when I played, so that experience is really important. And he’s tough. He’s been beat up. He’s been hit on, so he gets it and he’s OK.”

His teammates say Sanders’ leadership and skill set are invaluable.

“Having a guy who’s experienced who knows how to push a team and knows how to win games like that boosts everybody around him,” freshman wide receiver Bryson Green said. “There is a comfort level having a guy back there who’s been in situations you’ve never been in before. He can guide you on the right path.”

Dominic Richardson, a sophomore who figures to be Oklahoma State’s primary running back, said the speedy Sanders has taught him a thing or two about running.

“He is very explosive,” Richardson said. “He’s a dual threat, for sure. He has it all and he’s not scared to get hit. He makes things happen.”

Sanders will still have a season of eligibility remaining after this season, should he choose to take it, so the potential is there to be a five-year starter.

He’s not thinking ahead.

“I feel like every year is a new year for me,” Sanders said. “I’m always excited to go out and practice with my teammates. I love being around those guys. I love getting better as a team and going out there and playing and competing as a team and winning together and losing together.

“I’m just happy to be around these guys. These guys bring the best out of me. Hopefully, we can get back in the game and get that championship.”

Big 12 changes coming after one last season with 10 schools

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ARLINGTON, Texas — On the surface at Big 12 football media days, nothing really appeared much different. The 10 mannequins lining the main stage donned the uniforms of the same schools that have made up the conference for a decade.

As the annual two-day kickoff event wrapped up, workers began to dismantle the oversized figures, then carried them one by one off the stage that was adorned by all the team logos.

The Big 12 is heading into its final season as a 10-school league. Oklahoma and Texas, the conference’s only football national champions, still have at least this season – and up to two more after that – before moving to the Southeastern Conference.

BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF won’t join the Big 12 until next summer. And it’s unclear if there could be more teams eventually added to the mix – from the Pac-12, or elsewhere.

“Don’t want to speculate, you know, on the future,” new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said. “I’m going to keep it on this season and what’s right in front of us.”

For now, that is the Sooners trying to win another Big 12 title after their record streak of six championships in a row ended last season.

As for the Longhorns, they look to make a big improvement after going 5-7 with a six-game losing streak in coach Steve Sarkisian‘s first season. He hasn’t decided whether Hudson Card or transfer Quinn Ewers will be the starting quarterback, but Sarkisian isn’t worried about that – “We’re in a really good position,” he said – and also isn’t concerned about the pending switch of leagues.

“Regardless of playing this year in the Big 12, or next year in the Big 12 or whatever this is going to look like, our style of play, our roster that we have in place, is one that regardless of who we play is going to be one that fits us and what we want to do,” Sarkisian said. “This is just our belief of who we want to be as a team.”

It was a week after Big 12 media days wrapped up last July that word came out about Oklahoma and Texas planning a move to an expanded SEC.

The Big 12 responded in September with the four additions, football independent BYU and the three American Athletic Conference schools that have worked out an early departure from that league. UCF had messages on electronic billboards around AT&T Stadium this week expressing the school’s excitement about moving to the Big 12.

“We have really good programs leaving, and we have really good programs coming in,” new Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said.

Matt Campbell, the league’s second-longest tenured coach going into his seventh season, believes the Big 12 is in a strong position now because of the decision by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other leaders “to move, and not stand pat” last summer.

“Probably a lot better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” Campbell said. “A good move at the time because I think it’s probably positioned us in a great spot moving forward.”

Two weeks before this year’s Big 12 media days, Brett Yormark was named the league’s new commissioner after the 70-year-old Bowlsby’s decision earlier this year to retire. There was also another surprising shift in conference alignment, with UCLA and Southern California leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.

Yormark, steadily busy even before his first official day on the job Aug. 1, described himself as actively engaged in realignment, with input from throughout the conference. He said during his introduction that he saw “there was opportunity” without specifically naming any schools, and adding that nothing was imminent.

“As we vet out the possibilities, everything will be additive. Nothing will be dilutive,” Yormark said. “I feel very confident that our conference is in the best position it’s ever been before.”

Texas and Oklahoma are set to remain in the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year, which would take them to the end of the conference’s current media rights deal.

When asked about a potential early departure for the Longhorns and Sooners, Yormark said he expected some future discussions with the two schools, and that he would always look for a “win-win situation.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he believed his team’s Bedlam series against Oklahoma would end when the Sooners leave the conference. And while saying he was joking, he also questioned why OU and Texas were still in on Big 12 meetings.

“I think the world is changing and people are like, yeah, they made a business decision. You know, the new commissioner, if I was him, I wouldn’t let OU and Texas in any meetings,” Gundy said. “I say that kind of jokingly, but really it’s almost business as usual.”