STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and West Virginia coach Neal Brown have slipped off the hot seat and are arguably more likely to be considered Big 12 Coach of the Year contenders.
Gundy was under scrutiny after the Cowboys lost back-to-back games to South Alabama and Iowa State in September. Now, he’s back to being the man in his 19th year leading the program. Oklahoma State (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) has won five straight, including a 27-24 victory over rival Oklahoma that left the Cowboys tied with Texas atop the Big 12.
Gundy said his staff was part of the problem early this season.
“Coaching was awful so we didn’t play very well,” Gundy said. “I told our coaches their coaching was awful, and my coaching was awful because I watched it happen. We didn’t play well.”
The Cowboys have rallied behind Ollie Gordon II, who has gone from barely getting carries the first three games to becoming the nation’s leading rusher. He has 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and has gained at least 100 yards on the ground six straight games. He has fueled Oklahoma State's rise to No. 15 in the Top 25 heading into Saturday’s game at UCF.
The Cowboys are 5-1 since Gundy settled on Alan Bowman as the full-time starting quarterback. The Michigan transfer has passed for 1,914 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gundy said the real key for the offense has been blocking.
“The reason we’re playing good is because our offensive line is playing good,” he said. “Early in the year, for whatever reason, we weren’t and we couldn’t manage anything. They’ve picked it up the last how many other games in a row playing physical, covering guys up, which allows us to throw passes, allowing us to become better pass protectors and a little more balanced and gives us a chance.”
Brown entered this season with a 22-25 record in four years and serious skepticism about his future. Last November, the school announced the day that Wren Baker was hired as West Virginia’s new athletic director that Brown would be retained, despite a 5-7 finish in 2022.
The media picked West Virginia to finish last in the 14-team league this season, something the team took as a slight. Now, the Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2) already are bowl eligible and the conference title game is a possibility. They are one game out of the league lead as they prepare to visit No. 17 Oklahoma.
“I think this team plays with a chip on its shoulder," Brown said. "They’re as resilient as any group I’ve been a part of. So I think the story on this season is far from written. I think it will continue to progress as we roll.”
West Virginia’s offense sputtered over the first month of the season but has found a groove behind a veteran line, dual-threat quarterback Garrett Greene and the backfield tandem of 240-pound CJ Donaldson and speedy freshman Jahiem White. The Mountaineers’ scoring average of nearly 38 points over the last four games is its best under Brown in Big 12 play, while the 336 rushing yards against BYU were their highest in seven years.
After an opening loss at Penn State, the Mountaineers reeled off four straight wins. They then lost two in a row due in part to injuries and defensive meltdowns, including a Hail Mary touchdown as time ran out at Houston. They have now won two consecutive games, scoring 24 points off five turnovers.
The defense has held three opponents under 300 total yards, including in a 37-7 win over BYU that Brown called “our most complete game.”
“Really, to me, it’s about the best teams play their best in November, and that was the best game we’ve played this year,” Brown said. “We’ve got a four-game stretch in November. That’s the way we’re attacking it. We’re 1-0. We’re alive and well in the conference race. And that’s what we’re talking about. We’re on a quest to play our best.”
___ AP Sports Writer John Raby contributed. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here ___
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