MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It’s common for Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy to be the center of attention.
But as the MVP of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was announced after OSU’s 38-33 defeat of No. 24 Missouri on Monday, Gundy helped his quarterback Taylor Cornelius onto the stage and took a step back.
He was giving his quarterback the spotlight on center stage at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, something Cornelius, a Bushland, Texas, native deserved.
Cornelius became somewhat of a scapegoat for OSU supporters this season. Cries were made for either Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders to take his place.
But in reality, the quarterback position was the least of OSU’s issues.
Injuries up front caused the Cowboys to play musical chairs with the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, they ranked 99th nationally in total defense, giving up more than 437 yards a game.
But the bulk of the blame fell on Cornelius’ shoulders.
It should be noted that he was nowhere near perfect and at times deserved some criticism.
His performances against Kansas State and TCU, especially after watching his lucrative performances against Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas, were head-scratchers, to say the least.
But one thing that never wavered, even after those lackluster performances, was the commitment from Gundy and players as to who their starting quarterback was.
“Everyone that interviews us at Oklahoma State knows I love Corn and I’ve always supported him,” running back Chuba Hubbard said after the bowl game. “Obviously he’s gotten some hate, but I’ve always supported him. He’s a great guy on and off the field. I wish I could say some stuff back to the people hating on him (laughs). He’s awesome. I think everybody on the team knows that.”
Tyron Johnson spoke of the impact Cornelius has had on him as a leader.
“He’s a leader by example, so we follow him,” Johnson said. “We went as far as he took us and got a bowl win. It’s great to have leaders on your team that you can look to and learn from and pass it down and keep passing it down.”
The commitment from his coach never wavered, either, even with an uproar of outside noise from football fans wanting a change at the quarterback position.
Cornelius’ final game as an OSU player symbolized his lone season as the signal caller perfectly.
He played three great quarters in which the offense was flowing like a well-oiled machine. Then he threw two interceptions, giving Missouri new life and making the game closer than it should’ve been. But in the process, Cornelius tied the AutoZone Liberty Bowl record for passing touchdowns with four. He also set the OSU single-game bowl record for passing touchdowns.
Cornelius’ season was a constant teeter totter, but the good outweighed the bad.
OSU had a complex season, one that was the definition of a roller-coaster ride. The season as a whole didn’t live up to the standard Gundy has set as coach. Fans have reason to be frustrated with a 7-6 record.
But they shouldn’t be frustrated with the guy who played quarterback this season.
He was the least of this team’s problems.