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Column: True freshman could play critical role for OSU football in 2020

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Mike Gundy looks on during the No. 21 Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia Big 12 Conference football game on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.

The term “freshman” typically comes with a giggly connotation from the potential production of a new commodity, but under coach Mike Gundy, it’s the almost inevitable waiting game.

But this year may be different.

It’s hard to argue with Gundy’s line of thinking. He’s redshirted/scarcely used a multitude of younger guys, allowed them to develop and unleashed them after a year. Or two. Or three.

Safety Tre Sterling, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga and left tackle Teven Jenkins are all prime examples of that.

It’s worked, but this may be the year when Gundy has to mend his own rules.

The COVID-19 pandemic already has players opting out, teams/conferences postponing seasons, chaos leading to the imaginable.

Unlike the NBA and NHL, where bubbles are a feasible system, it’s impossible to completely quarantine and restrict student-athletes. There was always going to be a risk factor in playing college sports.

OSU already had its first taste of that in the days leading up to the Tulsa game, when the game was — almost shockingly — postponed a week.

But honestly, it’s not a shock. This the reality of 2020. Players could test positive the week of Bedlam showdown, a Big 12 title game, anything.

In some sort of doomsday scenario, Spencer Sanders, Tylan Wallace, Dillion Stoner, Braydon Johnson and Langston Anderson all test positive for coronavirus one week, what happens then?

Will we see 4-star freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth throwing bombs to the aforementioned Presley? That’s a guy who’s No. 8 on the WR depth chart right now.

If Chuba Hubbard and Dezmon Jackson go out, does true freshman running back Dominic Richardson potentially start?

It’s crazy to think about, and it doesn’t just stop there.

In case we forgot, injuries do still exist.

It’s not just coronavirus that will hinder teams, they also deal with a myriad of injuries — short and long term.

Then you blend that in with key players potentially missing critical games because of coronavirus, and you could have a hot mess on your hands.

And the solution isn’t as easy as just plugging freshmen, who have no experience, into a game — they need a good complement of snaps at the Division I level before they’re suddenly throttled into full-time starters.

But it seems like OSU is ready for that.

"There'll be a number of guys play, I would hate to say who or when based on just how the game plays,” Gundy said when asked about true freshman playing against Tulsa. “There could be 5-6 guys that get in and play at some point in the first half. We'll just have to see how the game plays out."

It’s the first half part that’s interesting to me.

It’s not a stretch for second and third stringers to get into a game that OSU is expected to win by a big margin, but usually, it’s not early on. The ability to get these freshmen valuable snaps could end up paying dividends later on.

Even for talented guys, there has almost always been a waiting period for freshmen, which is usually beneficial later on in their careers, but this is an unusual season.

And an unusual year.

sports.ed@ocolly.com