Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy considers Taylor Cornelius something of a dinosaur, and not because his starting quarterback’s 23rd birthday is coming up the day after the Cowboys play their third game of the season.
Cornelius arrived on campus as a walk-on in 2014, had a redshirt season and then attempted only 24 passes in nine games over three years while primarily backing up Mason Rudolph. Now, as a fifth-year senior, Cornelius is coming off a victory in his first career start.
Four Big 12 quarterbacks who started Week One games – West Virginia’s Will Grier, Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt, Kansas senior Peyton Bender and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray – began their careers at other Power Five schools. Jalan McClendon, who shared snaps at Baylor with returning sophomore starter Charlie Brewer, is a graduate transfer from North Carolina State.
“I think you’re going to see quarterbacks across the country that get a year or two into it, and if they’re not the starter, they’re going to leave and go other places with the transfer rules that have lightened up so much,” Gundy said. “He’s paid his dues, and now he’s starter. He’s earned that right, but I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of that in the future of the college football. I think it’s going to go the other way.”
Kempt went into a season as the No. 1 quarterback for the first time in a career spanning six seasons and three schools. He became Iowa State’s starter last year after Jacob Park, who began his career at Georgia and was starting for the Cyclones, left the team to address personal health issues. Kempt threw 15 touchdowns in nine games and won games over Oklahoma and TCU, the teams that played in the Big 12 championship game.
The NCAA granted Kempt, who turns 24 in November, eligibility for another season after considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding his transfer from Oregon State, where he was a redshirt freshman in 2013, to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas before walking on at Iowa State.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said “more times than not” college athletes will get their opportunity if they are willing to continue to develop and grow.
“I think the beauty of Kyle’s story is, it lasted a lot longer and he had to really wait his turn, until his fifth year that he actually got the opportunity,” Campbell said. “Had he quit developing, quit growing, quit working to perfect his craft, he would have never been able to maximize the opportunity when it came.”
As a redshirt freshman at Florida in 2015, Grier was 5-0 as a starter before a one-year suspension for using an over-the-count supplement banned by the NCAA. He left the Gators and had to sit out the 2016 season at West Virginia, then threw for 3,490 yards with 34 TDs before a broken finger in the 11th game of his Mountaineers debut last year.
The married 23-year-old quarterback, who has a year-old daughter, went into 2018 as the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year. West Virginia over the summer launched a Grier7Heisman.com website that is endorsed by Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen.
Bender was at Washington State for two seasons, playing in five games as redshirt freshman in 2015, before going to junior college for a year then starting eight games for the Jayhawks last season.
Murray, a junior who succeeded Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma, is a former Texas A&M transfer who got a nearly $5 million bonus from the Oakland Athletics after being the ninth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft this summer. He will play this season with the Sooners before joining the A’s organization.
Cornelius was successful in his Oklahoma State debut, completing 25 of 35 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns in a 58-17 victory over FCS team Missouri State.
Still, Gundy thought Cornelius “played average” with a “few jitters” in his first college start. The Cowboys have home games against South Alabama and Boise State, the latter the same weekend of the quarterback’s birthday, before opening Big 12 play against Texas Tech
“There were several times during the game that he reminded me of a pitcher in 9-year-old kid pitch baseball. He was just trying to throw strikes instead of throw the baseball, and he has not ever really done that,” Gundy said. “I think a lot of that could be due his first start in four years. So I want to see, we want to see him play through that in practice, and then go out and turn it loose in a game.”
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