Thursday October 16th, 2008

Shame on me for writing an entire feature on Big 12 quarterbacks a couple weeks back that only briefly mentioned Zac Robinson, and that in a sidebar. While paying homage to his better-known counterparts -- the Colt McCoys, Sam Bradfords, Todd Reesings and Chase Daniels of the world -- I gave short shrift to Robinson, a 6-3, 210-pound junior whose 190.9 passing-efficiency rating, following the Cowboys' recent 28-23 upset of Missouri, happens to have the third-best in Division I. (Bradford is second, McCoy is fourth, Daniel is fifth; five more Big 12 qbs round out the Top 15. It is, as Daniel noted not long ago, "ridiculous.")

As I sat popping flop sweat in a Dallas hotel room last Saturday night, laboring over this week's cover story on Texas-Oklahoma, I periodically gave in to the temptation to fire up the television. Even if I hadn't harbored a keen interest in two night games -- Florida-LSU and Missouri-Oklahoma State -- I'd have found some other reason to procrastinate. I really should trim those nails. At one point I surfed over to the Mizzou game just as the quarterback, in the teeth of a heavy rush, pirouetted out of trouble and launched a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the game on ice. It was resourceful, athletic, heroic -- a Heisman moment if ever there was one.

Except that the guy who made the play wasn't the Heisman candidate. While Daniel's jersey collar was constricting his trachea -- the Mizzou senior threw three second-half picks, the second and third of those particularly catastrophic -- it was Robinson who looked "outstanding." It was Robinson, a fourth-year junior from Littleton, Col., who connected on that electrifying, 31-yard scoring pass to wide out Damian Davis, a 6-5, 185-pound converted hoopster with the hops (and frame, frankly) of a pogo stick. That dynamic duo had teamed up for the Pokes' previous touchdown, an equally gorgeous, if slightly less improvised, 40-yard throw-and-catch up the right sideline.

Davis is the beneficiary of teams double-covering his multi-talented bookend, Dez Bryant, whose 34 catches this season have produced 597 yards -- that's 17.6 per reception -- and nine TDs. Oh, and by the way, he's returned two punts for touchdowns.

If you're tempted to take a defender or two out of the box to deal with these receiving threats, Robinson will merely hand the ball to the nation's third-leading rusher. Kendall (Spud) Hunter, averaging 143 yards per game, is yet another of OSU's scary-good sophomores. Like ex-Poke Barry Sanders, against whom all Cowboy running backs must be measured, Hunter is ... not tall. "He goes 5-8 or 5-9," says offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer. "He's a like a little spud potato. He's quick, fast, explosive, strong and tough."

The fact is, Oklahoma State has as formidable an array of skill guys as any team in this conference. Which, in the Big 12 in 2008, is saying something. Thus does Robinson find himself at the controls of an offense every bit as explosive as the Mike Gundy tantrum for which the Cowboys were best known a year ago.

That Vesuvian eruption from the Oklahoma State head coach came in defense of benched quarterback Bobby Reid (who transferred after the season, and is now tearing it up at Texas Southern. Into that awkward situation stepped Robinson, who started the next 11 games, running and passing for a school-record 3,671 yards.

An excellent athlete with legitimate speed, Robinson lined up at receiver during his junior season at Chatfield (Col.) High. "I'd played quarterback my whole life," he explains, "but we were short receivers that year, so they asked me to take one for the team."

After initially committing to Kansas State, Robinson changed his mind after Gundy brought in then-offensive coordinator Larry Fedora (now the head coach at Southern Miss). Besides, he adds, "I was born in Edmond, my mother went to Oklahoma State. I've got a bunch of cousins that go here. My sister goes here."

Plus, he loved the offense. LSU has The Hat, as Les Miles is known. The Pokes had Fedora, an early proponent of the no-huddle, hurry-up attack -- "basically fast-break basketball on grass," says Brewer, whom Gundy also brought in in '05. The Cowboys were dreadful that year, finishing 1-7 in the Big 12, averaging 20 points per game. With each recruiting class, Gundy has stockpiled the athletes he needs to run Okie State's unique version of the spread.

How is it different from other spreads? "Our balance," Robinson replies. "Last year we had 3,161 yards rushing and 3,161 passing. We're going to run the ball, and when you stop the run, we're going to throw. Whatever you give us, we're going to take it."

Less noteworthy than the fact that the Cowboys are rushing for 294 yards per game -- fourth in the country -- is the fact that they're doing it out of one-back, four-receiver sets. Across the republic, attacks like these are causing defensive coordinators to break out in eczema. "The days of having a true Mike [middle] linebacker to stop the run -- that's becoming antiquated," says Brewer. "You go from an I formation to four wides, all the sudden that 250-pounder is covering some 165-pound guy who runs a 4.55 running an option route against him. He's got no chance. It's not his world."

No. More and more these days, it's looking like Oklahoma State's world. An opulent, $180 million renovation of the west end of Boone Pickens Stadium -- bankrolled by a $165 million donation from the ex-Cowboy, former wildcatter and author of The First Billion is the Hardest -- should be done next year.

"It's definitely an exciting time to be involved with the program," says Robinson. "We really can't thank Mr. Pickens enough."

Enjoy it while you can, Cowboys. Your bubble is bound to burst one of these Saturdays. I mean, there's no way the Pokes can stay on top in a division that includes Texas and Oklahoma, right? That's about as likely as some billionaire oilman staking his future on wind-generated electricity!

What's that you say? Oh. Never mind ...

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