Commentary

Triplets bring Cowboys to new level

Updated: August 18, 2009, 11:32 AM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The concepts of power and balance are never far away from Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson.

Robinson wears a loose-fitting bracelet on his wrist that is said to improve balance, core strength and flexibility.

[+] EnlargeZac Robinson
Kirby Lee/US PresswireOSU's Zac Robinson accounted for 3,626 yards in total offense this past season.

And when Robinson and high-powered weapons like wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter take the field, coach Mike Gundy's full-octane offense brings those notions to life, at least in a football sense.

"We do so much offensively that it's really tough [for a defense] to prepare for," Robinson said. "We know we can throw as well as we run it. We mix it up so many ways that we really keep a defense on their toes by what we do."

Oklahoma State's hopes of claiming its first Big 12 championship and earning its first BCS bowl appearance will be riding on big seasons from "The Triplets."

Anticipation hasn't been as strong here since the late 1980s, when another set of offensive triplets cut a wide swath through college football. Gundy was the starting quarterback, Barry Sanders was the tailback and Hart Lee Dykes was the playmaking wide receiver.

That offensive group tormented the old Big Eight Conference with four 600-yard games of total offense en route to leading the nation in scoring offense. Coach Pat Jones' team produced a 10-2 record, the last time an Oklahoma State team had at least 10 victories in a season.

Excitement is mushrooming for this team, which enters the season with the highest preseason ranking in school history. The biggest reason is the current triplets, which have helped make Gundy's current team similar to the old one.

"It does bring back some memories," said Jones, who is retired from coaching but still follows the Big 12 closely in his new job as a talk-show host and television analyst. "If you tried to load up on somebody, this team can really turn the lights out on you. All those three kids have immense big-play abilities. We were like that, too."

Although the current triplets might not be as imposing individually as the earlier group, Jones gives this Oklahoma State team one advantage over his old squad.

"The difference is these guys are a bit more talented up front on the line," Jones said. "We didn't have a guy like [Oklahoma State preseason All-America tackle Russell] Okung. We had solid guys, but they are probably a little more gifted. And because of everything, they are an incredible team to watch."

Hunter rushed for 1,555 yards last season to lead the Big 12, despite struggling with a knee injury late in the season. Bryant produced conference-leading totals of 1,480 receiving yards and added 19 touchdown catches to share the lead. Robinson ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency, passing for 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 562 yards and eight touchdowns.

In the process, they became the first trio in Big 12 history to include a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher and a 200-yard receiver in the same game in their win over Houston. That 300-200-200 effort was the fifth time in NCAA FBS history a trio achieved that feat.

The Sanders/Dykes/Gundy group never was able to accomplish that task, although their statistical accomplishments were almost as staggering.

Sanders was the best athlete of his day, winning the Heisman in 1988 in his only season as a full-time starter with single-season records of 2,628 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns.

"It's hard to compare anybody to Barry Sanders, to be honest with you," Gundy said. "Kendall Hunter is very good. It's hard to get anybody in the country like him. But a [then-]future Hall of Famer is difficult to compare to."

Offenses weren't as pass-oriented then, but Dykes was the most feared weapon in the Big Eight during his career, leading the conference with 74 receptions and 1,278 yards in 1988.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
AP Photo/Itsuo InouyeBarry Sanders rewrote the rushing record book during his time at Oklahoma State.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anyone like him at this level," Gundy said. "People talk about Hart Lee having only 4.7 speed, but I never saw anybody tackle him from behind."

But Bryant might be more versatile, considering his breakaway speed and his abilities as a punt returner. He led the conference and ranked third nationally with an average of 17.9 yards per return with two touchdowns last season.

"Dez Bryant is special, with tremendous strength, great hands and great leaping ability," Gundy said. "He is fearless. And what makes him great is that he's a great competitor."

Gundy passed for 2,163 yards in 1988 in his winningest year as a four-season starter at Oklahoma State. But he admits he doesn't compare to Robinson, who is bigger and faster and might have a better deep arm.

"If I could go back and recruit, I'd recruit Zac Robinson, and I wouldn't recruit Mike Gundy, to be honest with you," Gundy said. "His ability to make a play running the football is tremendous. And with his durability, he is much bigger and stronger."

The new Oklahoma State triplets have a chance to do something Gundy's old group never did. They're gunning for the Cowboys' first undisputed conference title since winning the Missouri Valley championship in 1948.

"I just hope this team continues to do what we've always done around here," Gundy said. "Just be balanced."

If Robinson needs any reminders, all he has to do is look down at his wrist.

Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.