The last time Mike Gundy was around Larry Coker, he found his break in college football. Now, Coker is the one looking for a break as the budding program he started at UTSA faces its biggest challenge yet when it faces Gundy's 13-ranked Cowboys on Saturday.
The Roadrunners started the third season of their football program with a dramatic 21-13 victory at New Mexico last week. But Coker, who coached a national champion at Miami in 2001, knows Oklahoma State will raise the bar by coming to town.
"This is the most talented team we've played," Coker said. "You get into all the hype and all these upsets. But the players see the video and they know that we have a tremendous challenge here."
The Cowboys opened with a 21-3 victory over Mississippi State. They haven't had a losing season since 2005, Gundy's first year.
That may be the only time Gundy, 19 years younger than the 65-year-old Coker, has gotten off to a bad start. During his playing career he became a freshman starting quarterback at OSU. The Cowboys' offensive coordinator at the time was Coker.
Gundy was fortunate to hand the ball off to running backs like Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, but he also passed for more than 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons in 1988 and '89.
"He was a very smart player and tremendously competitive," Coker said. "He was a playmaker when there weren't many plays to be made. He's very confident, and you can see that in their team now."
Any lack of confidence Gundy may have had with this team seems resolved. He started senior Clint Chelf at quarterback last week. But when Chelf had 11 yards passing on his first six attempts, the Cowboys trailed Mississippi State 3-0 and Gundy pulled Chelf in favor of sophomore J.W. Walsh.
Walsh rallied the Cowboys with 260 yards total offense (125 yards and a score while rushing) and he'll make his fourth career start Saturday.
"They told me to be ready last week," said Walsh, one of six listed starters on offense and six on defense from Texas. "The best thing we had going for us was that we were running the ball physical. We were playing fast, physical and in a rhythm. But it shouldn't take us a quarter and a half to get going."
Is Oklahoma State traveling to UTSA for old times' sake between Gundy and Coker?
"I don't think that's any part of it," Coker said. "They do a great job of recruiting Texas, and I think they want to continue that."
Five things to watch during No. 13 Oklahoma State's visit to UTSA:
LOCK UP THE JOB?: Walsh made a relief appearance for Chelf against Mississippi State and combined for 260 yards of offense and led three scoring drives after OSU had fallen behind. Walsh will start, but he needs another solid week since playing a presumably overmatched UTSA could allow Chelf more playing time.
JITTERS?: Coker said the third-year Roadrunners have never faced an opponent like Oklahoma State and that this game in the Alamodome will be "like a bowl game for us." UTSA fell behind 13-0 on the road at New Mexico and still won, but an early deficit this time likely would be too much to overcome.
THIS DEFENSE IS FOR REAL: Last week UTSA faced tested running back Kasey Carrier, who set a New Mexico school record with almost 1,500 yards in 2012. Yet the Roadrunners stopped Carrier for 54 yards on 20 carries in a 21-13 win. This time they face a pair of runners (QB Walsh and RB Jeremy Smith) who both had 100-yard games and scored all the TDs last week for OSU. The Cowboys kept Mississippi State out of the end zone, but this week face a QB in Eric Soza with 21 career starts, far more than three-time starter Walsh.
LETDOWN: After beating the well-established program found at Mississippi State, the Cowboys don't have much glamour to look forward to the next two weeks. UTSA is in just its third year of football competition. Lamar is on the schedule for next week, and the Cardinals only restarted their football program four seasons ago.
STARTING FOR GOOD: UTSA's situation as a third-season program playing a perennial Top 25 team is unusual, and Roadrunners center Nate Leonard (6-2, 280) has started every game (23) in the program's history. Across the line, 300-pounder Calvin Barnett has started all 14 games he's played at OSU since transferring from junior college. He looks to be Leonard's toughest challenge: Barnett had a sack last week and a team-high nine tackles for a loss last season.