STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy wasn't sure if true freshman Mason Rudolph was ready to be his starting quarterback.
Three games later, all doubt is gone.
After Daxx Garman had concussion-like symptoms against Texas, Gundy pulled Rudolph's redshirt and started him the final two games of the regular season. Rudolph was solid against Baylor, and then he led Oklahoma State to an overtime win over rival Oklahoma that made the Cowboys bowl eligible. He closed the season by leading Oklahoma State to a win over Washington in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Gundy said Rudolph will be the clear starter, despite the fact that J.W. Walsh, who began this past season as the starter before being knocked out for most of the year with a right foot injury, is expected to be ready for the spring.
"Mason is our starting quarterback," Gundy said Wednesday. "J.W. is going to be in there and get all the reps behind (Rudolph). Daxx (Garman) will get some work."
Circumstances fell into place for Gundy to make the late-season switch. Walsh was already out, and Garman's injury left Rudolph as the best remaining option. Rudolph responded by completing 57 percent of his passes for 853 yards, with six touchdown passes and four interceptions, in three games.
Rudolph was considered one of the top 10 pro-style quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school, and he enrolled early to get familiar with the system. He's 6-foot-4 with a strong arm. Gundy wanted to play Rudolph, but he was hesitant to pull the trigger.
"(Rudolph) was not ready," Gundy said. "People say, 'Well, how do you know?' I just have to go on 25 years (of coaching experience). What if he goes out there too early, gets sacked six times and gets a concussion like Daxx did? Now what are we going to do? How is (Rudolph's) demeanor? How is his appearance? How are his leadership skills? It's not the same."
Gundy was criticized by the closest of followers for waiting so long to make the move.
"Even my kids at home were on me about it," he said. "The little one (said), 'Really? We could have played (Rudolph) six weeks ago?' I said, 'You need to worry about your spelling test on Friday.'"
Gundy said a position switch for Walsh, one of the team's top all-around athletes, has not been considered.
"He's still a quarterback," Gundy said. "He's not going to play another position. I just hope he can stay healthy, and he hopes he can stay healthy. As always, he's been a great kid. He has a great attitude and he loves Oklahoma State. He wants to be a part of the team."
Gundy said Walsh will be ready for spring practice.
"He's out of his cast and boot and all that, and he's healthy," Gundy said. "He's really two weeks ahead of schedule. He'll be running the first of March."
Gundy said he respected what Garman did for the team after Walsh's injury. He completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,041 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while operating behind a makeshift, leaky young line.
"I'm very thankful for and loyal to what Daxx did for us," Gundy said. "We got to a point in the season where we played good teams, and we were not very good. Daxx took a beating for it and was put into a situation that was difficult."
The Cowboys remained confident during a five game losing skid in which every loss was by at least 21 points.
"I'm glad this season happened in my 10th year instead of my second or third year," Gundy said. "I would have screwed it up. I would have gotten frustrated. I've done this long enough to learn that if (the players) are giving us effort, that's all they've got. They just kept going."
Now, with two big wins to close the season and a rising star under center, Gundy said there's a lot to look forward to, and he feels the program is inching closer to where it was when it won the Big 12 in 2011.
"Now, we have to do what it takes to win another Big 12 championship," he said. "It's kind of back on the table again."