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BCS End in Sight: Can We Celebrate Greatness Now?

You got what you wanted.

So the college football playoff is here. Personally, I’m relieved, not be because I’ve hated the BCS , but because I’m tired of listening to the mortal rage against the system, while the teams on the field get ignored. Even in the last three years, when there wasn’t a huge argument over the two teams that played for the National Title, nobody cared about the National Title Game because the BCS had already lost its credibility.

For me, the most disappointing part of last season was that LSU and Alabama were two of the greatest teams I’d ever seen, and, no one really cared. Granted, part of that was the fact they were defense-based teams that produced two slugfests, and the other conferences can’t stand the SEC’s supremacy, even though it’s obvious. But, in the twenty-three games they didn’t play each other, the closest anyone came to either team was thirteen points twice (both Mississippi State and Oregon versus LSU). The last National Champion to beat every team by multiple scores was the 1995 Nebraska team. Still, fans barely acknowledge Alabama’s accomplishment because of the BCS.

Two of the greatest ever and for what?

The BCS tried too hard to get it. In its early year, the BCS was tweaked after each year to correct the error of the previous year, hurting its credibility. If they’d kept the formula used in 2000, Oregon would have played for the title in 2001, not Nebraska. But nobody mentions that. They should have used the exact same formula to decide the National Champion for the first four or eight years, then made changes instead of being reactionary on weekly basis.

There were actual years were you had two undisputed contenders, like Auburn and Oregon in 2010 and Texas and USC in 2005. You’re likely never going to have a year with four completely undisputed teams in the country. Not that I’m saying we should stick with the status quo, but a playoff is not going magically fix everything.

Some people think that it will be an easy march from here to 8 or 16 teams, but I would doubt it. First, there would be the logistical issue of the four quarter-final games, whether or not to play them in December on campus sites or incorporate them into the Bowl system and move that way. Then you’ll have the issue of who should get the eight seeds, and the at-large versus conference champions will come up again, and with eight teams, it will be more difficult to solve. Plus, some in college football circles (such as Phil Steele) who supported a four-team playoff won’t fight for a larger one.

What really could get the playoff to eight teams is the following scenario: a fourth team sneaks into the last spot in the playoff over a team that beat them. This won’t be like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where arguing over the anonymous teams who got left out is done by the next cycle of Sports Center. There’s a month until both teams play again, and everyone sees all the major college football game, so the selection committee’s mistakes will be obvious. Then, the team that got in scores a memorable upset against the top team (akin to Ohio State upsetting Miami in 2002), and then the team that got left out of the playoff cries for a larger playoff. Three and four of those, and Death to the Four-Team Playoff books will start lining the shelves.

The regular season will still matter. LSU-Alabama last year probably still would have mattered as much as under the playoff system, because the winner controlled its destiny and the looser would still have to win all their games to have a shot at the playoff. Last year, it was pretty much assumed both teams would play for the title after Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State. Nothing would have been that much different under a playoff system, although Alabama wouldn’t have had to wait for as many teams to loose. The big question will be, will teams throw conference title games when their own position in the playoff is secure? Last year, it may have benefited LSU to throw the SEC Title game if they were playing an 11-1 team and loosing meant taking Alabama out of the playoff. Remember, Oklahoma was rolled by Kansas State and remained one of the top four teams in the country by a mile. Inviting in a team that flopped in its final games could be one of the biggest pitfalls for a selection committee.

These are just some of the issues that college football will face in its brave new world; let’s just hope that, when the dust settles, the focus is on the teams.

How would a selection committee look at Oklahoma’s 2003 letdown against Kansas State the previous night?

So now, is college football better off now in this brave new world? Yes, but not greatly.

State of Too Much Prosperity: Will Oklahoma be the Epicenter the Next Realignment Earthquake?

It is admirable how they’ve stuck together. Or more precisely, how Oklahoma has stuck next to Oklahoma State. Throughout all the conference realignment poker, the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete have endeavored to stay together. Even though Oklahoma probably could have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M, the political leadership in the state of Oklahoma has kept the schools together.

But can the commitment between OU and OSU withstand further realignment storms?

Will the Pokes bolt their in-state rival?

Over the off-season, I’ve been pondering about what could be the catalyst for the next round of conference realignment. In the summer of 2010, it was the threat of Texas taking half the Big 12 west to form the Pac 16, pushing Nebraska and Colorado to bolt for more secure futures. Last year, the shifts that began with Texas A&M going to the SEC again centered around Austin, this time over the reach of the Longhorn Network. While the split between the Aggies and Longhorns may seem more obvious in retrospect, A&M’s bolt wasn’t as easily predicted as Nebraska’s was the year prior. Conference realignment is a huge game of liar’s poker, driven by the fear of successful regional programs being left out of the national mix, as half the Southwest Conference was twenty years ago.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying: I’m glad the Sooners and Cowboys have committed themselves to each other, at least publicly. Both teams  don’t need to go to other conferences. They’re not in danger of being left out of the realignment mix, at least not yet.  The Big 12 appears more stable now that it did at times over the last two years. But even with conferences forming their own networks and earning record numbers from TV, only so much financial growth can be sustained. Eventually, conferences will need to add schools to add revenue.

OK State has followed Oregon’s footsteps from good to great, and maybe the two haven’t seen the last of each other.

Consider that, with footprint in Oklahoma and Texas, Larry Scott can finally get Pac 12 games on TV at noon Eastern Standard Time, opening a new revenue window. Plus, the Pac 12 can finally have a shot in providing signature early game highlights for the rest of the day. What if, after a decade or more goes by, Scott decides not to wait on Texas and Oklahoma anymore and make an offer to Oklahoma State?

The Cowboys themselves could be a more prominent program by then. Like Oregon, OSU is turning to snazzy uniform combos to go with their funky offense. Mike Gundy is the perfect CEO for his Alma mater:  an innovative offensive mind, who, unlike Jimmie Johnson and Les Miles before him, could stay in Stillwater for twenty years. Coming off an outright Big 12 title, how many more will OSU win until they say “We don’t want to play in our little brother’s shadow. We aren’t just the program of Boone Pickens’ millions and Gundy’s post-game rant. We are a big name in our own right.”

New Battle of the Big Reds and Border War? Could the Arkansas River Rivalry come to replace the Red River Rivalry?

That is, after all, the logic which Texas A&M is taking into the SEC, and could be the logic that take either Oklahoma program to the nation’s premiere conference. With the SEC’s stranglehold on the National Title, it’s hard to imagine any other conference winning thee National Title any time soon. As fans keep demanding crystal balls, winning them may require playing an impossible eight conference games every year. If Texas A&M and Missouri eventually starts winning in the SEC (and Arkansas continues to win) and the SEC draw the best players in the state of Texas to their schools, Sooner and Cowboys fans will be tweeting to go the SEC.

Taking down Georgia in 2009 earned Okie State serious credibility; will they join the SEC to get more of it?

As a college football fan, I am sadden to write this, because I hate to see another good rivalry end. And this may be premature: at the moment, the Big 12 maybe in better position than the Big East to survive. But, after these next TV contracts run their course into the 2020’s, the conference realignment winds will swirl and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State relationship will be challenged. And who knows how much jealousy Oklahoma State’s success could bread.

(More Conference Realignment)

Which one of these men will lead his school on a new path?

What if Nebraska could play them every year?

Given the realignment  that college football has gone through and the rivalries that have gotten left behind by it, I began to think to myself, what is it college football should look like in an ideal universe? I thought that, in an ideal universe, every school would have a set of about six or seven teams that they played every year, the situation in most major conferences, as well as with Notre Dame. Then there would be about another three or four teams that you would play two out of every four to six years. And you should have at least a couple of once-in-twenty years, or lifetime opponents.

To experiment with this, I took the team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and devised a such a schedule for them. Here are the six teams I think Nebraska should play every year.

Oklahoma-the classic game-yes, it has lost its luster from 1960-1980’s, but this was one of the most influential games of a generation. Let’s get this every year.

Colorado-Over my life and memory, Colorado was the opponent, other than Texas, that generated the most passion on the Nebraska side. While Colorado doesn’t have the passion for football that Nebraska does, when both schools are good, it’s a culture clash between the hippie Buffs and the conservative Cornhuskers.

Iowa-It is debatable how Iowa should be on this list, given that they haven’t met regularly since the 1940’s. But Iowa is only school that really has a strong following in Nebraska (almost a cult following in Omaha); Colorado is the only other fanbase who Nebraska fans intermingle with regularly.

Kansas-Notre Dame plays Purdue every year. Up until Nebraska joined the Big 10, Nebraska-Kansas was one of the longest rivalries in college football. It should go on.

UCLA-if Nebraska is going to be a national university, it needs to play a west coast opponent every year for its substantial California-Arizona fan base. Arizona State would also be a great fit in this spot, but nothing would match a bi-yearly date in the Rose Bowl.

Penn State-this rivalry, while not in plum recruiting territory, is more about the shared rural, family-first culture of both Penn State and Nebraska. They’re also the two teams who’ve kept virtually the same uniforms the past fifty years.

So there’s your six yearly opponents. Later, I’ll introduce some of the regular rotating rivals that I’d love to see Nebraska play

The BCS didn’t fall for Texas’ Grand Plan…and they shouldn’t.

This weekend, the BCS caused a victory for good football when Alabama was selected to play in the BCS Title game over Oklahoma State, and I don’t just mean that because I think the better team got into the National Title Game. Alabama is the better team, no doubt in my mind. But as a fan of college football and a Nebraska Cornhusker fan specifically, I am very happy to see that the new Big 12, a conference set up in order to get teams into the National Title Game, failed in their first opportunity.

Eighteen months ago, with two teams gone, Texas decided to keep the Big 12 together so long as it could do so the way it wanted to. That meant the Longhorn Network, and that meant getting rid of the conference championship game the coaches despise. (Another sign of incompetent leadership at the top of the Big 12. If the conference really wanted the money from a championship game, they would have it.) Now, Texas looked like it was going still play big games when, in the immediate aftermath of Big 12 Championship’s expiration, they went out and scheduled home-and-home series with USC and Notre Dame, but that’s just window dressing. Get a team up at full health in September to play a high-profile, non-conference opponent is much either than getting your beleaguered, beat-up team to play one more game at the end of the year. Even their most difficult game of the year, Oklahoma, is played the second weekend October, and they never have to play at Oklahoma. And also consider Texas’ worst-case scenario: going into the Big 12 Title after scratching through the Big 12 South, only to get upset by a North team that got hot in the last month (as almost in 2009 against Nebraska).

Now, I’m not here to say that I completely disdain Texas for wanting an easier road to the Title Game, that’s their prerogative. The SEC does the same when they play eight conference games and schedule cupcakes in September. But let’s get something straight here: just because the Big 12 has set up an easy road to get into the BCS Title Game doesn’t mean the voters should reward them for it.

Let’s also get something straight about Conference title games in general: they didn’t hurt the big dogs as much as they hurt the upstarts. Oklahoma lost the Big 12 Title Game in 2003 but still got into the National Title game. Yes, Texas did loose a shot at the National Title when they fell to Colorado in the 2001 game and almost again to Nebraska in 2009 (by more their own fault than anything of Nebraska’s doing), but three times times an upstart team from the Big 12 North lost a chance to get to the National Title Game as well (Nebraska in ’96; Kansas State in ’98; and Missouri in ’07).

And coaches like Bill Synder and Gary Pinkel would have their own reasons for getting rid of the conference championship game. Coaches like the possibility of a split conference crown more than a title game so that at least they can put that on their resume and up on a ring in their stadium. Last year, Mark Dantonio and Michigan State could at least claim a share of the Big 10 crown even though they didn’t even have a BCS game to show for it. This year, the have a mere Legends Division Title, a step up from the ole grand Big 12 North Title that Nebraska or Missouri had to win one tough game a year to get. This speaks to the fact, that, when it comes to making decisions about a conference’s future, the university president’s and administrators should have the final word and not the coaches, who don’t want one more tough conference game to play in or a championship to weed out inferior teams. Not that it’s wrong for them to have their own interests (many coaches have only a few years to prove themselves in a high-profile position), but we shouldn’t be served mediocre football because of it.

That’s why I’m glad that Oklahoma State will be playing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. First of all, they will be playing on grass, a surface on which the Cowboys have three of their lowest four point totals of the season and haven’t scored more than forty points on all year. They will be playing against a Stanford team known for its physicality and who will run the ball directly at them, a novelty not seen in Big 12 outside of Kansas State. And Stanford’s defense, toughen by facing their wrecking ball offense every day in practice, will have a month to study the Cowboys’ finesse offense. Once the Stanford defense starts hitting the undersized Cowboy receivers in the mouth, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and their basketball-on-turf cohorts will go into the same shell they were in at Iowa State and be exposed in a way that the soft Big 12 couldn’t expose them.

 

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