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Wading Through the Wackiness of College Football

It’s a good thing I don’t gamble on sports.  I’d have better luck picking Powerball numbers than predicting the outcome of college football games much less how the season is going to play out.  This year on the gridiron is like a science experiment gone wrong.  There is no hypothesis to be made, because there are no trends, no consistent data, no rhyme, no reason, only random chaos. 

Baylor QB Robert Griffin has the Bears bowl eligible and in first place in the Big 12 South.

How else can you describe what’s happening in the Big 12?  Baylor, yes Baylor is in first place in the Big 12 South.  This is the same Baylor that’s been a doormat of the conference for more than a decade.  Eight games into the season and the Bears are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.  Right now, Baylor looks every bit as good as Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State.  Maybe better.  I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. 

Try to wrap your brain around this:  Oklahoma blasts Iowa State 52-0; the Cyclones then dominate Texas in Austin, the same Texas team that just came off a convincing road win at previously unbeaten Nebraska.  Those same Huskers that were locked up by the ‘Horns, go to Stillwater and hang 51 on the undefeated Cowboys. 

But the wackiness isn’t limited to the Big 12.  The number one team has now fallen in three straight weeks.  That hasn’t happened since 1960.  Maybe the most bizarre part of it all is the fact that a computer gets to decide how an eventual champion will be determined.  Ever try arguing with a computer?  I’ve yelled at, sworn at, and pleaded with my computer, but it can’t be reasoned with.  The folks at the BCS obviously think computers are smarter than humans.  I won’t win that debate, so let me just make some general comments and predictions that will surely go wrong because they come from my feeble human brain.

WHAT HAPPENED TO OU AND OSU?

Sooner fans, let me be clear.  Your team was badly exposed and outplayed the other night in Columbia.  OU was not, is not, and won’t be the best team in college football this year.  To think otherwise is simply delusional.  The Sooners were not worthy of the number one BCS ranking, and there is a laundry list of reasons. 

Landry Jones and the Sooners got sacked by Mizzou.

First, the best team in the country doesn’t turn the ball over twice inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.  Second, a team that can win a national title is a team that can rush the quarterback effectively and tackle in the secondary.  The Sooners can do neither.  Third, the quarterback for the best team in the country doesn’t continually pull this Jekyll and Hyde act.  Landry Jones is one player at home, and a complete mess on the road.  Staring down your intended receiver is not a trait of the leader of the best team in the land.  Fourth, the last time I checked you are the University of freaking Oklahoma.  With your history and tradition, you are one of the powers in college football.  Why in the name of Bud Wilkinson can’t you find someone who can kick a 30 yard field goal?  Please tell me why the coaching staff isn’t bringing in one of the country’s best high school kickers year after year?  A big time football program like the one in Norman has no excuse for this.  None.  Fifth, and maybe most importantly, the best team in the country doesn’t quit.  How else do you describe what Bob Stoops did when he elected to punt with two minutes left?  No, you’re probably not going to win the game, but what kind of message does punting send to your players and to your fans?  It says we’ve lost, we’re done, let’s get this over with please.  

Nebraska ran away from OSU, piling up 540 yards in a 51-41 victory.

The message to Oklahoma State fans is much simpler.  If your team is ever going to contend for a South title or a conference title, you must have a defense.  The last decade in Stillwater has seen a carousel of coordinators with very limited results.    Right now OSU ranks 97th in the country in total defense, but 3rd in total offense.  Sadly, it’s the same song, different verse for the Cowboys.  Oklahoma State hasn’t had a defensive player drafted in the first round since Kevin Williams in 2003.  There just isn’t enough top-notch talent on that side of the ball coming through Stillwater.  Put a halfway decent defense with the Pokes’ offensive talent, and there’s a team I will believe in.

WHO WINS THE BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP?

Maybe it’s too soon after the weekend, but I have very little confidence in OU being able to run the table.  The Sooners are abysmal on the road and tough tests remain in Waco, College Station, and Stillwater.  On the other hand, I can’t pick OSU because the meat of the Cowboys’ schedule is still ahead, and did I mention their defense?  Texas is done, and Baylor might just be the best team in the South.  I’m going to repeat this sentence three times: “Baylor wins the Big 12 South.”  Every time I say it, it sounds more absurd.  I’m not ready for it.  Sorry Bears, I’ll go with OU by default. 

Is Bo Pelini the man to lead the Huskers back to prominence?

My gut tells me Nebraska is the best team in the conference, and I see a massive let down for Mizzou when the Tigers invade Lincoln this week.  I love Bo Pelini’s coaching style and his intensity, no way the Huskers are dropping two straight at home.  Nebraska takes its first step back to being the program it was in the 90’s by winning the Big 12 championship.

WHICH TEAM IS REALLY THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY?

Not an easy answer, but I believe Alabama is the most complete team I’ve seen.  Sure, the Tide lost to South Carolina, but the loss was early enough in the season for Nick Saban’s team to recover.  Alabama has two of the criteria I’m looking for in a title contender.  Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson makeup the best backfield in the country, and if Saban will just stick with the ground game for four quarters, the Tide can roll all the way to a championship.  ‘Bama also plays great defense, a defense that will be meet it’s toughest test when Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa on November 26th

Auburn won’t get past Alabama, and I don’t see Oregon going unscathed either.  The Ducks go to USC, have to get by Arizona at home, then survive the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvalis.  Chip Kelly has done a phenomenal job with that team, but a one loss Oregon team isn’t going to pass a one loss Alabama team.

I can’t convince myself that Michigan State is for real (maybe if the Spartans win at Iowa this week), and even though Boise State and TCU deserve to be highly ranked, I can’t label them as the best because of the competition they face. 

‘Bama plays Boise for the national championship and the Crimson Tide, improbable as it may sound, finds a way to win back to back titles. 

(I can’t wait to come back to this column after the season and see just how far off I was!)

WHO WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY?

Sadly this award has become a trophy for the best player on a front running team.  The number in the loss column matters more than all the other stats combined.  That said, right now it’s Cam Newton’s to lose.  If the Auburn quarterback leads his team to victory in Tuscaloosa, there’s no way he’s not hoisting that bronze statue.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST OVERRATED?

Missouri.  Major props for beating a mistake prone and highly overrated Oklahoma team on your home field, but I’m not ready to buy in to the Tigers just yet.  Mizzou’s non-conference schedule featured a long list of puff pastries, and again the toughest game to date was at home.  I’ll maintain that OU lost that game more than Mizzou won it.  I’d also like to see Blaine Gabbert complete a pass over 15 yards.  The Tigers have a chance to prove me wrong this weekend at Nebraska.  Win in Lincoln and you’ll get rid of the overrated tag in a hurry.  But for now, I’m not a believer.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST UNDERRATED?

Utah.  Nobody is talking about the Utes even though they’re undefeated.  Kyle Whittingham’s team is 14th in the country in total offense and 5th in total defense.  In other words, the Utes are getting it done on both sides of the ball.  You want style points?  Utah is beating up the opposition by an average of 35 points per game.  This team shouldn’t be under the radar because of what its accomplished over the last few years.  The Utes haven’t lost a bowl game under Whittingham and have two BCS bowl victories to their credit.  If the Utes get through this current gauntlet of games (at Air Force, vs. TCU, at Notre Dame), there’s no way they should be ignored.

Take that computers.

Home of the Sooners or Home of the Brave?

Tradition matters to me.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like change, or maybe I just like knowing what to expect.  Christmas Eve is a big one.  I want the same routine every year.  Get dressed for church  and sit in the living room by the tree eating cookies we decorated.  Listen to music while sipping sparkling cider.  Pile into the Suburban, drive around looking at Christmas lights then off to candlelight service at 11.  Open presents Christmas morning.  From this there must be no deviation or it simply isn’t Christmas.

I’m not sure when it started or how it happened, but yelling “SOONERS” instead of the word “brave” at the end of the national anthem, has become a tradition in Norman.  Most OU fans probably didn’t pay much attention to the lyric change until last weekend.  With the Air Force Academy coming to Owen Field, Bob Stoops asked the Sooner faithful to not only cheer for the Falcons when they entered the stadium but to break tradition and sing the word “brave” out of respect to the young men serving our country.  The previous Saturday, the ninth anniversary of 9/11, the school made the same request to fans, only to hear “SOONERS” drown out any bold enough to say “brave.”

I’ve been in that stadium and trust me, there’s something powerful about hearing “SOONERS” spring from the throats of 85,000 people.  I never thought much of it; just a small part of the OU gameday experience.  There is way too much political correctness in this country. But there is a time for reflection and sensitivity and I think that time is now Sooner fans.

Is it time to change tradition? (courtesy myxer.com)

No matter where you’re from or what football team you support, I believe you are an American first and a citizen of your state second.  College football isn’t just an Oklahoma thing, or a Texas thing, or an Arkansas thing.  It’s an American thing.  It’s part of our sports identity as Americans.

Now ask yourself, “What allows me to be here on this gorgeous fall Saturday?  What allows me to tailgate, wear what I want, scream like an idiot when it goes our way and mope when it doesn’t?  What allows me to bring my son or my daughter to this place for the very first time and share with them the magic of a football Saturday?  Simply stated, what allows me to be a fan?”

The answer is blood.  The same answer for why we enjoy so many spectacular freedoms in this country.  Blood shed around the world and here at home, by men and women who sacrificed to make America the great country it is today.  “Brave” isn’t just a word that closes out a catchy tune.  It means someone left home, left their family, voluntarily went into harms way and paid the ultimate price for you.  I’m guilty of going through the motions with the national anthem.  Let’s get the game going already.  But a little reflection on its words goes a long way toward changing my attitude.

The fans who choose to say “SOONERS” aren’t being intentionally disrespectful.  They’re not going out of their way to diminish the anthem or try to make some kind of statement.  They’re red-blooded, patriotic Americans, embracing a tradition.  However, sometimes tradition needs to be put aside.  Can’t you still get chills from tens of thousands yelling “brave” instead of “SOONERS?”  I’d hope so.  Cutting out the “SOONERS” doesn’t make you less of an OU fan.  Come on, nobody is mistaking you for a neutral party when you’re decked in crimson from head to toe and you’re wearing a schooner hat.

There are plenty of traditions already in place in Norman (courtesy replayphotos.com)

Plus, there are plenty of perfectly good traditions already in place.  The drum major strutting his way across the field.  The giant Oklahoma flag and the way the P.A. announcer says, “It’s footbaaallll tiiime in Okkk-la-homaaaaaa!”  There’s the singing of the alma mater, and the video that declares, “There’s only one Oklahoma.”  One side of the stadium chanting “Boomer” and the other side screaming “Sooner.”  You’ve got Ruf-nex firing shotguns, a pretty girl in a covered wagon, and that moment when you’re team finally takes the field.  How much more fired up do you need to get?  If you still insist on yelling “SOONERS” why not do it at the end of the Oklahoma state song?

We’re only sayin’, you’re doin’ fine Oklahoma!  Oklahoma, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, Oklahoma!…SOONERS!.

Sing it in your head.  It works – believe me.

Old habits die hard, Sooner fans.  This is the right thing to do.  After all, new traditions have to start somewhere.