Berry’s college football buffet: Will the SEC mess with OU-Texas kickoff times?

Berry’s college football buffet: Will the SEC mess with OU-Texas kickoff times?

Berry Tramel: The next time the Red River Rivalry is ticketed for an 11 a.m. kickoff, you'll know in June. Here's why.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 12, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 12, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey experienced OU-Texas for the first time Saturday. Which means he was like the rest of us in Dallas: an early wakeup call.

I guess that phrase is a little passé. A phone alarm is the way of the world today. 

But back in 2007, the handy hotel phone on the nightstand awakened most Oklahomans and Texans. Of course, they didn’t need a wakeup call, with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Before 2008, only two OU-Texas kickoffs were in the morning — 11 a.m. in 2004, 11:30 a.m. in 1998.

Since 2007, every Red River except 2010 and 2017 (both 2:30 p.m.) were 11 a.m. kickoffs. Hope floats that the Sooner/Longhorn exodus to the SEC will put the OU-Texas game back into an afternoon time slot.

Our College Football Buffet includes a look at OU’s standing in the College Football Playoff chase, Miami coach Mario Cristobal’s incredible blunder and what seems to be an easy Big 12 upset special. We start with the most powerful man in the sport, Greg Sankey.

Sankey was non-committal on the future of OU-Texas kickoffs but did acknowledge that the SEC has no desire to derail the tradition-rich nature of the series.

“We’ve talked with both of the schools, and we’ve talked to TV,” Sankey said of OU-Texas kickoffs. “We have a tradition around Florida and Georgia (played at a neutral site, Jacksonville) … so we want to be careful about these issues that will be part of OU-Texas, Texas-OU, in the future. And that’s something that’s done with our television partners.

“With the State Fair dynamic, obviously today is a healthy environment, and that’s on our minds as well.”

But Sankey did point out that starting next season, fans will know earlier whether they’ve been saddled with the early kickoff window.

The SEC’s new television contract with ESPN, which kicks in next season, mandates that all early-window games — 11 a.m. in Oklahoma, noon in the Eastern time zone — be announced by mid-June. The other games’ kickoff times  will be afternoon or evening games, with that decision, as now, coming 12 days before they’re played.

“So you’ll know in June if your team is going to kick off early (a.m.) in November,” Sankey said in the Cotton Bowl pressbox Saturday morning. “You can make plans. We think that’s healthy. So in the summer, our teams will know roughly half their kickoff times. There will be a lot more information under the new TV deal.”

Don’t get alarmed. I don’t think Sankey meant half the games will be in the morning window.

The SEC typically has played two games in the early window per week; the more marquee game on ESPN, a lesser game on the SEC Network. 

Of course, that could change starting next season, when ESPN can put SEC games on ABC. In this final season of a 14-team SEC, CBS holds the over-air rights to SEC games, making ABC off limits.

It stands to reason that ESPN will load up a quality SEC game for the early window on ABC to combat Fox and the Big Ten. Of course, ESPN also can slide in games from the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big 12 (ESPN will share the rights to the latter with Fox).

I know. It’s complicated. Simply put, OU-Texas figures to never be worse than the second-best SEC game of the day. So there’s always a chance of an afternoon Red River in the SEC, though 11 a.m. remains a viable possibility. I mean, ESPN owned the 2023 OU-Texas game and put it on ABC at 11 a.m. Same thing could happen next season.

But the SEC/CBS connection long has owned the 2:30 p.m. window in terms of ratings, and the SEC would like to continue that with ABC. 

Saturday, Alabama-Texas A&M was the SEC’s marquee game. A year ago on OU-Texas Saturday, Tennessee-LSU, Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-A&M all were played on OU-Texas Saturday, though Bama-A&M was of lesser stature due to the Aggies’ unfortunate demise.

Anyway, with OU’s, Texas’ and the city of Dallas’ reluctance to play a night game in the Cotton Bowl, many years it might come down to a coin flip: 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. for OU-Texas. 

Sooner fans will take a 50/50 chance, after this era of a morning kickoff being the standard for Red River.

Here are a few other nuggets from Sankey:

* Sankey lived in the Dallas suburb of Allen for 11 years, when he worked for the Southland Conference. But he never made an OU-Texas game.

“My work in the Southland Conference, there weren’t a lot of people saying, ‘hey, I’ve got a ticket for you.’ It’s kind of a high-demand ticket,” Sankey said. “Then when I became commissioner of that league, I was busy with my own work on Saturday. I would drive by with great admiration and wonder what’s going on in there. So it’s a fun chance to see it today.”

Sankey did not stay for the end of OU-Texas. He flew via private aircraft to College Station to watch part of the Alabama-Texas A&M game, then left that game to make a Saturday night wedding in Austin.

* Sankey said his initial reaction to OU-Texas was that “it’s consistent with what we experience on a weekly basis.”

Sankey recalled that a year ago, when he attended Alabama-Texas in Austin, he was asked about the environment and responded, “It’s familiar.”

Sankey said he’s attended the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville several times, so he’s accustomed to neutral-site rivalries. “There’s not a state fair there, so the corn dog level is probably lower in Jacksonville than it is here in Dallas, but the intensity, walking in, hearing the fans actually being friendly toward each other (?) but clearly rivals, is something familiar, and I’m really excited because of this almost seamless integration that’s nearly upon us from moving from 14 to 16” members.

* Sankey said his relationship with Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, who did not attend the game, is good. Sankey said he and Yormark had not talked that week.

“We talked the week before,” Sankey said. “We were in meetings together in Chicago. He asked me if I was planning to attend (OU-Texas). I think I had mentioned once before that at some point, I would attend. It was a real cordial conversation.

“Brett and I have a very healthy relationship. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and ate at his wife’s family’s restaurant. He helped me out there. Brett’s been a full-on gentleman with me. I wanted to be respectful in being here, and I know he wants to be respectful as well.”

* Sankey said he’s never been to a game in Norman. That Alabama-Texas game in 2022 was his only game in Austin.

“Obviously, we looked to the future, we just didn’t have a conference game to match up” at OU, Sankey said. “Last year, I spent some time in Norman, it was actually my first visit to campus in December. We’ve had staff, last year and this year, attending a variety of competition, including football, looking at preparations for next year.”

National rankings: OU’s playoff hopes soar

The Allstate playoff predictor has liked OU all season. It likes the Sooners even more, now.

OU is given a 71% chance of making the four-team College Football Playoff, according to the ESPN metrics, sponsored by Allstate. Which is quite fitting, since Allstate is in its first year of sponsoring OU-Texas, a classic won by the Sooners 34-30 Saturday.

The playoff predictor gives the following percentages: OU 71%, Ohio State 52%, Georgia 42%, Oregon 40%, Texas 32%, Alabama 30%, Michigan 29%, Penn State 27%, Florida State 26%, Washington 23%, Southern Cal 9%, North Carolina 7%, Louisville 3%, Ole Miss 3%.

Those numbers means the playoff predictor believes there’s a small chance that OU and Texas both could make the playoff. 

I still don’t understand the numbers. OU’s weak schedule should make the Sooners vulnerable with any tiebreakers between 13-0 or 12-1 teams come playoff time. But who knows? 

Here are my rankings, and remember, these are based on what you’ve done. Not what I think you will do. Who have you played, where did you play and how did you do?

  1. Florida State 5-0: Will the wins over LSU and Clemson keep holding water?
  2. Oklahoma 6-0: Winning in Dallas gives the Sooners a huge jump, but now comes several weeks without much fuel. OU almost surely will drop.
  3. Ohio State 5-0: Will Notre Dame keep looking like a great win?
  4. Texas 5-1: The Longhorns always will have the win at Alabama and likely will get another crack at OU.
  5. Georgia 6-0: The Bulldogs’ schedule is starting to heat up, just in time to start cooling off. Vanderbilt awaits this week.
  6. Penn State 5-0: The Nittany Lions have a couple of decent wins — West Virginia and Iowa are a combined 9-2.
  7. Louisville 6-0: The Cardinals have beaten five Power Five opponents, including Notre Dame.
  8. Alabama 5-1: Winning in College Station is not easy, so don’t sleep on Bama.
  9. North Carolina 5-0: The Tar Heels host Miami and can pad an already solid résumé.
  10. Washington 5-0: The résumés of UW and Oregon are a tossup, and it really doesn’t matter which is ranked higher, since they meet Saturday in Seattle.

Big 12 rankings: OSU up to No. 7

  1. Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0): We said the Sooners wouldn’t be tested until Texas. Consider the Sooners tested.
  2. Texas (5-1, 2-1): Longhorns figure to win out — their remaining road games are Houston, Texas Christian and Iowa State.
  3. West Virginia (4-1, 2-0): Mountaineers play at OU on November 11.
  4. Kansas (5-1, 2-1): KU hosts the Sooners on October 28.
  5. Brigham Young (4-1, 1-1): BYU running game not up to speed.
  6. Iowa State (3-3, 2-1): Hard to believe the Cyclones lost 10-7 at Ohio U.
  7. Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1): Cowboys made up a lot of ground with win over Kansas State.
  8. Kansas State (3-2, 1-1): Wildcats lost a lot of ground with loss in Stillwater.
  9. Texas Tech (3-3, 2-1): All Tech’s losses were one-possession. The Red Raiders won those games a yera ago.
  10. Texas Christian (3-3, 1-2): Big comedown for the Horned Frogs, who 9½ months ago were in the national-title game.
  11. Baylor 2-4 (1-2): Things don’t appear to be getting better for the Bears.
  12. Central Florida 3-3 (0-3): Off have come the wheels in Orlando.
  13. Cincinnati (2-3, 0-2): The Bearcats might battle Houston for last.
  14. Houston (2-3, 0-2): Can the Cougars break their slump Thursday night on ESPN vs. West Virginia?

Coaches on the hot seat

Big 12: Cincinnati’s Scott Satterfield. Satterfield was a lukewarm choice to replace the wildly popular Luke Fickell, who left UC after last season to take the Wisconsin job. Satterfield’s departure from Louisville was met with much celebration, since the Cardinals picked off native son Jeff Brohm from Purdue.

The only remedy for such a meager Q rating is winning. And Satterfield is off to a mediocre start. A victory at Pittsburgh was quite encouraging, but the Panthers have proven to be weak sauce, then UC lost to Miami-Ohio.

The Bearcats were competitive in losses to OU and Brigham Young (35-27), but the standards have become quite high in Cincinnati. No one expected a championship in the first Big 12 season, but everyone expected competitiveness.

A loss to Iowa State would signal that Cincinnati is headed for near the bottom of the Big 12 and that Satterfield’s popularity will not rise anytime soon.

National: Miami’s Mario Cristobal. Miami proved it still wielded power in college football when it pilfered coach Mario Cristobal from Oregon on the same day that Southern Cal swiped Lincoln Riley from OU.

Riley was a home-run hire for the Trojans. So far, Cristobal has been a ground ball to second base.

The Hurricanes went 5-7 in 2022, but 2023 was looking good after a rousing victory over Texas A&M. Then came last Saturday.

With Miami needing only to beat Georgia Tech to set up a top-15 showdown at North Carolina, the Hurricanes led the Yellow Jackets 20-16, with less than 40 seconds. Then Miami coaches called a handoff to tailback Don Chaney Jr., rather than taking a knee to run out the clock. Chaney fumbled, Georgia Tech recovered at its 26-yard line with 24 seconds left, and two plays later, quarterback Haynes King threw a 44-yard touchdown pass when Miami allowed receiver Chrisian Leary to get behind the secondary. Georgia Tech won 23-20.

Inexplicable on two counts.

Suddenly, Cristobal is marked by more question marks than the Riddler, and some wonder if Cristobal will lose his team, considering the Hurricanes have a 40-year pirate-ship culture.

Coaches are paid a lot of money to produce. You can’t win them all, but you have to win the games you’ve won. And Cristobal lost a game that was Miami’s.

Now the Hurricanes play at North Carolina, which has a coach (Mack Brown) who doesn’t hand out free wins. A victory over the Tar Heels would heal a little of the sting caused by Cristobal’s lack of football acumen.

Ranking the Big 12 games

  1. Kansas State at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: The Red Raiders got off to a 1-3 start but have won two straight, over Houston and Baylor, and can get to 3-1 in the league by beating K-State.
  2. Brigham Young at Texas Christian, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: TCU quarterback Chandler Morris will miss the game — and perhaps more — with a knee injury. Advantage BYU.
  3. Kansas at Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: Not since 2014 has this series produced a final score closer than 18 points; OSU won seven straight of the blowouts, then the Jayhawks won 37-16 a year ago.
  4. West Virginia at Houston, 6 p.m. Thursday, FoxSports1: These teams were picked 14th (WVU) and 12th (Houston) in the preseason Big 12 poll. While Houston indeed seems headed for the bottom of the conference, the Mountaineers are homesteading near the top of the league.
  5. Iowa State at Cincinnati, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: First meeting ever between the schools. Let’s assume there will be many to follow.

Upset specials

National: Iowa over Wisconsin. The Big Ten’s West Division is the consolation bracket of college football. Since the Big Ten split into East and West divisions in 2014, no West team has won the Big Ten title game. The Big Ten Championship Game started in 2011, but for three years, the divisions were not separated geographically, but instead were hodge-podged with the haughty titles of Legends and Leaders. Wisconsin won the first two Big Ten titles.

As Archie and Edith sang, those were the days. And they are long gone.

Not since 2017 has the West representative finished within double digits in the Big Ten title game, and this year figures to be no different. While Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State dominate the Big Ten dialogue, the West teams are scrambling for scraps. West teams are 2-6 vs. the East so far this season, with the only wins being Wisconsin over Rutgers and Iowa over Michigan State.

It appears Wisconsin and Iowa are the best teams in the West. The Badgers are 2-0 in conference, the Hawkeyes 2-1; every other squad is under .500.

Wisconsin and Iowa meet Saturday in Madison, and the Badgers are a 10-point favorite. Which is odd. Iowa’s offense is terrible, as usual, but its defense is stout. Wisconsin could fail to score 10 points and still win this game.

The Hawkeyes are playing without injured quarterback Cade McNamara, but that doesn’t matter much. The Hawkeyes don’t score enough that a quarterback makes any difference.

But Wisconsin isn’t lighting it up, either. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who began his career at OU before transferring to Southern Methodist, has thrown just three TD passes.

The Badgers are a 10-point favorite but might not score 10 points. Let’s go with Iowa in the upset.

National upset special record: 2-4.

Big 12: Iowa State over Cincinnati. Lots of options in the Big 12 this week.

Brigham Young over a TCU team that is favored despite losing quarterback Chandler Morris? A revived OSU over a Kansas team likely still missing QB Jalon Daniels? I’m picking the Cowboys, but for my upset special, let’s go out to Nippert Stadium.

I watched Cincinnati and Iowa State play on successive Saturdays, and though the Bearcats played OU tougher (20-6) than did the Cyclones (50-20), Iowa State seems the more capable team.

ISU has found an offense. The Cyclones scored 20 points on OU in the first half alone, and finished with 34 vs. OSU and 27 vs. TCU. Quarterback Rocco Brecht has played well in conference (six touchdowns, two interceptions), and ISU is playing quality defense.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones has struggled. Take away his five touchdown passes in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky, and Jones has more interceptions (six) than TDs (five).

Somehow, UC is a five-point favorite. But let’s go with Iowa State in the upset.

Big 12 upset special record: 3-3.

Ranking the national games

  1. Oregon at Washington, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: The winner becomes the leading candidate to snare a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. But both teams still play Washington State, Utah, Southern Cal and Oregon State.
  2. Southern Cal at Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC: The Fighting Irish, 5-2, sit on the edge of disaster. But they can disrupt the 6-0 Trojans, who finish the season with Utah, California, Washington, Oregon and UCLA.
  3. Miami at North Carolina, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Lose to the unbeaten Tar Heels, and Miami falls to 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which sports four teams unbeaten in league  play.
  4. UCLA at Oregon State, 7 p.m. Saturday, Fox: Don’t count out the Bruins as Pac-12 darkhorses. Win this game, and UCLA is 2-1 in the Pac-12, with games remaining against Stanford, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, USC and Cal.
  5. Iowa at Wisconsin, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox: The Hawkeyes are averaging 21.8 points a game. If Iowa doesn’t average 25 points a game, the contract of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is terminated.
  6. Tulane at Memphis, 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN: An American Conference showdown. The winner between these 4-1 teams retains hope of making a major bowl. The loser probably is eliminated.
  7. Texas A&M at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS: Not necessarily a big game in the SEC standings, but a big game for each program’s status. Can the 4-2 Aggies prevent another free-fall? Can the 4-1 Volunteers prove they’re not one-hit wonders?
  8. Wyoming at Air Force, 6 p.m Saturday, CBS Sports Network: The Mountain West has scrapped divisions, so these Rocky Mountain neighbors have a decent chance of meeting again in the conference title game.
  9. Missouri at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network: Mizzou came close to staying unbeaten last week before losing to Louisiana State. Kentucky was unbeaten, too, going into its game at Georgia but didn’t come close to staying that way.
  10. Georgia Southern at James Madison, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2: Early showdown for supremacy in the Sun Belt East.
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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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