Berry: SEC parity comes at right time for Brent Venables’ Sooners

Berry: SEC parity comes at right time for Brent Venables’ Sooners

Why wouldn’t parity reach the SEC? And while parity has been bad news for the Sooners in the Big 12, parity in the SEC would be quite the welcome basket.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 19, 2023, 2:25pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 19, 2023, 2:25pm CDT

Southeastern Conference teams have played Florida State, Texas, Utah, Miami, Kansas State, North Carolina, Brigham Young and Wake Forest this season.

Of that group, only Kansas State was conquered, on a game-ending, 61-yard field goal by Missouri’s Harrison Mezis.

The SEC has four other non-conference wins over power-conference opponents. Those foes are Virginia, California, Arizona and Georgia Tech.

The cynics among us would chant “o-ver/ray-ted” at the SEC. But in 9½ months, the Sooners are going to be an SEC school and Oklahoma is going to be an SEC state, and there’s no compelling reason to needlessly alienate our future neighbors.

Especially when bedrock truth lies elsewhere.

Yes, the SEC is overrated. And that was true when the SEC was devouring even the best of college football squads. You can be both dominant and overrated. Like beefsteak and the Babe Ruth Yankees.

But the SEC’s distress is as much about outside forces as in. Parity has been sweeping across college football, and the SEC might be hard-pressed to avoid its effects.

Which should be good news for the Sooners.

The transfer portal, complete with immediate eligibility, figures to have the same impact on college football that other forms of free agency have had: more teams with an opportunity to win.

“The parity’s there, it appears, and it makes for some excitement that’s taken place these first three weeks, for sure,” Brent Venables said Tuesday.

Look at Texas. The Longhorns beat Alabama 34-24 but the week before led Rice just 16-3 five minutes into the third quarter before winning 37-10; the week after, UT and Wyoming were tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter before the ‘Horns spurred away for a 31-10 victory.

Look at Alabama. You figured the Crimson Tide would be mad about the Bevo beatdown, but Bama led South Florida just 10-3 before the final minute of a 17-3 finish.

Look at Baylor, which played tougher against Utah than Texas State, with both games in Waco.

Look at Missouri, which was taken to the wire by Middle Tennessee before going back to the wire with Kansas State, both games at Mizzou’s Faurot Field.

Look at Brigham Young, which at home struggled to put away Sam Houston 14-0, but won 38-31 at Arkansas.

Look at Duke, which beat Clemson. Look at Florida State, which waxed Louisiana State but barely survived Boston College 31-29.

Look at the Pac-12, where the likes of Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State are making as much noise as the likes of Oregon, Washington and Southern Cal.

Look at Duke, which beat Clemson

This is not new. Cincinnati made the 2021 College Football Playoff. Texas Christian made the 2022 playoff. Some other interloper is bound to make the 2023 CFP.

Why wouldn’t parity reach the SEC? And while parity has been bad news for the Sooners in the Big 12, parity in the SEC would be quite the welcome basket.

“I don’t know if it’s a challenge for us or not,” Venables said. “For us, we just want to focus inside out. But I do think there seems to be more parity, and I think it’s a great thing for college football.”

There is no mystery why the parity is coming. Free agency always brings parity. Look at the extreme makeover teams of recent years. Michigan State 2021. Lincoln Riley and USC. Deion Sanders and Colorado.

Parity, said Mike Gundy, is “more than ever, just because the moving parts involved.  But it’s the same for everybody, right? We have to deal with it.

“Not anything we can do other than start to piece a team together in the spring of what you have, and then find a way to get them ready to play in September.”

Admittedly, some parity only goes so far. The teams with big advantages still will have advantages. Parity for Georgia means beating South Carolina 24-14, not losing to South Carolina. But the Bulldogs looking human against the Gamecocks is at least a sign of hope for those wanting to keep Georgia from three-peating in 2023 and those wanting to challenge Georgia in the future. Like the Sooners in the SEC.

“I don’t make the rules and they don’t really ask us a whole lot about what our thoughts are on some of those rules,” Venables said. “So we try to take advantage of the landscape that we’re in. And at the end of the day to have something that’s sustainable and has longevity, I do believe that continuity is an important piece.

“So we don’t want to be shortsighted and lose our sight of what it takes to have something that has sustainability. We don’t want a roster that’s disrupted a whole lot. We want to work hard at finding the right guys that know that their opportunity may not happen Day 1, but they can still be a great teammate and develop and be ready for their opportunity when it comes and value the things that we value.”

That’s Venables slipping back into program-building talk, instead of team-building talk, and the truth is, traveling both roads is difficult but necessary. The portal takes dead aim at program building and sometimes is on target. OSU in the last nine months, for example.

Venables’ portal losses were not severe, he had some major portal gains, and the net result is what appears to be a better team.

The (so-far slight) dips of playoff mainstays Alabama and Clemson likely are the result of a sense of comfort from old-school coaches and failure to embrace the portal. Venables was a lot like them when he got to Norman, though he seems to have seen the light to some degree.

And Gundy, who jokingly likened himself to Nick Saban this week over their quarterback quandaries, is even more old-school. But he knows things have changed and so must he.

“The different players that are jumping around are affecting teams and make it much different than it ever has been,” Gundy said. “And we’re still learning here. We’re learning how to adjust to some of this stuff. I wish I could say I have all the answers. But we’re going to keep working at it.”

Big 12 parity is assured, with all the newcomers coming into the league. Nobody knows who the favorite will be, so whoever wins will be a surprise of some kind.

But the Sooners are bound for the SEC, where the heavyweights are stationary, and the parity is only a sprig. But sprigs grow into impressive creatures, and SEC parity is sprouting at just the right time for the Sooners.

 

 

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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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