Berry’s College Football Buffet: The playoff ramifications of OU-Texas

Berry’s College Football Buffet: The playoff ramifications of OU-Texas

Berry Tramel: If OU and Texas should split two games this season and otherwise win out, the Longhorns have the advantage of winning at Alabama.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 5, 2023, 9:44am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 5, 2023, 9:44am CDT

Editor’s Note: Sellout Crowd’s Coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com)


DALLAS —
Stakes are high Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. Moreso than we could have imagined.

The 2023 college football season has been marked by the void of dominance. The behemoths of recent vintage have shown cracks.

Alabama lost, at home to Texas. Clemson already has lost twice. Georgia’s schedule is Charmin soft, yet the Bulldogs have not been bullying foes. Ohio State survived Notre Dame courtesy of the Fighting Irish going with a 10-man defense on the game’s final two plays.

Fresh faces could again pop into the playoff, ala Cincinnati in 2021 and Texas Christian in 2022. 

Meanwhile, the Big 12 is down and watered-down — more on that later — so the OU-Texas winner zooms to near the top of College Football Playoff contenders, with no apparent ceiling once you get there.

And there’s this. An OU-Texas rematch remains quite the possibility, in the Dec. 2 Big 12 Championship Game.

My College Football Buffet looks at the struggles of the Big 12’s newcomers, an upset special out West and a coach on the hot seat who was just hot not that long ago.

But we start with OU-Texas and its playoff ramifications.

“Again, recognize the excitement and all the things that go along with playing down in the Cotton Bowl,” Brent Venables said. “Our vision is if we’re fortunate enough to win the game, we’ll be 6-0 going into a bye week with a back half of a season to go and still a lot of work to do.

“And if for some reason it doesn’t work out the way we want it to, we’re still going to go into the bye week and we’ve still got the back half of the season to attack and continue to improve and get better.”

If OU and Texas should split two games this season and otherwise win out, the Longhorns would seem to have the playoff advantage, since UT won 34-24 at Alabama a month ago. OU’s meager non-conference schedule offers no supporting evidence of the Sooners’ prowess.

You would think a 12-1 OU would lose any runoff with other 12-1 teams, when the playoff committee comes to selecting teams. The combination of a down Big 12, with a non-conference schedule of Arkansas State, Southern Methodist and Tulsa, gives the Sooners few chips to play.

Beating Texas, perhaps twice, would be OU’s best playoff case.

But ESPN’s All-State Playoff Predictor continues to love the Sooners’ playoff chances. It gives Ohio State a 54 percent chance of making the four-team playoff. After that, the next two best odds belong to OU (53 percent) and Texas (50 percent).

Why the Big 12 love? The OU-Texas winner will be an overwhelming favorite in the rest of its regular-season games. 

I like where we’re at as well,” Venables said. “I want to see where we’re at. You want to continue to improve and create change. We’re certainly not where we want to be in any way, shape or form.”

But beat Texas, and the Sooners are back where they always want to be. In the playoff hunt.

National rankings: Four Pac-12 teams in top 10

Here is my top 10, based on who teams have played, where they have played and how they did:

  1. Florida State 4-0: The Seminoles’ 10-game winning streak includes 2023 wins over Louisiana State and Clemson.
  2. Texas 5-0: The Longhorns almost surely will move to No. 1 with a win over OU.
  3. Ohio State 4-0: Winning at Notre Dame was a robust achievement.
  4. Notre Dame 5-1: Who figured that the Fighting Irish win at Duke would trump the Irish’s win at North Carolina State?
  5. Washington State 4-0: Not the Pac-12 favorite, but maybe the Cougars should be.
  6. Penn State 5-0: The Nittany Lions have four wins over Power Five Conference foes, and the victory over West Virginia keeps getting more impressive.
  7. Oregon 5-0: The Ducks’ schedule isn’t overly tough, but it will get there.
  8. Miami 4-0: The Hurricanes’ win over Texas A&M keeps getting more and more impressive.
  9. Oregon State 4-1: Beating Utah was a great resume’ builder.
  10. Utah 4-1: We don’t yet know how eventually impressive will be the Utes’ wins over Florida, Baylor and UCLA.

Big 12 newcomers struggling

Three months after the Big 12 announced it would expand with Central Florida, Brigham Young, Cincinnati and Houston, the 2021 final Associated Press poll was released.

No. 4 Cincinnati. No. 17 Houston. No. 19 BYU. Plus Central Florida had three top-11 finishes in the previous eight seasons.

The newcomers looked as if they would hit the Big 12 running, when they joined in 2023.

That has not been the case. The four newcomers are a combined 1-7 in conference play, and the only victory came from BYU beating Cincinnati, 35-27 last week.

The Big 12 is down as a league — Texas and OU are the only Big 12 teams ranked in the top 25. This would have been a ripe time for any of the four to shine and stake a claim for conference status, after the Sooners and Longhorns leave for the SEC in 2024.

But BYU lost 38-27 at Kansas, Cincinnati lost at home 20-6 to OU, Houston lost 36-13 to Texas Christian and 49-28 at Texas Tech, and UCF lost 44-31 at Kansas State and 36-35 to Baylor.

That UCF loss to Baylor hurt most of all. The Knights led 35-10 going into the fourth quarter before a total collapse. Baylor’s 26-point comeback was the largest in school history.

“We just got beat by a team that shouldn’t beat us,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said in the Knights’ locker room. “We did everything it took to lose the game — we did not do a good job in any phase.

“There’s no reason to blame anybody. We are all in this together. We’ve got a good football team. We let one off the hook.”

The good news for the newcomers? Only UCF can lose this week. Houston, Cincinnati and BYU have the week off. The Knights play at Kansas, as the Big 12 newcomers seek their first win over a legacy conference member.

West Virginia ranks No. 2 in Big 12

  1. Texas 5-0: UT’s victims — Rice, Alabama, Wyoming, Baylor and Kansas — have a combined record of 17-3 not counting their games against the Longhorns.
  2. West Virginia 4-1: One of the best Septembers in Mountaineer history. Beating Pittsburgh, Texas Tech and TCU? Who saw that coming?
  3. Oklahoma 5-0: The Sooners have been playing Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point. Now they tee off at Pebble Beach.
  4. Kansas 4-1: The Jayhawks were smothered at Texas but remain one of the Big 12’s few bright spots.
  5. BYU 4-1: The Cougars might have to reset their expectations. Making a bowl game was a basic BYU goal.
  6. Kansas State 3-1: If the Wildcats had taken care of business at Missouri, they would be ranked in the top 15 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12. But they didn’t take care of business.
  7. TCU 3-2: It took the Horned Frogs 15 games to reach their second loss last season.
  8. Baylor 2-3: The comeback at UCF is the stuff of legend.
  9. UCF 3-2: Can Malzahn keep his team after such a disastrous defeat?
  10. Texas Tech 2-3: The Red Raiders have some impressive losses (at Wyoming, Oregon, at West Virginia), which matters when ranking teams this low.
  11. Iowa State 2-3: The Cyclones split with the Oklahoma schools.
  12. Cincinnati 3-2: The win over Pitt is looking less and less impressive.
  13. Oklahoma State 2-2: The good news for the Cowboys? They get to play Cincinnati and Houston.
  14. Houston 2-3: The Cougars are 0-3 against old Southwest Conference rivals Rice, TCU and Tech.

Coaches on the hot seat: Steve Sarkisian & Brian Kelly

Big 12: Texas’ Steve Sarkisian. The Texas coach is wildly popular and considered a hero, having the Longhorns back in contention not just for the Big 12 championship (which UT hasn’t won since 2009), but the national title.

Sark has Texas riding high at just the right time — the ‘Horns next season enter the SEC, a league that seems to have taken a step back in 2023. 

But Texas has a huge game Saturday — the unbeaten Sooners in the Cotton Bowl. And if 12th-ranked OU upsets No. 3 Texas, all the things we’ve said about the ‘Horns revert to the Sooners. SEC-ready. College Football Playoff contender.

OU has had the upper hand in Red River most of the 21st century. That seems to be changing. But if Brent Venables gets the best of Sarkisian on Saturday, the Texas momentum is squelched, and some among Longhorn Land will remember Sark as the coach who was 13-12 his first two seasons in Austin.

National: Brian Kelly, LSU. Kelly seemed a tremendous hire for LSU. Check that. Kelly was indeed a tremendous hire for LSU.

A great coach, with LSU’s geographic advantages and Southeastern Conference resources, seemed a strong combination, strong enough to overcome a possible cultural misfit.

And Kelly seems to have avoided cultural problems, even down to his fake (and embarrassing) accent.

But Kelly hasn’t avoided a slump. And that can get you in Baton Rouge.

LSU surprisingly made the SEC Championship Game last season and was considered a national title contender in 2023. But LSU is 3-2, with defensive collapses against Florida State (45-24) and Ole Miss (55-49), plus a 34-31 home survival against Arkansas, which was offensively-challenged a week later against Texas A&M.

Saturday, the Tigers play at Missouri, which is off to a surprising 5-0 start. LSU still plays at Alabama and hosts Auburn and Texas A&M.

LSU is not a place with patience. Les Miles won a 2007 national title in Baton Rouge. But Miles was fired four games into the 2016 season, after back-to-back seasons of 9-4 and 8-5.

Ed Orgeron’s 2019 Tigers won the national title and were among the most dominant teams of the 21st century. He was fired 21 months later.

Kelly isn’t likely to be fired in 2023. But horrific defense doesn’t play well in the Bayou. Kelly could be laying the groundwork for future problems, if his Tigers don’t get past Missouri.

Ranking the Big 12 games

  1. Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC: Part of the SEC appeal for the Sooners is fewer 11 a.m. games. We’ll see if that transpires. There’s a very real chance that OU-Texas could stay an 11 a.m. staple in Dallas, since it’s a tailor-made locale for ESPN’s GameDay, the SEC is strictly ESPN after this season and an 11 a.m. kickoff is perfect for ESPN to go straight to a big game to combat Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff.
  2. Texas Tech at Baylor, 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2: Two massively disappointing teams, both 2-3, but the winner suddenly is 2-1 in the Big 12.
  3. Central Florida at Kansas, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox: Strange scheduling by the Big 12. UCF’s first two conference road games are 85 miles apart, on the Kansas prairie. We swear, Knights, there’s a major Southwest motif to the Big 12.
  4. Texas Christian at Iowa State, 7 p.m. Saturday, FS2: Ouch. The dreaded Fox Sports2 draw. I think I might have FS2 on my Cox cable, but I’m not sure. I never go there.
  5. Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 6:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN: Here’s a fun exercise for you next week. Check out the television ratings for this game and the Nebraska-Illinois game on FS1, also Friday night. Nebraska has the biggest name among the quartet, but K-State has the best team and OSU the best recent-vintage success.

Upset special: Beware Washington State

National: Washington State over UCLA. UCLA is a 3½-point home favorite Saturday over Washington State. But beware the unbeaten Cougars. 

Washington State owns victories over Wisconsin and Oregon State. Meanwhile, UCLA’s two best wins are over disappointing mid-majors Coastal Carolina and San Diego State.

Washington State, along with Oregon State, soon will be left behind by the other 10 members of the Pac-12. Colorado, Arizona State, Utah and Arizona are Big 12-bound. Southern Cal, UCLA, Washington and Oregon are headed to the Big Ten. California and Stanford have pledged to the Pac-12.

But WSU might pull an ultimate Cinderella. The Cougars don’t have to play Utah or Southern Cal, which means they still get to play the beleaguered Bay Area schools and the Arizona schools. Beat the Bruins, and WSU could make the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Let’s go with Washington State in the upset.

National upset special record: 2-3.

Big 12: Central Florida over Kansas. Kansas was a 3½-point favorite over Central Florida a few days ago, so I penciled in UCF as a solid upset choice. Then KU quarterback Jalon Daniels continued to experience back tightness, and now the Jayhawks are a 1½-point favorite. 

Kansas has an excellent backup in Jason Bean, but Daniels is perhaps the Big 12’s best QB.

UCF is licking its wounds from that meltdown against Baylor. The Knights could return quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who has missed three games with a knee injury. But either way, Central Florida, too, sports a quality backup, Timmy McClain.

The miniscule point spread means no result is an upset, but let’s go with Central Florida.

Big 12 upset special record: 3-2.

Top 10 games nationally

  1. Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, 11 a.m., ABC: There’s no homefield advantage in Red River, but since World War II ended, the Sooners are 21-16-2 as the designated home squad against Texas and 17-20-1 as the designated visitors.
  2. Alabama at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m., CBS: SEC commissioner Greg Sankey apparently is pulling an SEC doubleheader Saturday — the Cotton Bowl for the first part of OU-Texas, then to Kyle Field for the end of Bama-A&M.
  3. Notre Dame at Louisville, 6:30 p.m., ABC: In case you don’t know your geography, Louisville is 257 miles virtually straight south of South Bend. The Cardinals are unbeaten against a fairly pedestrian schedule.
  4. Maryland at Ohio State, 11 a.m., Fox: The Terrapins are unbeaten, also against a soft schedule. They often are mauled by the Buckeyes, who have averaged 56.5 points in regulation in the eight games since the series began in 2014.
  5. Kentucky at Georgia, 6 p.m., ESPN: A battle of unbeatens, and Kentucky has been just as impressive as the Bulldogs. But does anyone really think the Wildcats can win Between the Hedges?
  6. Washington State at UCLA, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Precise numbers are hard to find, but it appears that somewhere between 12 million and 15 million American households have the Pac-12 Network. Not good. 
  7. Marshall at North Carolina State, 1 p.m., CW Network: Marshall is one of five unbeaten mid-majors remaining, joining James Madison, Liberty, Air Force and Fresno State.
  8. LSU at Missouri, 11 a.m., ESPN: Vegas’ preseason over/under victory total for Mizzou was 6½. But the Tigers get to six the first week of October with an upset of LSU at Faurot Field.
  9. Syracuse at Florida State, 2:30 p.m., ABC: The Orange isn’t likely to put up a fight, but Syracuse did at least hang with Clemson last week before suffering its first loss.
  10. 10. Fresno State at Wyoming, 7 p.m., Fox: The Bulldogs try to stay unbeaten in Laramie, where Texas Tech fell earlier this season, but it’s a huge game for the Mountain West Conference — exposure on Big Fox.

 

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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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