Berry’s college football predictions: OSU can take heart in title-game upsets

Berry’s college football predictions: OSU can take heart in title-game upsets

Seems like a terrible matchup for OSU — the Cowboys live by tailback Ollie Gordon, but Texas is a run-stuffing defense. Still, bigger underdogs than OSU have won Big 12 title games.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Nov 28, 2023, 12:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Nov 28, 2023, 12:00pm CST

The fun and funky Oklahoma State Cowboys play Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game, and nobody saw the Cowboys getting there.

Oh, maybe for a week, after OSU emerged from the meat of its schedule with a 5-1 Big 12 record, a Bedlam upset and a cushy path the rest of the season. Then the Cowboys were jackhammered 45-3 at Central Florida, and you could take nothing for granted.

Not even a home win over Brigham Young last Saturday. The Cowboys trailed 24-6 at halftime but rallied to win 40-34 in double overtime, and their reward is a title game against a College Football Playoff contender coming off a 57-7 demolition of Texas Tech.

Factoring in the Cowboys’ 33-7 home loss to South Alabama back in September, you wonder how OSU ever made it to Arlington.

The Cowboys are 13½-point underdogs against Texas, but OSU isn’t even the biggest underdog Saturday among power-conference championship games. Michigan is favored by 23 points over Iowa, a team even funkier than the Cowboys, for different reasons.

Seems like a terrible matchup for OSU — the Cowboys live by tailback Ollie Gordon, but Texas is a run-stuffing defense.

Still, bigger underdogs than OSU have won Big 12 title games.

Nebraska was a 20½-point favorite over Texas in 1996; the Longhorns won 37-27.

Kansas State was a 17-point favorite over Texas A&M in 1998; the Aggies won 36-33 in double overtime.

OU was a 14-point favorite over Kansas State in 2003; the Wildcats won 35-7.

So you never know. It’s just that this Mike Gundy team is so dang confounding. Not just lose to a mid-major, but lose big. I mean, K-State lost 27-20 to Marshall in 2003. The 2016 Cowboys, who would have made the Big 12 title game had one been staged, lost (sort of) to Central Michigan 30-27, though officials mistakenly gave the Chippewas an extra play on which to score the winning touchdown.

But losing 33-7 to South Alabama? On the same field where the Cowboys beat OU, Kansas State and Kansas? That’s beyond kooky.

Just don’t get the idea that OSU is the worst team ever to make a power-conference championship game. OSU is ranked 19th. Heck, several unranked teams have made a league title game. 

The worst probably was Pittsburgh 2018. Those Panthers entered the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game with a 7-5 record, including losses of 51-6 to Penn State, 45-14 at Central Florida and 24-3 to Miami.

And the Big 12, back in its divisional days, had all kinds of inferior teams.

Unranked Colorado entered the 2004 Big 12 title game 7-4, 4-4 in the league, and had lost 42-14 to OSU and 31-7 to Texas, both in Boulder. Those Buffaloes lost to OU 42-3 in the championship game.

Unranked Colorado entered the 2005 title game 7-4, 5-3 in the league, and had lost 23-3 at Miami, 42-17 at Texas and 30-3 vs. Nebraska. Texas beat those Buffaloes 70-3 in the title game.

Nebraska entered the 2006 Big 12 Championship Game with the same No. 19 ranking that this OSU team enters. Those Cornhuskers, 9-3 and 6-2, lost 21-7 to the Sooners. 

Two years later, Missouri also entered ranked 19th. Those Tigers, 9-3 and 5-3, lost 62-21 to OU.

In 2009, the Cornhuskers were ranked 21st. That Nebraska team, 9-3 and 6-2, had lost 31-10 to Texas Tech. But those Cornhuskers dang near took out unbeaten Texas in the title game, losing a 13-12 classic.

So funkadelic teams have gone to the Big 12 title game and surprised. Can these Cowboys do the same?

Let’s get to the predictions:

Last week: 40-15. Season: 497-161.

Oklahoma State vs. Texas in Arlington: Longhorns 34-17. OSU and UT have six common opponents. Both won tight games at Houston. Both won tight home games vs. Kansas State, though the Cowboys were more in control. Both won at home vs. Kansas, though the Longhorns in dominating fashion and OSU in a tight fit. Same with Brigham Young. OSU won Bedlam in Stillwater; Texas lost an epic Red River. Texas won at Iowa State, while OSU lost a close one in Ames. Let’s count. A couple of slight advantages for OSU, a couple of solid advantages for UT and one big edge for the ‘Horns (Iowa State).

Georgia vs. Alabama in Atlanta: Bulldogs 24-16. The Southeastern Conference nightmare. Alabama upsets Georgia. Unbeatens Michigan, Washington and Florida State win. Texas beats OSU. How does the playoff committee pick Georgia over Alabama, and how does the committee pick Alabama over Texas, since the ‘Horns won in Tuscaloosa?

Oregon vs. Washington in Las Vegas: Ducks 35-32. UW coach Kalen DeBoer deserves to make the playoff. His fourth-down gamble against Washington State was one of the most fearless plays in college football history. A 21-21 tie. Less than 90 seconds left in the game. Washington facing 4th-and-1 at its 29-yard line. DeBoer disdained a punt. He called an option play. Quarterback Michael Penix faked a tailback dive to Dillon Johnson and pitched to Rome Odunze, who sprinted from the flank behind Penix. Odunze gained 23 yards, and soon enough UW kicked the game-winning field goal. Kalen DeBoer woke up last Saturday morning with winning on his mind.

Michigan vs. Iowa in Indianapolis: Wolverines 23-3. The Hawkeyes have scored 11 offensive touchdowns in nine Big Ten games, yet are 7-2 in the conference, 10-2 overall. Maybe it’s time we stopped making fun of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and start marveling at him.

Louisville vs. Florida State in Charlotte: Seminoles 20-17. Florida State’s first ACC Championship Game since 2015. Five minutes ago, the ACC seemed like a top-heavy league, with Clemson. But the ACC is spreading some wealth. In the last four years, seven schools have made the ACC title game — Florida State, Louisville, Clemson, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Notre Dame (yes, Notre Dame). That matches the Big 12’s current run of parity. And before that, ACC teams Virginia (2019), Miami (2017), Virginia Tech (2016), Georgia Tech (2013) and Duke (2012). That means 12 ACC schools have made the title game in the last 12 years. Only North Carolina State (!), Boston College and Syracuse have been left out.

Southern Methodist at Tulane: Green Wave 24-23. Tulane will make its second straight major bowl, with a victory in this American Conference title game. The Green Wave plays at OU next September.

Boise State at Nevada-Las Vegas: Rebels 32-21. This is nuts. The Mountain West settled a three-way tie for first place by relying on four computer rankings. San Jose State drew the short straw, even though it beat UNLV last Saturday and didn’t play Boise State.

New Mexico State at Liberty: Flames 41-30. Liberty stands ready to go Peach Bowling, should Tulane lose. But this Conference USA title game is a monument to Jerry Kill, who should be the runaway winner for national coach of the year. His New Mexico State Aggies, one of the worst programs in America going back decades, are 10-3 overall. On the same patch of Alabama soil where Bama needed a miracle to beat Auburn on Saturday, New Mexico State routed Auburn 31-10 one week earlier.

Miami-Ohio vs. Toledo in Detroit: Rockets 35-16. On September 2, Illinois kicked a field goal with five seconds left in the game to beat Toledo 30-28. The Rockets have won 11 games since then. Give Toledo that win, and it would be 12-0 and a challenger to Tulane for that major bowl berth.

Appalachian State at Troy: Trojans 28-19. The Sun Belt title game does not include the Sun Belt’s best team, James Madison, which is barred from the conference title game as it serves out its probationary status in moving from Division I-AA.

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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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