Tag Archives: Baker Mayfield

2017 Report Card For The Texas Longhorns

2017 brought a lot of hype to the Texas football program, but that’s really nothing new. Expectations were high with Tom Herman coming in and taking over the program, and to most people, those expectations didn’t come close to being met.

There were plenty of positives throughout the season, but we’ve seen this story before. Herman’s job this offseason is to build on those positives and eliminate the negatives. Previous regimes haven’t been able to do so successfully, and the result has been a below average team for the last several years.

Here are my thoughts on how each position unit graded out for the Longhorns in 2017.

Offense: C-

I believe Texas found it’s quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Shane Buechele is a good quarterback, but he just can’t stay healthy enough to be relied upon. With that being said, Ehlinger is essentially the sole reason for three out of the six losses Texas had. He fumbled the ball in double overtime against USC, threw a dumb interception in overtime against Oklahoma State and made a terrible mistake by throwing the ball on a third down late in the game against Texas Tech that resulted in an interception.

Eliminate those three plays and Texas finishes the season at 10-3 instead of 7-6. That’s a brash statement, but it’s just an indication of how close the Longhorns were to meeting expectations. It was clear to me that the coaching staff sent a message to Ehlinger during bowl practices that he has to be smarter on the field. He tries to do too much at times and it hurts his team. I saw a smarter quarterback in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, so there is some promise that he could build on his maturity over the offseason.

Defense: A

There’s no question this Longhorns team wouldn’t have won seven games if it weren’t for Todd Orlando’s defense. In fact, this is probably a three- or four-win team if the defense hadn’t played stellar all season. The Texas defense faced a top-tier quarterback week in and week out, and pretty much contained them as much as possible.

Consider this list of names Texas faced: Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Drew Lock. Three of those quarterbacks will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, and the fourth likely will be next year. The common theme is Orlando’s defense held those quarterbacks in check and did not allow them to take over the game, as they do against other opponents.

It appears Herman and the UT administration is working on a contract extension and a raise for Orlando, which could be the best thing they do all offseason.

Special Teams: B-

The only reason I’ve given this high of a grade for this unit is because of punter Michael Dickson. There’s a reason why he’s a Ray Guy award winner for the best punter in the nation. He was the best offense in many games for Texas, with his ability to flip field position and put the defense in a better position to succeed. The Longhorns are going to miss his leg next year as he heads off to the NFL.

Special Teams would have received an “A” grade if it weren’t for the field goal kicking woes. Herman was forced to either go for it on 4th down or punt numerous times instead of attempting a long field goal. In some cases, he passed up field goal attempts of under 30 yards because he couldn’t trust his kicker. Look at every good Texas team in the last 15 years and you’ll recognize the name of the kicker. It’s a critical part of the success of any program, and the Longhorns didn’t have it this year. Hopefully, Herman will solve the kicking woes in recruiting this offseason, because it was clearly an issue in 2017.

Recap

2017 was mostly a year to forget but could be a turning point for the program as well. Stability within the UT athletic department could be a sign of good things coming for Texas, and bringing back a pretty decent amount of experience will help. Herman now knows how fragile of a group he was working with all year, especially from a mental standpoint, so now he has to go to work to address those issues. Otherwise, we will be talking about a similar story at this point next year.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

Ohio State Lost and It Doesn’t Matter

The Ohio State Buckeyes were served a cold dish of revenge by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners this past Saturday night.  The offense found the end zone just once.  The defense gave up 28 points in the second half, including 21 unanswered which turned a three-point lead into a three-score deficit.

They were bottled up by a Big 12 defense and exposed by a playmaking quarterback, at home, under the lights, in front of a national audience.  After the game, Mayfield decided to take a victory lap that ended with him planting the OU flag right in the middle of Ohio Stadium.

As a Michigan fan surrounded by Buckeye nuts at the time, I absolutely loved it.  Really though, it’s not going to end up meaning much when it comes to the playoff picture.  Sure, there will be an effect on the team.  Of course, this will go a long way in molding them for the rest of the season.  All of a sudden, the sense of urgency has skyrocketed.  It will feel like every game could be, in essence, the last one that truly matters for this program that sets its bar so high.

Things will seem much different after suffering this crushing blow.  In reality, however, this season started with that heightened sense of urgency for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.  We know what happened last year.  tOSU snuck into the final four despite not winning its conference (or even its division, for that matter).  It was the first time in the College Football Playoff’s short history that had been done.  Considering the way the Buckeyes rewarded the committee for that decision, it may very well be the last time it happens, too.

So, you come into the 2017 season, if you’re the Buckeyes, knowing that you must win your conference championship game to earn a spot in the top four.  The definition of insanity is yadda, yadda, and you can’t expect the committee to give you the same chance when you squandered it so spectacularly the last go around.  Still, win the Big Ten and you’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the dance.

Here’s the thing: losing to Oklahoma, even if it was by a wide margin, in your own barn, in primetime, in front of the whole country, doesn’t do a damn thing to harm your original goal of winning the Big Ten.  In fact, I would argue that taking such a big L actually motivates, and ends up helping what is still a relatively young squad.

Ohio State fell all the way to number eight in this week’s updated AP Top 25.  That’s still well within striking distance.  Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska are the competition awaiting the Buckeyes the next five weeks.  Then they have a bye week to prepare a little revenge of their own against Penn State.  Please forgive me for not worrying about where their record will stand when they welcome in the Nittany Lions on October 28.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from Saturday night’s failure.  If there’s one man who’s going to teach his players how to correct their mistakes, it’s Urban Meyer.  The man’s made a career out of paying special attention to the tiny details and making the necessary adjustments for his team.  I have no doubt he will do the same here, and the Buckeyes will waltz through the next month and a half ahead of the showdown with Penn State.

Ohio State fans are upset.  I get that.  Nobody likes getting beat by two scores on their own turf, at night, with everyone else at home watching.  And they’re really not used to getting bullied in the ‘Shoe.  Still, I don’t see how dropping this game amounts to anything more than a bruised ego and an extra chip on the old shoulder.

Scheduling these massive early season clashes against other national championship contenders does nothing but help nowadays.  Win and you’ve got an impressive, pearly white feather in your cap.  The Buckeyes had just that last fall.  Lose and, really, nothing happens.  You only narrow your focus to what you set out to do anyway, taking home a conference championship.

The rest of the Big Ten had better watch out.  Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners just pissed off the baddest dude on their playground.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on twitter @GreatGatzke.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

New Year’s Six Preview: Sugar Bowl

If I’m being totally honest, the Sugar Bowl is the least interesting of this year’s New Year’s Six matchups. It features two teams who, despite being highly ranked, failed to ever truly contend for the College Football Playoff. Neither the Auburn Tigers nor the Oklahoma Sooners had any type of eye-catching season, and this game just seems, frankly, boring to me. It’s the last of the New Year’s Six games this year, and I would be unsurprised if it receives the lowest TV ratings of the bunch.

There is no point walking around it, so let’s just cut right to the chase. This game really shouldn’t be close. I can’t say that it won’t be, because you never know how hard teams will come out and play for a bowl game, but it really shouldn’t be much of a game. Auburn is severely outclassed. While Oklahoma did drop a few embarrassing games to Houston and Ohio State, Auburn really hasn’t shown me a single bit of proof that it can beat a team like Oklahoma.

Against good teams, the Tigers have struggled mightily to score, and I seem the same thing transpiring in New Orleans this year. Let’s not forget that Auburn lost to Georgia in November! The fact that this team is in the New Year’s Six at all is baffling. It points toward a huge issue with conference bids to bowl games of such large magnitude. The SEC had the automatic bid for the Sugar Bowl, but the SEC was so uncharacteristically awful (apart from Alabama, obviously) that it almost seemed like no one actually wanted to go to the Sugar Bowl. Auburn won only 66% percent of its games this season. Yet, here the Tigers are, somehow, in the Sugar Bowl.

Anyway, my prediction is simple. This is a landslide. Baker Mayfield gets going early, and the Sooners cruise throughout the majority of the second half of this bowl game. There is a chance that Auburn could make a game of it, but I just don’t see it happening. Look for the Sooners to go back home happy.

 

Final Score: Oklahoma Sooners 38, Auburn Tigers 17

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: Pixabay

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Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma’s Offense vs. Auburn’s Defense

The Auburn Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners will do battle in the 83rd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday, January 2nd, 2017, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. Kickoff is set for 7:30 local time (CT).

The seventh ranked Sooners (10-2, 9-0 Big 12) are Big 12 Champions and winners of nine games in-a-row.

The Tigers (8-4, 5-3 SEC) finished the 2016 campaign ranked 17th in the College Football Playoff Poll. That was good enough for second place in the SEC and a spot in a New Year’s Six  bowl game.

This will be only the second time these two college football powers have met on the gridiron. The first encounter came in the Sugar Bowl, oddly enough, following the 1971 season. In that game, Oklahoma jumped out to a 34-0 lead and never looked back, winning 40-22.

Auburn will be making its sixth (2-2-1) appearance in the Sugar Bowl while the Sooners have played in seven (5-2) of these events.

Oklahoma has a high octane offense which scores at a 44.7 (third in the nation) points per game clip. Its total yardage is 557 yards per game (third in the nation), with 319.8 (12th in the nation) of that coming through the air and 237.5 (21st in the nation) on the ground.

Auburn’s strength is its rushing attack, averaging 278.5 yards per game (sixth in the nation and first in the SEC). The Tigers pass for 170.8 yards per game (112th in the nation) and score an average of 32.3 points per game (47th in the nation).

From these statistics, it is clear that Oklahoma is capable of scoring a lot of points and piling up a great deal of yardage. Auburn has a good offense and can run the ball extremely well.

This is where it gets interesting. Auburn is very stingy in points allowed. It only gives up an average of 15.6 points per game. That is fifth in the nation. And total yardage? The Tigers allow 348 yards per game and that is 20th in the nation.

Oklahoma? It gives up 29.7 points per game and allows 440 yards per game.

Auburn gave up as much as 30 points in only one game this season. That came in a 30-12 loss to SEC Champion and College Football Playoff bound Alabama.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, allowed 59 points to Texas Tech, 46 to TCU, 45 to Ohio State, and 40 to Texas.

It all boils down to Oklahoma’s superb offense vs. Auburn’s stellar defense. And I think the game’s key matchup, within this context, is the Tigers’ defensive line versus the Sooners’ offensive line.

Baker Mayfield is an excellent quarterback and Dede Westbrook is as good as it gets at wide receiver. When you combine those two with the running back tandem of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine you begin to get an idea of just why the Sooners vaunted offense is, indeed, so lethal.

Mayfield completed 235 out of 330 pass attempts for 3,669 yards (71.2%) and 38 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

Westbrook caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards. 16 of those receptions went for touchdowns. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch.

Mixon ran for 1,183 yards on 168 tries for 7.0 yards per carry. Perine ran the ball 179 times for 974 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.

But back to the battle of the trenches. I like Auburn’s d-line to handle Oklahoma’s o-line. And I like Auburn’s o-line to fare well against Oklahoma’s d-line.

Auburn should be able to establish the run with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson each at full speed. Stanton Truitt and Kam Martin should contribute, as well.

Also, Gus Malzahn says Sean White is well and will not be limited in anyway. That is big news for the Tiger faithful.

One more key is motivation. The news from the Plains is that Auburn is fresh, explosive, highly motivated, and are chomping at the bit to pick up a big win versus a high profile opponent, The Big 12 Champion.

I certainly don’t think Oklahoma will come out flat or listless, but I do think it is disappointed in not making the playoff, and I believe that Auburn wants this one more.

The Sooners are a three-point favorite.

I can see a three-point win, but with the victory going to the Tigers of the SEC.

Auburn 31, Oklahoma 28

Here is some more excellent info, with predictions, on this big game:

http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/134103/sugar-bowl-auburn-tigers-vs-oklahoma-sooners

http://collegefootballnews.com/2016/allstate-sugar-bowl-prediction-game-preview-history-scores

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Can the Oklahoma Sooners Crash the College Football Playoff Party?

Once the first 2016 college football playoff ranking was unveiled with all of the pageantry that ESPN could muster, college football fans had one more topic to argue about. Was Texas A&M deserving of its top four ranking or was Washington the more deserving team? It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. That fanatical argument doesn’t matter because there is still a lot of football left to be played this season and chances are good that one of the teams currently on the outside looking in will sneak into one of the playoff spots.

Oklahoma could be that sneaky team.

With two losses on its resume, Oklahoma may seem like a long shot that only a Big 12 homer such as myself (no, not really) could hold out hope for. But there are a few two-loss teams that are ranked ahead of the Sooners and some of those teams could realistically expect to lose another game or two. So please, hear me out on this.

Oklahoma’s loss to Houston no longer looks like the quality loss that it once did. Losing to Tom Herman is no longer the badge of honor that it once was considered. But how about that loss to Ohio State? I’ll tell you how that loss to Ohio State looks. It looks like a proverbial quality loss. That loss continues to look better and better if Ohio State continues to play like it did against Nebraska.

As for what Oklahoma can control? The Sooners control their own destiny to a large extent and it all starts this Saturday as Stoops and his Sooners end the season against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. All of those teams are ranked so all of those wins would strengthen the resume of the Sooners.

The Big 12 and Oklahoma aren’t known for suffocating defenses, but that’s just fine. The Sooners have the offensive fire power to rip through the remainder of the schedule. Baker Mayfield is torching opposing defenses with the help of Dede Westbrook. If the Sooners hadn’t lost to Ohio State, both of those players would be in the Heisman conversation based on the statistics that each are producing.

If having players the caliber of Mayfield and Westbrook weren’t enough for opposing defenses to deal with, the Sooners will have both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine available against Baylor. If Perine stays healthy and Mixon stops throwing temper tantrums at campus parking lot attendants, the Sooners should have all of the pieces in place to scare the rest of the conference.

The Big 12 has a bad reputation when it comes to comparing its teams to the upper echelon of teams from other conferences. I’m as guilty of that as everyone else. But if you’re a Big 12 fan and specifically a fan of Oklahoma, none of that should matter. What should matter to you is that the Sooners do have a puncher’s chance to slide into the playoff. Could the team win the championship? Get into the playoff first and then we’ll talk about that.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Top 10 Teams Take Tough Tests in Week 3

Just like in school, college football’s first week saw a couple casualties.  There’s always that kid in class you can tell isn’t going to make it.

Week two, despite not a single matchup of ranked teams, was entertaining enough.  Generally speaking, this is the easiest part of the semester.  There aren’t many serious assignments.  You nod in-and-out of consciousness during class and, for the most part, you’re still all good.  Sorry, Cowpokes.

Before you realize it, we’re in the third week already.  By now, professors have stopped caring if you like them.  Seemingly, they’re out for blood and here comes that first exam.  Chances are it’s going to make you wish you’d paid better attention and taken higher quality notes.

Six of the top 10 teams in college football are playing what I consider “real games” this week.  These are the tough tests in week three:

#6 Houston at Cincinnati

Thursday night on ESPN

By no means is Cincinnati a great team, but playing your first true road game against a conference foe in primetime on a Thursday is certainly a challenge.  Account for the way the Bearcats and the record-breaking Nippert Stadium crowd showed up, and this game qualifies as a tough test.

It was good to see Houston follow up its solid win over Oklahoma two weeks ago.  No, the Cougars did not dominate an inferior opponent until late.  Still, Houston is a legitimate national title contender.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Houston gave up a touchdown, opening up a 16-12 deficit, Cincinnati failing a two-point try.  The Cougars answered with an efficient 10-play, 61-yard drive, going up 19-16.

Then they intercepted a pass on the following drive and Greg Ward Jr. led them 60 yards down the field, using 11 plays for a second consecutive touchdown drive.  Cincinnati’s next drive was another interception, this one a house call.  The first play of the next drive was a second consecutive pick six.

All of a sudden it was 40-16 with 3:40 left.  I bring this up because those who didn’t watch will look at the score and laugh, not knowing it took the Cougars’ best to finally dispose of the Bearcats.

This was a great game, but the most interesting part is that it’ll be a Big 12 matchup next year.  That’s right, keep that expansion mumbo jumbo rolling.

It’s no secret Houston is the prize pig for the weakest of the Power 5.  Interestingly, the Cincinnati Bearcats stepped up to the occasion and gave us an unusually exciting Thursday night game.  I think that scores them major points with the Big 12 big wigs.

Anyway, the Houston Cougars came away with a win similar to the one they’ll need every week the rest of the season to keep the Power-5-Playoff-busting dream alive.

#2 Florida State at #10 Louisville

Saturday noon on ABC

It’s really a shame that these two, along with Clemson, are all in the Atlantic division, while the Coastal can’t boast one team legitimately on the same level.  Essentially, this is an ACC semi-final.  The early season aspect makes it all the more interesting.

Lamar Jackson needs to do his thing if he’s going to be a serious Heisman contender this fall.  He’s wowed us with big numbers and flashy plays against inferior teams, thus far.  As Famous Jameis reminded them against Ole Miss two weeks ago, the Seminoles ain’t no puppies.

Winston goes on to say, “We got the best running back in the whole damn league,” referring to the best college running back in the whole damn country, Dalvin Cook.  Watch Cook feast on the Cardinals.

#1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss

Saturday 3:30 p.m. on CBS

The Tide have lost but thrice in the past two seasons.  Two of those losses have come at the hands of the Rebels.  Recent history is telling us this is the toughest test for Nick Saban and the big, bad Bama boys.  I believe in superstitious stuff like that.

This’ll be closer than the experts think.  Break out your best bowties and slickest seersuckers.  It’s a game day at the Grove with Verne and Gary.

#3 Oh*o State at #14 Oklahoma

Saturday 7:30 p.m. on FOX

Incredibly, Oh*o State still hasn’t lost a true road game under Urban Meyer.  That includes one game in a ranked opponent’s barn in each of his four seasons as Head Buckeye.

You all know I have no love for Oh*o State, but I think it’s absolutely awesome it’s playing this game in Norman, Oklahoma.

The kicker is: Oklahoma cannot afford to take another loss, even if it is a non-conference contest.  I’m curious how, if, that motivates the Fighting Covered Wagons.

I’ll be focusing on the quarterback play.  We’ve got two of the most electric QBs in the nation, J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield, going head-to-head.  Expect a flurry of points late as these two go back-and-forth, after they get warmed up.

USC at #7 Stanford

Saturday 8 p.m. on ABC

USC could well have yet another average team that’ll live on unwarranted hype.  Still, this is a real rivalry game that Stanford will not be looking past.

The Cardinal took both the regular season square-off and the Pac-12 Championship Game last year.  The Trojans won the two matchups previous to that, including the last time this rivalry was played at Stanford, in 2014.

Five Progress Reports Pending

We learned a good deal about Houston on Thursday night.  You don’t have to go out on a limb to say that we’ll know much more about five other top ten teams after this weekend.

Good luck on your exams.  Hope you did a little studying in-between beers.

 

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Flickr user – Ken Lund

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Picking Against Oklahoma: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

At Campus Pressbox, as my emailers often remind me, I don’t usually get things right. But there is a singular, glorious exception: my spot-on Houston vs. Oklahoma prediction. Now, as Oklahoma gears up to battle Ohio State- the Big Ten’s biggest gun- in primetime, I’m faced with yet another tough decision. Should I place my bets on the Buckeyes, a talented yet unproven contender early in the season? Or should I reconcile with the Sooners, a talented team proven to be composed of choke artists early in the season?

My mother raised me on a steady dose of antiquated morals and maxims and such. One of them goes like this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Picking against Oklahoma ain’t broke, so I certainly ain’t fixing it.

(My mother also taught me that ain’t ain’t a word because ain’t ain’t in the dictionary. But “ain’t” is currently in the dictionary, and I’m allegedly a college sports writer now. So, sorry mom.)

Here’s a different maxim that my mother had no role in teaching me: the Big 12 sucks. After Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Kansas State all failed to rise to their respective challenges, I’m officially deserting the conference as a likely playoff contender. In Weeks 1 and 2, while the Big 10 entered the conversation of rivaling the SEC for the honor of being the Power 5’s strongest conference, the Big 12 entered the conversation of rivaling the Pac 12 for the dishonor of being the Power 5’s weakest conference.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from listening to backup quarterback Austin Kendall’s comments yesterday, in which he downplayed Ohio State’s “really basic defense” and emphasized Baker Mayfield’s ability to “light [that defense] up”.

But Kendall didn’t stop there. He also reminded the Buckeyes to keep an eye out for Oklahoma’s secret weapon: himself. “If my number is called,” he rambled, “I think I can do the same [as Mayfield].” I’m sure Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano are searching frantically for Austin Kendall game film as we speak. They’ll have a tough time finding any, however, as Kendall is only fifteen passes better than I am at college football. After losing to an 11.5-point underdog, Kendall inexplicably handed billboard material to the program with the biggest billboard in the country. Boomer Sooner, baby.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you don’t lose just four games in four seasons by fostering basic defense. Maybe they play “basic defense” because they actually have talent on that side of the ball, unlike, you know, literally every team in the Big 12.  Maybe they don’t need all the empty gimmicks that lesser teams employ. Or, maybe Ohio State’s defense seemed basic because- oh, I don’t know- they’ve played Bowling Green and Tulsa this season. Last time I checked, neither are prolific offenses.

Here’s another maxim my mother taught me: the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black. The pot especially shouldn’t call the kettle black if the kettle isn’t black. I mean that’s just silly.

Oklahoma has no room to criticize Ohio State’s “basic” defense, especially because Ohio State’s defense isn’t basic. Sure, the unit lacks experience, but when you recruit the talent Ohio State does, lacking experience doesn’t make you basic. Lacking experience makes your defense eleven ballhawks that are bigger, faster, and stronger than the eleven guys across the field. You can’t call playmakers like Malik Hooker, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, and Marshon Lattimore “basic”. They’ll show you up.

So, we joke, but in all seriousness- does the Big 12 know what defense is?

There is not a team in college football that resembles more closely Houston’s pro-spread attack than Ohio State, and that’s really, really bad news for Oklahoma. See, Austin Kendall could be right. Baker Mayfield could light the Buckeyes up for 323 yards- just like he did against Houston, but it wouldn’t matter. If Oklahoma doesn’t learn to stop dynamic playmakers like J.T. Barrett and Greg Ward Jr., it can’t expect to be considered a legitimate contender anymore. Unless our man Kendall, Oklahoma’s newfound and self-proclaimed savior, plans on suiting up as a pass rusher of some sort, that improvement won’t be happening.

I’m sorry Sooner fans. That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. That’s something else my mother taught me: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Well, sorry mom.

Oklahoma is overrated. Its conference is overrated. Its quarterback is overrated. Its backup quarterback is overrated. And its chances against Ohio State? Overrated. Ohio State will deliver a swift yet vengeful fist to the Sooners’ jaw on Saturday night. And you know what? There ain’t a damn thing they can do about it.

 

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Does Ohio State Have Enough to Take Down Oklahoma?

Following blowout victories over Bowling Green and Tulsa, it’s no shock that the Ohio State football team is 2-0 heading into a pivotal showdown with one-loss Oklahoma on Saturday. Are the first two performances enough to go on the road and take down a Sooners team seeking redemption for a season-opening loss to Houston? A loss to the Buckeyes would certainly remove Oklahoma from the playoff conversation.

Offensively, the first half performance against Tulsa is not going to be the recipe for success in Norman. In fact, it won’t be anywhere close. Thanks to a couple of interceptions returned for touchdowns by Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore, the Buckeyes looked impressive on the scoreboard, but it was the offense that was limited to six points prior to halftime.

However, the lackluster performance in the first half doesn’t concern me one bit. Not that Ohio State was looking ahead, but it’s fairly common to play flat against an inferior opponent with such a significant game upcoming, especially for a young team. Although the two teams reside in the same state, the focus for a team like Tulsa was not be anywhere near the level it will be for Oklahoma. The majority of these new-look Buckeyes will receive their first taste of big-game experience, so don’t think Ohio State won’t be amped and ready to make a statement right out of the tunnel.

When I made my game-by-game predictions for Ohio State back in the spring, I didn’t see Oklahoma as a team the Buckeyes were capable of defeating this early in the season, especially on the road with a lack of experience in a setting like Norman. Unsurprisingly, I think I was wrong. The home field and “backs against the wall” mentality will certainly represent a huge advantage for Oklahoma, but the Buckeyes simply have more talent, particularly on defense.

That’s not a knock on Oklahoma as it is still one of the top teams in the nation despite the loss to Houston. There isn’t a team on Houston’s schedule that is going to knock them off. And who knows, maybe Oklahoma comes out of the gate and lays an old-fashioned whooping on Ohio State en route to a 52-10 pummeling of the Buckeyes. However, the defensive side of the ball is what separates Ohio State from Oklahoma.

Even against lesser competition, I don’t think many expected the Buckeye defense to yield zero touchdowns through the first two games of the season. Granted it was in mop-up time with the game already out of hand and mainly reserves on the field, but the Oklahoma defense allowed multiple touchdowns to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. I realize that has no meaning concerning this matchup, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Oklahoma’s defense is anything but shutdown.

The Sooners possess plenty of playmakers on offense that will put points on the board against any defense, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine, but defense wins championships right? Well, it also wins big games on the road, under the lights.

Oklahoma has more than a fair chance to squeak out a top-five victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. As a result, there shall be no couch-burning along High Street or thought that a playoff appearance is out of the question with a loss. I have previously stated that this is as close to a win-win situation as you can get for Ohio State, especially for the magnitude of this game.

Obviously, a win means the Buckeyes remain undefeated and enjoy a week off before beginning conference play. Even with a loss on Saturday night, if you were to tell me that Ohio State runs the table in the Big Ten and ultimately wins the Big Ten Championship with the only blemish on their resume being a loss at Oklahoma, I would say the Buckeyes are still going to be included in the playoff.

Regardless of how the Ohio State-Oklahoma game plays out, the Buckeyes will take to the bye week with their playoff aspirations still intact.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

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Smackdown Fridays: Houston Dooms Oklahoma’s Playoff Run Far Sooner than Expected

In the course of human events, when it becomes necessary for one Group of 5 team to assert its dominance over a Power 5 foe, rest assured that team will probably be the Houston Cougars. It’s the circle of life. It’s bound to happen sooner or later.

After Houston’s comfortable 38-24 victory over #12 Florida State in last season’s Peach Bowl, who’s to say the Cougars can’t hang with the big boys? Critics may cherry-pick their easy schedule or a narrow victory here and there to excuse the program’s 2015 success, but Houston has a prime opportunity to prove those critics wrong. To open the season, the Cougars face Oklahoma.

I have some news for you: Oklahoma is overrated as hell.

Don’t worry, it isn’t just Oklahoma. It’s the entire Big 12. After the conference faithful finally finished whining about being (rightfully) excluded from the College Football Playoff, it seems it’s destined to happen again. The Sooners seem to be the conference’s best bet to clinch a berth, but I have serious concerns.  This Saturday, expect those concerns to become realities. Oklahoma is begging for an upset.

Assuredly, there are Sooner die-hards and Big 12 buffs reading this and foaming at the mouth, fuming over my casual dismissal of one of college football’s premier conferences. Well, the truth is, your conference can’t be premier if the Kansas Jayhawks are in it.

The Big 12 hasn’t claimed a national championship since Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns in 2005. These days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vince Young waiting on my table at Sizzler. For their part, Oklahoma hasn’t won a national championship since 2000. That was way back when the BCS was actually hip and cool. My point? Picking against the Big 12- or Oklahoma- doesn’t scare me in the slightest.

So I’m taking the Houston Cougars to upset the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday. And I’m doing so with gusto.

I’ll come out and say something nobody else will say: Tom Herman is currently a better football coach than Bob Stoops. Stoops has seventeen years of head coaching experience and one national championship to show for it. Meanwhile, Herman has been a head coach for all of one season.

Can anybody forget the Ohio State’s offense crumbling after Herman’s departure last season? Second to Urban Meyer, there was nobody more integral to that national championship. Stoops won his championship outright, Herman won his by proxy. Herman also managed to make Braxton Miller, then J.T. Barrett, then Cardale Jones, and now Greg Ward Jr. into Heisman-caliber signal callers. He’s legit. I expect Herman to flash his legit-ness and win the coaching battle in this interstate showdown.

By now, Oklahoma fans are likely loading their muskets and readying their covered wagons to come burn me at the stake, so I’ll go one step further. Greg Ward Jr. will perform better this Saturday than Baker Mayfield. Last season, only two quarterbacks rushed for 1,000 yards and passed for 2,000 yards. One was Greg Ward Jr. The other was Deshaun Watson. You know, the same Deshaun Watson that torched the Sooners 37-17 in the Orange Bowl.

The Sooners will struggle with containing Ward Jr. just as they struggled with containing Watson. The Sooners allowed a ho-hum 161.7 rushing yards per game last season, including 312 yards in the contest against the Tigers. Ward Jr. will be able to make enough big plays to keep momentum in Houston’s favor and the chips in Herman’s hand.

See, Baker Mayfield could throw for 350 yards on the Cougars. And guess what? It wouldn’t matter. Mayfield posted an impressive outing in the Orange Bowl, but even he couldn’t overcome the Sooners’ meager 67 rushing yards. With Houston’s eighth ranked rushing defense returning in full force, don’t expect the Sooners to do much better this time around. Forcing Baker Mayfield to throw might be a major gamble, so they’ll need a fresh secondary to earn their stripes on the largest of stages. Houston proved their resilience thirteen times last season. They can do it again.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard- the Big 12 is probably expanding. Add yet another chip to the underdog’s shoulder. If Houston wins this game, no further proof of their worthiness should be necessary.

That, unfortunately, doesn’t mean they’ll get in.

You know what? Let Big 12 heavyweights like the Sooners sit back and play politics with the futures of schools like the University of Houston.  Saturday night, Houston has an opportunity to score a larger victory far from the board room: complicate Oklahoma’s playoff bid far Sooner than expected.

E-mail Cole at cole [dot] hankins [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins

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The Big 12’s Best Football Games of 2016

Last year the Big 12 looked to be one of the best conferences, at least at the top, with TCU and Baylor heading into 2015 in the top five. It was hard to get any clarification on which team would prevail because the conference back-loaded the schedule, having most of the big games at the end of the year. By that point Oklahoma was on a roll, and Baylor and TCU had been hit with key injuries. What games will determine the Big 12 champ in 2016? Here are the best Big 12 games to look forward to in 2016, along with a couple non-conference games that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.

10. Texas vs. Iowa State (Saturday, October 15)

Texas had an abysmal season in 2015, but nothing was worse than getting shutout 24-0 by the Iowa State Cyclones. The game isn’t in a great spot for Texas, coming after back-to-back weeks versus Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but I’m guessing the Longhorns won’t want to be embarrassed again.

9. Texas vs. Baylor (Saturday, October 29)

Texas beat Baylor last year, but Baylor having to play its eighteenth string quarterback played a big part in that. Outside of that, Baylor has dominated the series since 2010. The loser of this game will likely be out of the conference race with a month left in the season.

8. Baylor vs. TCU (Saturday, November, 11)

This matchup has featured the conference’s best two teams over the past few seasons. Two years ago it was one of the most exciting games of the past couple years while last year’s couldn’t have been more opposite, thanks to injuries and awful weather. Hopefully we get something closer to the 2014 version between two teams that now expect to compete for conference championships year after year.

7. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 24)

Last year Baylor ended Oklahoma State’s undefeated run (10-0) with a 45-35 win in Stillwater. This time it will be each team’s first conference game so both will be hoping to launch an undefeated conference season. Baylor has to replace six starters on each side of the ball so the timing couldn’t be better for a Cowboys team that returns 16. With nine of those starters coming on offense, this game could hit 100 total points.

6. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, September 3)

Notre Dame absolutely embarrassed Texas last year in the season opener. The Longhorns will try to get revenge on their turf this year but the Irish are expected to be the much better team again in 2016 (7:30 est on ABC). If this game ends similarly to last season’s debacle, it could be the beginning of the end for Charlie Strong in Austin.

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 8)

Though Texas has now been down for a while, it always shows up for the Red River Rivalry. This is one where you really can throw records out the window. Last year’s unlikely Longhorns’ win over the Sooners almost cost Oklahoma a trip to the playoff. Oklahoma will likely be favored in this game, but the Longhorns should show improvement this year which means another contested rivalry game with Big 12 championship ramifications.

4. TCU vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 1)

Two years ago TCU’s upset against Oklahoma propelled it to arguably the best season in school history. Though devastated by injuries last year, the Horned Frogs almost derailed the Sooners’ playoff bid in Norman. This year TCU has to reload on offense, and this will be a big game early in the season that determines if TCU’s program has reached “reload not rebuild” status.

3. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, December 3)

Oklahoma State exceeded expectations last year in what was thought to be more of a rebuilding year. Now with 16 starters back (most in the Big 12) the expectation will be to compete for the conference crown. If they can survive a tough conference road slate, this one could decide the Big 12 title. If not, the the Pokes will still seek revenge for the Sooners blasting them in the Bedlam rivalry game a year ago.

2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State (Saturday, September 17)

Oklahoma gets an early test that could determine its season’s fate. Ohio State could learn the ceiling of its season with just six starters back. Even with some uncertainty between the teams, a non-conference matchup with two Heisman contending quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett) will be must-see television.

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

This game has often been a de facto Big 12 Championship game in recent years, and the winner of this one could have the inside track this year as well (if Oklahoma doesn’t perform its usual meltdown in years with high expectations). Both teams have a lot to replace on defense, but with Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield returning, as well as a plethora of skill position talent for each school, neither team should have a problem putting up points.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

 

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