Sunday Hangover: OU? Oh Yeah

Miss any of Saturday's action? Get the storylines and implications every Sunday morning with a shot of humor, two of vermouth and a pot full of what's suspected to be either coffee or the pureed remnants of Graham Harrell's Heisman candidacy.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made just one mistake Saturday night.

When arguing for his Sooners to overtake Texas in the BCS standings after Oklahoma steamrolled Texas Tech, laid down a layer of asphalt, and then steamrolled the Red Raiders again, Stoops appealed to logic.

Yeah, the BCS and logic, two things that go hand in hand like peanut butter and gasoline.

"Now we're in the mix with everybody and, with the way we played, you'd think ahead," Stoops said. "If you can't move us in front of Texas because they beat us, then you have to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas. If it's logical for one, it's logical for the other."

Nice try though, coach.

After Saturday's 65-21 win over No. 2 Texas Tech that made the stock market crash look slow, deliberate and gentle by comparison, the Big 12 South is now a big traffic snarl, the Gordian Knot of college football more convoluted than a Miss Teen South Carolina sentence diagram.

It could've been easy. If Texas Tech had won Saturday night, it was assured a spot in Kansas City But what was a word jumble just turned into the Sunday crossword after the Red Raiders' loss.

There's Oklahoma, a team that's now more balanced than a seesaw with Charlie Weis on one end and Charlie Weis' ego on the other. There's Texas, which beat the Sooners on a neutral field by 10 points and held them to 35 points, the football equivalent of holding John Daly to just one beer at a Hooters bar. And there's Texas Tech, which, even after its loss-slash-televised trip to the proctologist Saturday night, still has one heckuva chance to make the Big 12 title game.

If all three end knotted with one loss, the berth will essentially come down to the popular vote and style points. Which, if you're playing at home, is exactly how Dancing With the Stars is decided.

But even Donovan McNabb knows this can't end in a tie.

Don't worry Donovan, Oklahoma's convincing win Saturday night proved what it had been hinting at since the loss to Texas.
Boomer Sooner may be the best in the nation.

And with Texas off this week, their nationally televised stage turned the argument into a near four-hour monologue.

The Longhorns own a neutral field win over the Sooners, which is an awfully big chip in the BCS poker game. It takes a lot to overcome a head-to-head loss, but that's exactly the kind of rally Oklahoma has mounted since the Red River loss.

And in fairness, Oklahoma's second half was a long defensive scramble to replace Ryan Reynolds, who left in the the third quarter with an ACL tear. After the middle linebacker left, the Sooner defense collapsed like a two-year-old piece of Ikea furniture. With Reynolds, the Sooners led 28-20 and had held the Longhorns to negative-10 yards rushing. Afterward, the Longhorns parted the Red River.Texas finished on a 25-7 run and rushed for 170 yards.

Injuries are part of the game, but so too is depth and maturation and that's where Oklahoma has excelled. The Sooners filled the void with freshman Austin Box, who couldn't have made his presence any more obvious Saturday night if he'd rented the Goodyear Blimp and stuck his photo on it.

The middle linebacker spent most of the night playing like the game was on ice and he was the only player with skates, sliding from side to side of the field, including one hellacious block during Keenan Clayton's fumble return.

"Austin Box has made a ton of progress and had another great night tonight," Stoops said. "It's just natural with a young guy that hasn't played a whole lot."

"The more he plays," he said with a warning that should be as ominous as the Sooner Schooner heading directly toward your seat, "the better he gets."

The defense sacked Graham Harrell four times against the stingiest offensive line in the Big 12. He had been sacked just five times all season. Texas sacked Harrell just twice.

"I think we sent a message to whoever was watching," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "Whether it was the computers, an alien, whatever it is. At the end of the game I think we sent a message. We're for real."

But it's the Oklahoma offense and those basketball scores on offense that are bringing in the style points like they're in aisle four at the local Costco.

The Sooners have turned into a production line of a scoring machine (and if only the actual production lines in Detroit were as good as the Sooners, then the auto industry might not be facing a bigger debt than the SEC's bail tab.) Since losing to Texas, they're averaging 59 points per game.

Those Oklahoma margins aren't purely overkill - the Sooners have actually been outscored in the fourth quarter 28-17 over that span and they've barely won the second half, 88-63. But before halftime, when the points still matter, they hold a break-out-the-calculator 208-80 margin. That's 28 more points than Tennessee has scored all season. Twelve teams haven't managed that point total all year, let alone in the first half of the last five games.

By comparison with the other BCS conference points-by-the-bucket team, Florida, there are drag racers that take their foot off the gas more frequently than the Gators. Florida has outscored their opponents 80-29 in the fourth quarter in their seven-game winning streak.

These Sooners have simply gotten better as a team by doing the basics. They play defense better. They run better. They take care of the ball better.

"We just did what we knew we could do," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the man in charge of an Oklahoma attack that relentlessly rolls wave by wave like they're trying to take an enemy beachhead as much as score a touchdown.

Saturday night, Oklahoma committed just one turnover, one of the three they've committed since the Texas defeat. By comparison, in the first six games of the season, Sam Bradford alone threw five interceptions. Their turnover margin has skyrocketed for the better since that Red River loss. After Week 7, the Sooners were up half a turnover a game. Now they lead the nation, picking up 1.64 more turnovers per game than they're allowing.

Against Texas Tech, they rushed for 299 yards. Since losing to Texas, they've rushed for over 200 yards in every game but one. In the first six games, the Sooners topped 200 just twice. DeMarco Murray, who dislocated his knee cap last November, is running like the shifty athlete that averaged six yards per carry as a freshman. Since the Texas loss, Murray has racked up 492 yards at a 6.83 yards-per-carry average. In the first five games against FBS teams, he managed just 313 yards and four yards per run. Chris Brown has been ever better, averaging 7.3 yards per carry and gaining almost twice as many yards in the last five games than in the first five against FBS opponents, 548 yards to 279.

In the oldest, smashmouth football way, the credit belongs to the line.

"I have to give credit to those guys up front because they played amazing tonight," said quarterback Sam Bradford, whose spent less time on his back than a Jonas brother since the Texas loss, getting sacked just twice in five games. "They gave me time to sit back there and find the open receivers, our offensive line has played great all year but I think they are the reason we played like we did tonight."

Texas, too, has improved since the October matchup. But no one is keeping pace with the Sooners.

Tailback Foswhitt Whittaker is finally in theLonghorn lineup, but after a 15-carry, 77-yard performance against Baylor two weeks ago, he ran 13 times for just 15 yards against Kansas.

Meanwhile, Chris Ogbonnaya, who rumbled for 127 yards against Oklahoma, hasn't come within a first down of that yardage in the five games since. Ogbonnaya, who's been slowed by an ankle injury, has carried the ball 31 time since the Oklahoma game, but managed just 113 yards. Accordingly, Texas' ground game, which carried such a heavy load as the Longhorns pulled away from the Sooners, has slipped from 191 yards per game at the end of Week 7 to 173 yards per game now.

Texas rushed for 80 yards against the Red Raiders. Oklahoma marched for 299.

The Longhorns' Malcolm Williams has emerged as a reliable third receiver who can break a big play faster than you can misspell Ogbonnaya, but hasn't added more than Oklahoma senior Quentin Chaney, who has stepped in for Manuel Johnson. Chaney has more catches (13 to 10) and more yardage (309 yards to 259) since the Red River Rivalry.

Texas has gotten better, but Oklahoma has gotten another gear.

But whichever team the BCS rankings ultimately kick out of the Big 12 title game will only have itself to blame for falling out of the title picture. For Texas, there will be the haunting memory of the should've-been interception that harmlessly slipped through Blake Gideon's hands. For Oklahoma, there will be the second half collapse in the Cotton Bowl.

Of course, at the moment, like a Detroit Lions' winning streak, this head-to-head decision is purely theoretical and may never happen. Should Oklahoma or Texas Tech lose next weekend, only the head-to-head games will matter. And if Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State while Texas Tech beats Baylor, then both teams will have another offseason to think of what could have been while the Red Raiders move into the Big 12 title game.

Oklahoma didn't miss that message, even in the rowdy euphoria of Owen Field.

"It's always good to win a game, especially a game like this one," wide receiver Manuel Johnson said. "But if we don't win next week, than this win doesn't really mean anything. We can enjoy it tonight and tomorrow, but come Monday it's back to business."

That's the kind of logic anyone can appreciate.

The Big 16

Find out who the nation's top teams are each week as we rank the best 16 and set up something heretofore unheard of in college football, a play... wait for it... off. At season's end, the top 16 will compete in two brackets - the Fairburn, Ga. division, ancestral home of Hangover mancrush Eric Berry, and the erstwhile Fort Myers, Fla. division, ancestral home of the pizza bagel.

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  • 1. Alabama Crimson Tide: Is Nick Saban's team better than Oklahoma or Florida? Maybe not, but it's hard to argue against the undefeated body of work. The last challenge for Alabama comes against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. And by challenge, we mean not falling asleep watching Auburn's more-boring-than-any-econ-lecture offense. But be careful, West Virginia blew its title shot last year in a gimme of a rivalry game with Pittsburgh.
  • 2. Oklahoma Sooners: Name one win this season more impressive than the Sooners' domination of Texas Tech. Oklahoma has a very nice resume outside its marquee win, too, beating soon-to-be Big East champ Cincinnati, TCU and Kansas. But next week's Bedlam game is no tap-in. The last two rivalry tilts in Stillwater have been decided by less than a touchdown and the Cowboys can pit the Big 12's best running attack against a rush defense still coming together.
  • 3. Texas Longhorns: If the Longhorns were the type to look for excuses, they could put plenty of blame on the schedule makers. Only the Longhorns had to play four top-11 teams in successive weeks and by the time they arrived in Lubbock, the fatigue showed. If, like Texas Tech, they had a week off, they might already be calling for reservations in Miami.
  • 4. Florida Gators: The Obama spread the wealth plan hit Florida against The Citadel when Javier (Estopinan) the defensive tackle rumbled for a touchdown. Estopinan's unlikely score capped one of the nation's best comeback stories for a player who's suffered three separate knee injuries. As for Florida's ranking, they have an excellent argument for ranking anywhere in the top four, but don't have as good of a win as either Texas or Oklahoma. Fortunately for the Gators, rankings don't matter. Win out and they're in the BCS title game.
  • 5. USC Trojans: The Cotton Bowl was reportedly interested in Notre Dame before Saturday's upset by Syracuse. Since the Orange nixed the possibility of a Big 12 power beating the Irish around like an out-of-shape sparring partner, watch the Trojans demonstrate how it might've played out.
  • 6. Texas Tech Red Raiders: After years of also-ran status, the Red Raiders finally made it to the big stage only to trip over the curtain and fall into the front row. Even Michael Crabtree dropped passes Saturday night as nothing seemed to go right for the Red Raiders, save for Oklahoma spelling their name correctly on the scoreboard. But it's hard to imagine Texas Tech finishing with less than 12 wins, including a bowl victory somewhere, which still qualifies as an excellent season.
  • 7. Penn State Nittany Lions: Welcome back, Darryl Clark. The Nittany Lions' quarterback had the game of a lifetime, wrapping up a Rose Bowl berth with 341 yards, four passing touchdowns and a rushing score. We like the Lions' chances in the Rose Bowl, even if it's USC on the opposite sideline. They aren't among the nation's very best teams, but they're not far behind.
  • 8. Utah Utes: The Utes didn't wait till the last minute this time. Utah leveled BYU in a Holy War that couldn't have been more one-sided if the Crusade was directed against the Muppets. But a pair of narrow escapes against TCU and its faulty kicking game, and possible Pac-10 champ Oregon State nearly derailed this perfect season.
  • 9. Missouri Tigers: Don't think Gary Pinkel's team will be a pushover in the Big 12 title game. Over its past four games, Missouri is yielding just 18 points per contest.
  • 10. Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State became the first team to win some portion of the Big Ten title four straight years. And, as one Deadspin wag noted, the Buckeyes should consider letting Rich Rodriguez dot the I for his contribution to Buckeye football.
  • 11. Oklahoma State Cowboys: The Cowboys have two weeks to figure out how to make Oklahoma miserable forever. Star receiver Dez Bryant has been a force in Stillwater, averaging eight catches, 169 yards and three touchdowns per game.
  • 12. Boise State Broncos: The Broncos are just one win away from their second undefeated season in the last three, but there likely won't be a BCS berth at the end. Give the credit for the win over Nevada to the Broncos' lockdown pass defense, which held Nevada quarterback Colin Kaeperneck to just 19 completions on 50 attempts. The unit is second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
  • 13. Georgia Bulldogs: The bye week comes at an excellent time for the Bulldogs, who have to figure out how to defend Paul Johnson's flexbone offense in the latest Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry tilt. The Bulldogs will have to do a better job of finding their way into the backfield to force one of the Yellow Jackets' frequent fumbles.
  • 14. Ball State Cardinals: Utah's win all but slams the door on whatever faint BCS hopes Ball State might have had, but a gutty win on the road against Central Michigan proves this team is for real.
  • 15. TCU Horned Frogs: Every team has its missed moments of the season, but none may sting more than TCU's, which racked up 202 yards of offense in the first quarter against Utah and outgained the Utes 416 yards to 275 overall, but lost when they couldn't convert two fourth-quarter field goals and allowed the game-winning touchdown with 48 seconds left.
  • 16. Cincinnati Bearcats: Heroes hobbling off the bench. Quarterbacks in casts. These Bearcats have it all, and, with a win next week, will have a shiny BCS berth to go along with the drama. The only thing they might not have much longer is head coach Brian Kelly, who will likely field more job offers in the coming weeks than all of baseball's free agents.

Sunday Hangover: OU? Oh Yeah originally appeared on NCAA Football FanHouse on Sun, 23 Nov 2008 06:56:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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