OU football: November brings the news that the Sooners aren't as good as we thought they were
In these suddenly bewildering days of Sooner football, it’s nice to remember the fire of September. You know. Back when we thought the Sooners were a juggernaut.
Now we know better. After a 42-41 survival of Iowa State on Owen Field, we know that Oklahoma is not the team we thought it was.
We have reached mid-November, and only three of the Sooners’ nine opponents to date have winning records. Of those three teams, OU beat Texas by seven points, lost to Kansas State by seven points and beat Iowa State by one point.
The sneaking suspicion of Manhattan, Kansas, on the last Saturday in October — what if the Sooners just aren’t as good as we thought they were? — has come to fruition.
OU is a good team. Potentially a championship team, which we’ll get to in a moment. But not a great team. There is no evidence supporting such hope.
The fire of September was based on routs of weak opponents. Houston was a big-name mid-major with a soft underbelly; the Cougars quit on their own season before the month was out. South Dakota is in Division I-AA. UCLA was a mess under Chip Kelly, though the Bruins have improved since. Texas Tech was playing with a backup quarterback and is destined for eighth place in the Big 12.
The College Football Playoff has been the focus — ours; not Lincoln Riley’s organization, which seems to at least have kept its eyes on the ball — even after the loss at Kansas State, because that’s the Sooner standard and history shows that college football’s selection processes loves it some Oklahoma.
But turns out, Riley was right all along. The focus should have always been on the Big 12 championship, for two reasons. One, that’s always the under-your-control goal which is devoid of opinion and politics. And two, the Big 12 title seems to be the high side of this team’s potential.
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This Jalen Hurts offense is fantastic, just not quite up to the Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray level of the last two years. And Alex Grinch’s revamped defense has reverted to the late Mike Stoops era, somewhere south of mediocre.
In its last two games, OU’s defense has trotted out for 23 opponent possessions. It has allowed 12 touchdowns and two field goals. Iowa State and Kansas State both have solid offenses. Neither is quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes.
The truth is, the mid-season idea that OU stood above the rest of the Big 12, atop a fat middle class, was wrong. Every team above Texas Tech, seven strong, is largely indistinguishable. Could win. Could lose.
Don’t believe it? Fifteen Big 12 games have been played matching teams in that upper seven. Ten of the 15 have been one-possession finals. Even some of the games against the bottom-rung teams have been tight — Texas Tech’s upset of OSU and double-overtime loss at Baylor; Baylor’s 17-14 survival of West Virginia; Texas’ 50-49 squeaker over Kansas.
It’s a league with a lot of good teams and no great teams.
“It's a good league,” Riley said. “Probably as balanced as I can remember it right now. There's not really any bad teams in the league right now. I mean, everybody's good enough to beat everybody.”
That’s a two-headed statement. If OU emerges from such a league as the champion, that’s a praiseworthy feat. When virtually any game can be won or lost, the survivor with the trophy will have by definition showed guts and perseverance. Cheer the champions. They will deserve it.
But a team that can’t dominate the Big 12 has no business making a playoff case. Only four slots are available. Only the elite need apply. The Big 12’s non-conference performance was just so-so. The Big 12’s best non-league victory is what? Kansas State over Mississippi State? OSU over Oregon State? OU over UCLA?
Please. The fire of September has been replaced by the reality of November. The Big 12 is a good league. It’s not a great league. The Sooners are a good team. They’re not a great team, and opportunity grows thin to prove otherwise.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
No. 9 OU at No. 12 Baylor
When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: McLane Stadium; Waco, Texas
TV: ABC (Cox 8)
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7