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College football predictions: Can Sooners replicate '77 Razorbacks?

The Sooners play LSU in the Peach Bowl on Saturday without defensive end Ronnie Perkins, tailback Rhamondre Stevenson and flanker Trejan Bridges, all suspended, reportedly over a failed drug test. OU also is without safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, who suffered a broken collarbone in practice.

Seems like a tall order for OU. The Sooners need more defensive help, not less, to combat LSU.

But the 1977 Sooners were on the other end of bowl suspensions – and eventually on the wrong end of the score. Ten days before the Orange Bowl that season, Arkansas coach Lou Holtz suspended tailbacks Ben Cowins and Donny Bobo, plus fullback Michael Forrest, for a dorm incident.

The Sooners, ranked second nationally, went from an 18-point favorite over No. 6 Arkansas to a 24-point favorite.

Then the short-handed Razorbacks routed the Sooners 31-6.

“I’m glad it wasn’t two out of three,” Holtz told me a few years ago during a visit to Oklahoma. The Sooners “were so good. But also were so predictable, because you didn’t have to stunt, you didn’t have to loop. So we false-keyed a little bit, which gave us a little bit of advantage.”

Holtz still was marveling at Arkansas’ defensive effort in that game.

“I had never seen a group swarm like that,” Holtz said. “Monte Kiffin was my defensive coordinator, Pete Carroll was on that staff. Just the enthusiasm. And the third play, we created a turnover (Billy Sims fumbled), then (quarterback) Ron Calcagni and (third-team tailback) Roland Sales took over after that.”

Holtz said he told his athletic director and predecessor, Frank Broyles, that he saw the rout coming.

“I went to Frank Broyles after we had a scrimmage, and we felt we could false key and found some things on ‘em,” Holtz said. “I said, ‘if we beat Oklahoma by 40, could we win the national championship?’ And he laughed at me. That was before we had to make the suspension of the athletes.

“But we were very good on defense. And the scheme we came up with, we went out and scrimmaged against our defense, and we moved the ball up and down on our defense, and they didn’t know what was going on. We felt it was something we could do one game. If we played ‘em again, there was no way. Because they were so predictable, they didn’t have to stunt. We knew where they were going to be and what to do.”

Sales rushed for an Orange Bowl-record 205 yards.

The suspended players filed an injunction to play in the Orange Bowl. But Arkansas attorney general Bill Clinton represented the university, the injunction was not grated, and the Razorbacks forged ahead with a splintered team. Reportedly, 12 players threatened to boycott the bowl but eventually relented

“I didn’t decide that those players wouldn’t play,” Holtz said. “They decided that. All I did was enforce their decision. If you choose this, you’re choosing not to play. We won the case and turned the team around a little bit.”

The game likely cost OU a national championship. Notre Dame jumped from fifth in the polls to No. 1 after beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

And Holtz had a victory for the ages.

“Changed my life, that game did,” Holtz said. “All of a sudden, IBM and General Motors asked me to come speak for them, I said about what? I never made a speech in my life. Got a C in speech 101. Johnny Carson and everything else. Just changed my life completely that one game.”

Can the Sooners, 13-1/2 point underdogs against LSU, replicate what Arkansas did 42 years ago? Seems unlikely. Seemed unlikely for the 1977 Razorbacks.

Let’s get to the predictions:

Peach: Oklahoma vs. LSU. Tigers 34-24. In years past, the Sooners had to win a shootout. This year, the Sooners can’t win a shootout. 

Texas: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M. Cowboys 27-24. OSU won the four most recent meetings in the series, 2008-11.

Sugar: Georgia vs. Baylor. Bears 23-20. Baylor still has something to prove.

Alamo: Utah vs. Texas. Longhorns 27-20. The ‘Horns have a penchant for playing well in bowl games. They are 2-0 under Tom Herman in the postseason.

Liberty: Navy vs. Kansas State. Wildcats 26-24. Rough assignment for K-State. But other teams have slowed the Midshipmen in bowls.

Camping World: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State. Cyclones 27-24. These teams are not equal in pedigree, but they likely are equal in talent. The Cyclones are better than their 7-5 record. 

Orange: Virginia vs. Florida. Gators 38-16. Talk about a dud Orange Bowl. This is more like an unfortunate Music City pairing.

Outback: Minnesota vs. Auburn. Tigers 26-7. Big difference in talent between these teams.

Citrus: Michigan vs. Alabama. Crimson Tide 24-20. Bama’s first consolation bowl since the 2013 Sooners spanked the Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

Music City: Mississippi State vs. Louisville. Cardinals 29-21. Good geographic balance; Nashville is 175 miles from Louisville, 281 miles from Starkville.

Belk: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky. Hokies 23-17. Mark Stoops’ UK staff might have done the best coaching job in all of college football, basically continuing to win, even without a quarterback.

Gator: Indiana vs. Tennessee. Volunteers 28-24. The Hoosiers had a breakout season, 8-4, but beat no team with so much as a .500 record.

Fiesta: Clemson vs. Ohio State. Buckeyes 34-17. Sorry, I just can’t get past Clemson’s schedule. The Tigers beat Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Charlotte, North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Boston College, Wofford, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, South Carolina and Virginia. The best of that bunch? I guess Virginia, or A&M.

Rose: Oregon vs. Wisconsin. Ducks 28-20. The Badgers have been bowl gold, but Oregon might be on a mission.

Cotton: Memphis vs. Penn State. Nittany Lions 38-30. Penn State doesn’t strike me as the kind of program that has bowl letdowns.

Holiday: Southern Cal vs. Iowa. Hawkeyes 21-20. Great San Diego game matches two survivors. Kirk Ferentz has stayed ahead of the posse for two decades, and now Clay Helton defied the odds and kept his job.

Pinstripe: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest. Demon Deacons 26-22. The Spartans appear to have stagnated. Mark Dantonio doesn’t have much wiggle room left.

Redbox: California vs. Illinois. Golden Bears 19-14. Lovie Smith resurrected the Illini, but can he produce a winning record?

Sun: Florida State vs. Arizona State. Sun Devils 31-21. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Sun Bowl. I like legacy bowls.

Independence: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami. Bulldogs 28-24. The Hurricanes lost to Florida International. Is that enough to motivate the ‘Canes against La Tech?

Quick Lane: Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan. Panthers 29-7. The Eagles went 1-1 vs. Power 5 opponents (beat Illinois, lost to Kentucky). Pitt went 4-5 vs. Power 5 foes – beating North Carolina in overtime and Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse in regulation. Maybe I picked the wrong team.  

Military: North Carolina vs. Temple. Owls 26-20. The Tar Heels peaked against Clemson. That was in September.

Birmingham: Boston College vs. Cincinnati. Bearcats 30-18. BC fired its coach, Steve Addazio, after a 6-6 season.

Cheez-It: Air Force vs. Washington State. Falcons 31-24. The Academy had a great season, going 10-2. WSU was a massive disappointment at 6-6.

Armed Forces: Southern Miss vs. Tulane. Green Wave 34-27. Jalen McCleskey’s swan song as a collegian comes in a Big 12 stadium, TCU’s.

Arizona: Wyoming vs. Georgia State. Cowboys 31-20. Georgia State plays in the old Turner Field. Wyoming plays in a gorgeous setting in Laramie. Long way from downtown Atlanta.

First Responder: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan. Hilltoppers 33-23. This game ought to be played in western Ohio, not western Dallas County.

Lendingtree: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Miami-Ohio. Redhawks 27-22. The last bowl game is one of the worst.

Last week: 6-4. Season: 484-154.

Related Photos
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating the University of Oklahoma (OU) at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan. 2, 1978. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) ORG XMIT: NY164

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating the University of Oklahoma (OU) at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan. 2, 1978. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) ORG XMIT: NY164

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-13a7025a148433339edf9a645084e192.jpg" alt="Photo - COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating the University of Oklahoma (OU) at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan. 2, 1978. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) ORG XMIT: NY164" title="COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating the University of Oklahoma (OU) at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan. 2, 1978. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) ORG XMIT: NY164"><figcaption>COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating the University of Oklahoma (OU) at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Jan. 2, 1978. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) ORG XMIT: NY164</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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