HS Football

Ask Hoover: On OU’s playoff hopes, Trey Sermon, the aging committee, defense and modern football, Tom Herman, the Big 12, Mike Gundy’s job security, Kyler v. Baker and more

Ask Hoover: On OU’s playoff hopes, Trey Sermon, the aging committee, defense and modern football, Tom Herman, the Big 12, Mike Gundy’s job security, Kyler v. Baker and more

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and the team celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against TCU on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Ask Hoover blog is so monumental this week, I asked the Big 12 refs for help.

I’m still waiting.

OU-Texas in the Big 12 championship Saturday morning from Jerry World. No. 5 Sooners win, they’ll have to pray for No. 4 Georgia to lose to No. 1 Alabama later that afternoon in the SEC title game. If Georgia wins, expect OU to go to the Sugar Bowl.

Of course, if Texas beats the Sooners again, the best Oklahoma could hope for is an at-large invitation to the Fiesta Bowl.

Enough with the formalities. Let’s dig in:

 

Great question. Here’s the truth you won’t hear anywhere else:

Rob Mullens says margin of victory isn’t being considered and the selection guidelines say it’s not a metric.

I say bull.

Discounting margin of victory is a politically correct way of saying, “We don’t advocate running up the score on anyone.”

OU’s win over TCU was more impressive than Ohio State’s win over TCU. Across the board. And Purdue handing Ohio State its head 49-20 is much more damning than Texas basically hitting a walk-off field goal.

Sooners win and they’re in. (If Alabama beats Georgia. More on that later.)

 

Here’s what I’ve been saying: the average age of the selection committee is 62. The average age of the five coaches on the selection committee — the ones who assure the others what real football is supposed to look like — is 72.

So there will be a faction of the committee who holds a lack of defense against the Sooners (and, rightfully so, to a degree).

Michigan’s great defense hadn’t seen a dynamic offense all season. You saw how great that defense really was last week. Now, project what Michigan’s defense would look like playing week-in and week-out in the Big 12. (See next question for what Lincoln Riley had to say on this topic.)

 

I’ll let Lincoln Riley answer this one.

“Yeah, it’s different. I mean, look at Michigan right now. I mean, that’s no shade on them. They’re easily one of the top defenses in the country. No quesiton about it. They’ve got great defensive coaches, players, all that. But when you play an explosive offense and the get moving a little bit, it’s hard to stop. And we’re different in this league because we don’t just play one or two of those a year. So it’s certainly different. But to dismiss it as no quality football is crazy. I think it’s lazy. And I think it’s uneducated, in my opinion, because this league plays great football.”

 

Beating Texas certainly doesn’t erase the October loss, but avenging it would mean OU has beaten every team on its schedule. That absolutely means something to the committee.

That loss to Purdue will hang around Ohio State’s neck just like last year’s loss to Iowa did.

 

Without getting too deep, I’ll simply offer this: the committee gives a lot of weight to efficiency ratings for a team’s offense and a team’s defense. No team under consideration has the dichotomy between offense and defense like OU has. Not even close. While OU’s offensive efficiency rating is 97 percent, the defense is 42 percent, according to ESPN’s FPI formula. Only one other team in the top 40 of overall team efficiency ratings has a defense below 50, and that’s Oklahoma State.

I agree, football is changing, and soon enough will the mindsets change. But while OU’s offense is historically good, the defense’s efficiency ranks 90th in the country.

 

The only thing that can save Ohio State now — given OU, tOSU and Alabama wins on Saturday — would be a sloppy or lucky and very close Sooner win and an absolute blowout by Ohio State over Northwestern.

All of which could certainly happen.

But all things being equal on Championship Saturday, OU gets the nod over Ohio State.

 

Texas has won games by margins of 7, 5, 3, 6, 7 and 7 points. The Longhorns’ three losses were by 5, 3 and 1 point.

Tom Herman has done a phenomenal job getting a team of perpetual underachievers to believe they can win games.

 

On a yearly basis, they’d be at the top with Oklahoma and whichever upstart teams have a good season. Ohio State would win in the Big 12 just like they win in the Big Ten. Michigan would probably underachieve here just like it does there.

But this season? I think Michigan would be in for a shock trying to stop Big 12 offenses every week. Ohio State would be better at it, but also would see a significant decline in its defensive performance.

 

The first question was answered by the committee on Tuesday: Michigan fell to 7.

I expect great success out of Les Miles at Kansas. That is, routine pursuit of a bowl game, an occasional push toward 7-5 or even 8-4. I really think he’s that good a coach. That’s a great question about basketball. How does he get along in an athletic department where Bill Self is king, and every KU fan knows it? I think he’ll have some Mangino moments — good and bad.

Texas players aren’t going to be afraid of a fight. That’s actually what they excel at. What they don’t want is a game of tag, and that’s what OU excels at. In that vein, Texas players probably aren’t all that fired up about having to slow down this Sooner offense a second time.

 

The discerning Heisman voter will do his or her own research and determine for themselves who college football’s most outstanding player is.

The lazy ones have been letting TV’s talking heads tell them who the Heisman winner is since October.

Unfortunately for Kyler, minds have already been made up.

The reality is, this is not a race. There is no leader. Telling people in October or November that someone is ahead creates a perception that others are behind. Just because OU lost to Texas seven weeks ago because the Sooner defense couldn’t stop an average offense and Alabama hasn’t lost because the Tide is loaded with 5-star recruits and NFL stars, does that mean Kyler is less outstanding than Tua?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I will pick my winner next week.

 

You’re probably right. They played better than they have. Got their hands on some passes, hit a few receivers, even made some tackles.

Here’s what Lincoln Riley said: “our corners were outstanding. We did not play well at the safety position.”

 

Ridiculous.

I thought the Sooners would take a step back without their best player. Instead, two other guys stepped up and they took a step forward. Unreal.

And I don’t think I’m crazy when I suggest this: If Rodney Anderson was healthy, I don’t think we’d be hearing all this Heisman debate about Tua and Kyler. Anderson would be right in the mix with Tua and possibly Kyler as well. Athletically, that’s how good Rodney was, and statistically, that’s how good this OU offense is.

 

Rob Mullens and the rest of the committee will tell you, unequivocally, no.

But that’s a smokescreen, of course.

The CFP is all about integrity, but should we ask again why they make multimillion-dollar decisions behind closed doors?

Having Kyler and Tua matched in a semifinal game would produce possibly the biggest TV ratings for a college football game ever. And that would make the networks happy, and that would increase the CFP’s bargaining power the next time they go to negotiate the contracts.

Open the doors and let the media in to the deliberations and I’ll believe otherwise.

 

Only if Ohio State beats Northwestern by like four touchdowns (which could happen) and only if the Sooners beat Texas under shaky circumstances (which could happen) would a 12-1 Ohio State be moved ahead of a 12-1 Oklahoma.

 

Doesn’t sound like it. Gus is staying at Auburn, though there will be changes made, reportedly to his contract as well as his coaching staff.

 

See my answers above on the average age of the selection committee and defensive efficiency ratings.

I agree that a team’s body of work (how many quality wins, how many bad losses) should outweigh immeasurable things like recency bias and eye test.

 

Every year? No. If the Big 12 folded and the SEC invited OU and OSU, rest assured the Sooners would not win four straight conference titles and 11 in 17 years. Similarly, Oklahoma State would slide to a consistent middle-of-the-pack finish, and any 6-6 seasons like this probably would end up much worse.

Your second question touches on the very heart of the matter for why the Big 12 is now on 12 years and counting without a national title. Elite 5-star defensive prospects who want to play in the NFL don’t come to the Big 12 any more. That needs to be addressed.

 

Serious pressure? No.

Will there be factions of the fan base who tie their team’s weekly uneven performances to the head coach’s uneven personality? Absolutely. This team has become a direct reflection of its coach: flaky. Losing to bad teams and beating good ones shows a lack of discipline that ultimately trickles down from the top.

Does that mean Gundy’s job is in jeopardy? No chance.

 

Yes, all suppositions that either OU or Ohio State will be in the playoff (the guess here is OU) are based on Georgia losing in Atlanta. I think Bama has the talent to beat Georgia whether they’re motivated or not. I do, however, think that Nick Saban will be able to motivate them to win a conference championship. The players on this team came up short last year. No ring for SEC superiority. No banner proclaiming best in the league. Think that sits well with Saban?

You’re also correct in saying the committee will put Bama in whether they win or lose.

 

See my answer just above. There is frustration, but I don’t think that equates to heat. Not yet.

Where Mike Gundy may start to sweat is in the near future, when recruiting classes — in which OSU beat out teams like Idaho, Air Force, Arkansas State, Liberty, Army, Boise State, Boston College — get on the field.

 

For some in the fan base, it’d be adequate. For most, it’d be like a punch in the gut. Put another Big 12 championship up on the wall and win the Sugar Bowl and that’d be a win for all but a handful of schools. But back-to-back years with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray with no national championship? Two years with the best offense in the country and all you have to show for it is yet another Big 12 banner? Two transformative quarterbacks and the best play-caller in college football, and they’re not given a chance to win the big one because the defense is so bad?

That’s not considered a success in these parts.

 

Jake Fromm threw two picks and had a QBR of 16, LSU rushed for 275 yards, the Bulldogs lost two fumbles and LSU led 16-0 at halftime. It was bad.

But a 12-1 SEC champion is in the playoff, regardless of what their one loss looked like.

Georgia ranks second nationally (behind Alabama) in team efficiency. The Bulldogs are third on offense and fourth on defense. Their FPI ranks third — ahead of undefeated Notre Dame and two spots ahead of Oklahoma. Their strength of schedule ranks third (behind LSU and Texas A&M). Their strength of record ranks fourth.

Now throw in a win over Alabama and every one of those metrics gets a big boost. Georgia wins and they’re in.

 

Maybe the question of the day: Does defense still win championships?

Well, having a great defense doesn’t hurt. But teams that have a great offense and an adequate defense would seem to have as good a chance if not better of winning a national championship.

The point you make is highly underrated, and relates to my previous answers about the average age of the selection committee (62) and the coaches on that committee (72): while some the board room in Grapevine, Texas, on Sunday will say, “That’s not real football,” others will counter with, “Real football has changed; just look at the Chiefs, the Saints, the Rams and other NFL contenders.” The best teams score points now.

While nobody is eschewing good defense, the kind of thinking that teams must be built around defense first is certainly changing.

 

I won’t cast aspersions on Spencer Sanders or Dru Brown because I’ve never seen them play.

If, however, one of them comes out next year and lights it up and OSU gets back to performing consistently on offense and winning football games, I think Cowboy Nation will be casting all kinds of aspersions at Mike Gundy in 2019.

 

Oh wow. Great question.

First of all, how could you go wrong?

I’d be tempted to say Baker at first because I thought he was the best leader we’ve seen in college football since Tim Tebow. Mayfield made magic, starting that night in Knoxville. Guys elevated their play with him as their quarterback. That’s an intrinsic quality that can’t be overlooked.

But Kyler seems to have captured that same rare quality. Murray’s leadership style is much different (quieter, more stoic) than Baker’s, but you can tell, it’s there. Guys play better when Murray’s on the field.

The ultimate difference may rest with Murray’s ability to turn danger in the backfield into a 70-yard touchdown. He did it late in the game against Texas. He did it against Kansas. He did it against West Virginia.

For that reason, I’ll take Murray.

Great, now I’m on Baker’s “list.” Although I probably already was.

 

Give me Broken Arrow in 6A-1, Bixby over Stillwater in 6A-2, Carl Albert in 5A and Tuttle in 4A. As a bonus, I’ll take Heritage Hall in 3A.

 

For the playoff, yes. Although getting a week in New Orleans and the chance at another Sugar Bowl victory over an overrated SEC team doesn’t exactly fit the definition of “screwed.”

I do love Cajun food.

 

I agree. Last year’s defense was bad, and played like it in the Rose Bowl. But you’re right, this year’s defense is worse. I think it’s a thing. If the committee gets down to splitting hairs — which, that’s why they’re there — then they could rationalize OU’s defense being bad enough as to make the Sooners unworthy compared with Ohio State or, if Bama loses, the Crimson Tide.

You’re also 100 percent correct — although no one on the committee would ever admit it — that a Tua vs. Kyler semifinal showdown would be a hot commodity for the committee, drawing potentially record TV ratings. As I learned early in my journalism career: follow the money.

 

It is nuts. The NCAA record book shows that no team has ever had three 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. If everyone stays healthy, that’s probably going to happen.

The only player in NCAA FBS history to ever pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season: DeShaun Watson in 2015 (1,105 rushing, 4,104 passing). Kyler Murray needs 147 yards rushing and 326 yards passing to become the second.

 

It’s a mystery. The go routes and deep posts down the middle of the defense were obscenely wide open. Lincoln Riley has discussed getting those guys more help in coverage, but Sooner DBs were playing checkers while the WVU wideouts and play-callers were playing chess.

 

I’m no defensive coordinator, but I know that if a quarterback and receivers (and especially an offensive line) are comfortable and are not forced to change what they’re doing, good ones will devour any defense. The scheme, whether it’s 4- or 3-man front, needed to change things up. Drop eight one play, then blitz six or seven. Play tight man coverage one play, then drop four across. A four-man front against WVU’s offense wouldn’t be effective on the regular. But drop-eight clearly wasn’t working. So I’d have blitzed a lot, from a different spot on every play.

You’re right, that’s dangerous. But no more dangerous than sitting back and letting wideouts run 75 yards untouched through your secondary.

 

Kyler Murray said on Monday “the plan” was to play baseball next year. For now, we have to take him at his word. If he does pull off one of those accomplishments, I think that cements (and concludes) his legacy at OU. But I also think it would give him something else to think about: the NFL Draft. Hear me out.

Of course Kyler’s best option is to play baseball. A guy with his build could probably do that for 20 years and make enough money to fill a swimming pool.

But he’s and his family are smart. They’ll listen, and they’ll make an inquiry into leaving early for the NFL Draft. It’s just good business. And when he gets his draft grade (first round, second round, or other), it’ll be intriguing enough that they’ll consider it. Why would you not consider playing pro football — even if only for a few months — if a team starts flashing a big signing bonus at you?

All I’m saying is he’d be smart to look at it and weigh his options. He got his signing bonus from the A’s. There’s certainly no guarantee he’ll be playing baseball in the Major Leagues any time soon. If football wants to give him a bunch of money too, why wouldn’t he check into it?

I think he’s athletic enough and has the mental makeup to do both at a very high level. NFL and MLB? I don’t know. The odds are heavily against it. And being the next Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson sounds great, but those guys were not quarterbacks. That position requires some next-level thinking and possibly a commitment that would take away from his growth as a baseball player.

 

Lincoln Riley said Monday he didn’t expect anyone’s health status for the Big 12 championship game to change much since last week’s game in Morgantown.

So what does that mean for Sermon?

After an injury against Kansas that forced him into a walking boot and medical treatment last week, he only carried 5 times for 12 yards at WVU. His last carry was late in the third quarter as Kennedy Brooks took over again.

If Sermon was hurt at the end of the game, does Riley mean he’s still expected to be hurt for Texas? I’m thinking if he was healthy last week, he’d have finished a close ballgame.

We’ll know early Saturday morning.

______

Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

HS Football

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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