High School

Ask Hoover: On Sooners D, the CFB Playoff, SEC bias, Big 12 expansion and … the Class 6A split?

Ask Hoover: On Sooners D, the CFB Playoff, SEC bias, Big 12 expansion and … the Class 6A split?

Can Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and the Sooner offense score enough to offset a potentially bad day for the OU defense? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Time again for Ask Hoover, our weekly blog where I answer your college football questions.

The College Football Playoff rankings debuted this week, so there are quite a few questions about the CFP. Also, Oklahoma’s Ruffin McNeill gets his first real test in replacing Mike Stoops as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator when the Sooners head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. Similarly, we could ask if Oklahoma State’s performance last week against Texas was for real as the Cowboys head to Waco to meet Baylor.

The game of the week in the Big 12, however, unfolds in Austin when No. 12 West Virginia meets No. 15 Texas.

I made a Twitter comment about a Class 6A-1 score last night, and naturally that elicited a lot of replies about the state of Oklahoma’s largest high school football class. Prep coverage is a bit outside my wheelhouse, but I’ve tried to answer those as well.

Let’s get to the questions:

 

Honestly, I don’t know about the CFB playoff selection committee having a bias as you’ve implied it here. But there is a real bias — because the top of the SEC has been so darn good, and because of that, the league now demands that respect. So yes, there is a bias, but the SEC contenders have earned it.

The SEC has two top 10 showdowns this week, so some of that will start to sort itself out. But the SEC also has its annual November FCS Cupcake Weekend coming up. That’s by design.

Let’s be honest: the other conferences can achieve that level of bias (respect) once they start winning more national championships.

 

Michigan. All day. The Wolverines’ only loss in that scenario would be to a likely playoff-bound Notre Dame. OU’s loss would be to an average to above-average Texas team. Also, Michigan would have more quality wins, even if OU is able to avenge its loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game. There are currently about a kajillion iterations of strength of schedule out there, and Michigan’s ranks higher than OU’s in about 80 percent of them.

Also, Michigan hasn’t been in the playoff yet. As one of college football’s bluebloods, and with one of the nation’s largest and most passionate fan base, the playoff likely would see at least a small boost in TV ratings. Don’t kid yourself: those things do matter. That’s one reason why the doors are closed in those committee meetings.

 

OU is No. 7 in the initial playoff rankings. That’s not bad. They were 15th in 2015, and fifth last year. So it’s easily in reach to make another playoff spot.

But if other teams (Notre Dame, Michigan) continue to win, Oklahoma is going to have to do more than just win football games. The Sooners are going to have to win big — that’s right, style points. OU will be favored in its last four games (the Sooners are a 13 ½-point favorite Saturday in Lubbock), and if they are to climb anyone in the rankings, they’ll need to win impressively against Tech, OSU, KU and West Virginia, and then the following week in the Big 12 title game. Tense victories won’t be enough to move the Sooners over anyone in front of them.

If OU is simply going to run the table and win close games against Tech, OSU and WVU (maybe twice), then the Sooners will need Michigan to lose somewhere (although a single loss to Ohio State might be counterproductive because it could push the Buckeyes past OU). Short of that, hope for a Notre Dame loss (at Northwestern, vs. Florida State, vs. No. 19 Syracuse, at USC).

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley loves him some Ruffin McNeill. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

 

They’ll just cancel it, pay the Cardinals the money owed in the contract and head to Arlington to play in the Big 12 title game. No big deal. That game was originally scheduled as a replacement for the opener against South Dakota State, which was cancelled by foul weather, anyway, so not a huge loss other than the cost of having to pay both schools with no revenue from actually playing the game. But income from the Big 12 title game probably would more than offset the financial loss.

 

There’s only one … Matt Hennesy.

Although I aspire each year to dress up as Rex Kwon Do from “Napoleon Dynamite.”

 

If I understand the question correctly, the quality and depth of the SEC accounts for losses to its top teams (like Alabama last year) that would cost other leagues a shot at the playoff. I addressed this in a previous question, and frankly, we all hate to admit it, but the SEC has earned that kind of cache with the playoff selection committee. Look no further than, yes, Alabama last year.

The bottom of the SEC isn’t very good and hasn’t been for a while now. I think that goes for every league. But, I think Clemson got a pass when it lost to Syracuse last year and still made the playoff. The Big Ten champ suffers an unexpected loss every year and still gets playoff consideration. This year, if OU wins out, it will have lost (again) to a middling Texas team.

What really helps the SEC is having a bunch of teams (14) and having a bunch of them ranked (four in the top 10, seven in the top 25). That perpetuates itself by both reputation and result.

 

I’ve said since Day 1, if Ruffin McNeill wants the job, I think he keeps it. That’s a big ‘if,’ but Lincoln Riley thinks that highly of him.

The Sooners jumped from 96th in the nation after the Texas game to 59th this week. Of course, a big part of that is playing lousy offenses like TCU and Kansas State. But nobody can deny the Sooners are just playing better defense these last two weeks. McNeill has simplified the plan, slimmed down the calls and freed his players’ minds so they can just play football, and Riley has certainly taken notice.

 

I’m not sure on what this argument could be based. Having Texas beat OSU and stay in the top 10 the rest of the season, and then embarrassing the Longhorns at Jerry World to show what a fluke the Red River Rivalry was, would be the Sooners’ best path to the playoff.

That now falls on West Virginia. OU needs to beat a 1-loss and then a 2-loss WVU to impress the selection committee. But that means WVU needs to beat Texas, which means OU will have lost to a 3-loss Texas team. That’s not a good look, either. So yes, OSU beating Texas last week was bad for OU’s resume.

A kinder, gentler moment between Tom Herman and Mike Gundy than how the game concluded. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

 

Nebraska ain’t walking through that door. Not with all the money NU gets from the Big Ten Network. Same with Iowa. Zero shot.

I’ve advocated for Colorado State, but only because I’d enjoy a trip to the mountains. That’s not realistic.

The Pac-12 has come off as weak and a little shaky in recent years because of a lack of strong leadership in the conference office and a conference network that’s an absolute financial mess. There have been rumors of infighting and jealously among league members.

That’s one reason why Arizona and Arizona State have been tossed around as potential Big 12 additions. Both of those schools (among others) apparently have been less than satisfied with the new Pac-12.

BYU wants to stay independent. Boise State still doesn’t make much sense financially or geographically.

What about raiding The American of its two big properties, South Florida and Central Florida? As I said when the league explored expansion two years ago, the AAC’s Florida schools have huge enrollments and access to a virtually unlimited recruiting base in the Sunshine State.

Their current endowments are small by Big 12 standards (USF’s is reportedly $442 million, while UCF’s is a comparatively tiny $155 million; in the Big 12, that’d be last in the Big 12, where WVU ($566 million) and Kansas State ($506 million) bring up the rear; by contrast, Tulsa’s is about $1 billion, OU’s is $1.65 billion, OSU’s is $1.35 billion).

But they have experienced plenty of recent success on the football field. UCF, under Josh Heupel, has the nation’s longest win streak. USF, under Charlie Strong, is 7-1. And both schools have very accomplished programs in other sports that could compete in the Big 12.

As much as anything, adding UCF and USF would open that vein into Florida recruits. That would only help the Big 12.

 

Heck yes on candy corn. It was my favorite as a kid, although I will admit the recipe seems to have changed somewhat since then (kind of like breakfast cereals). It seems a little waxy now. Back then, it was pure, glorious sugar.

The guess here on OU’s defense is no.

Tech is 10th nationally in scoring at 42.3 points per game, while OU is 60th in points allowed at 25.6 per game. I’ll just take the median of those two numbers and it’s 34.

Here’s why Tech’s number will surpass 35: The Sooners’ offense is fourth nationally at 48.9 points per game, and Tech’s defense is 70th at 28.1 points per game. This Oklahoma offense will score lots and will score quickly, which means more possessions for Tech, which — in Lubbock, especially — means more points.

Give me OU 49-42.

 

Good question.

OU is currently No. 7, while Ohio State is No. 10. Clearly, both schools would climb a lot by winning out. The real question then becomes much more clouded: would the Buckeyes gain four spots on the Sooners by beating Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland and No. 5 Michigan, and then winning the Big Ten title game? The Cornhuskers are 2-6, State and UMD are 5-3, and the Wolverines are No. 5 in the rankings with a loss to No. 3 Notre Dame.

OU in that scenario would beat 5-3 Texas Tech, 5-3 Oklahoma State, 3-5 Kansas and 6-1 West Virginia.

Ohio State’s current schedule ranks a little higher than Oklahoma’s, but OU’s expected finishing schedule ranks a little higher than tOSU’s.

In the conference championship games, Ohio State likely would face Northwestern (likely 5-4 after this week), while OU would face either 6-2 Texas or 6-1 West Virginia a second time.

The guess here is no, OU would stay ahead of Ohio State.

 

No doubt, three rounds and eight teams would be fun.

Until it’s not.

The last thing I want the playoff to become is an all-inclusive reward just for winning a big conference. Some conference champs don’t belong in the playoff, plain and simple. Remember Pittsburgh? Or UConn? Those were lousy conference champs that made it to a Big Boy Bowl and got annihilated. That’s already happening in a four-team playoff; how bad would things get in an eight-team field?

Also, why do proponents of the eight-team bracket feel the need to satisfy everyone? “Golly, if we grant a space to all five conference champions, then no one will be angry!”

Exactly! And where is the fun in that? Where is the discourse? Where are the disagreements? College football’s outrageous national appeal has been based on one simple argument: my team is better than yours. If we water down the field to include five Power 5 conference winners and two teams that weren’t even good enough to do that and then the supposed best of the runts, that would somehow be better than choosing the nation’s four most elite teams? That’s a farce.

Turning college football’s greatest prize into one big, fat participation ribbon would diminish the greatness of the sport, and would absolutely devalue the amazing regular season that we now have. There would be no incentive to play those magnificent interconference matchups in September because, hey, just win your lousy conference and you’re in the playoff. It would become a lesser version of college basketball, which is moderately entertaining and nothing more until March Madness arrives.

Sorry, but I’m having way too much fun watching games and studying the polls every week for three months to just kick the door in and say winning a conference championship — any conference championship — is good enough to get you a spot in the playoff.

 

I’m no equipment manager.

But the guess here is that the Sooners are saving their road alternate uniforms for the West Virginia game.

OU already wore the new Jumpman home alternates against Baylor.

So yes, my guess is that tomorrow in Lubbock, OU will wear its standard whites.

Subject to change.

 

My co-host Colby Powell and I were discussing this standard earlier in the week on The Franchise Drive. We decided 35 points would be a number that would be considered a success for the OU defense. But my score prediction is slightly higher (scroll up).

 

When Class 6A split into two divisions for the 2014 season, I wrote a column mocking the decision and proposing that Jenks and Union be placed in their own two-team class and be forced to play each other 10 times. The OSSAA was not amused, but today, after five seasons, we’re not far from that. With Owasso winning 6A-1 last year and Broken Arrow now a heavy favorite to do so this year, the balance of power in Tulsa County has shifted, but in the State of Oklahoma, it’s east-bound more than ever.

While Owasso and BA have stepped up their coaching and facilities and player development and are putting a better product on the field, teams from the west side of the state have not.

With the regular season now in the books, the Big Four are 23-1 against west side opponents this year with an average score of 49-10.

There is no evidence that the 6A split actually helped Owasso and Broken Arrow, but trophies and scoreboards show that the gap between east and west has only gotten bigger since 2014.

 

Well, as explained a little by the question below, 6A-2 has been dominated by the east as well (Bixby won in 2014, ’15 and ’16, and Booker T. Washington beat the Spartans for the title in 2017). If those schools were allowed to play in 6A-1, the Big Four would still be winning the gold ball, but those schools would be finishing well ahead of any 6A-1 competitors from the west.

You’re absolutely right, splitting BA, Union, Jenks and Owasso would diminish their chances of winning the football title. (My son played at Union and was a pretty good little player from 6th to 9th grade, but he never had a chance to see the field in a varsity game at Union because the number of uber-athletic kids that were ahead of him.)

To say it’s simply because of the size of a school’s enrollment is fallacy. Broken Arrow has had the state’s largest enrollment for decades and has exactly zero state titles in football to show for it. Winning it all in a field as competitive as Oklahoma 6A football requires a lot more than just bodies.

Allow me to offer a counter-proposal.

How about letting the students at Edmond, Norman and Moore consolidate into one football team representing their respective district? They’d still attend high school at Memorial or Santa Fe or North or Westmoore-Southmoore, but when they report for football, they all go to the same field in Edmond, Norman and Moore and play for that district’s team?

Then we’ll know for sure if it’s the enrollment number that produces state champs, or a school district’s decades-long investment in football.

 

No doubt. As I laid out above, Bixby, Booker T. and one or two others in 6A-2 could absolutely hold their own against Tulsa County’s Big Four (Bixby beat Jenks last year; this year the Spartans are ranked fourth overall in the state by MaxPreps) and would own much of the west’s 6A-1 teams. Carl Albert in Class 5A is ranked fifth in the state, and Stillwater and Midwest City from 6A-2 are No. 6 and No. 7, respectively.

Splitting 6A has removed a small handful of west side schools who, given ideal circumstances, could compete with the Big Four.

______

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.

High School

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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