John Hoover

Ask Hoover: on sportswriter fandom, Mike Leach, Big 12 expansion, Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, OU-Texas … and Harry Potter?

Ask Hoover: on sportswriter fandom, Mike Leach, Big 12 expansion, Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, OU-Texas … and Harry Potter?

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield needs some blocking in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Time again for Ask Hoover, my weekly Q&A blog where I answer your questions on Twitter. We devour college football from soup to nuts, but we also have a little fun.

Not as much fun as Mike Leach laying out a battle royale of Pac-12 mascots, but we try.

If you want to play, find me @johnehoover on Twitter and tweet me your college football questions (or questions about sportswriting, the radio life, life in general, or beard care) with the hashtag #AskHoover. I’ll not only answer them here, but I’ll dive into the best ones on my weekly YouTube video “The Recap.” Find me at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover.

With four-time champion Oklahoma on an open date this weekend, it’s another big week for the Big 12, starting with Oklahoma State at Texas. The Cowboys and Longhorns hook up at 6:30 p.m. on ABC, and the winner — of the opening game of Big 12 play, believe it or not — actually has a pretty good shot at the College Football Playoff. Except for the Oklahoma game, the winner of OSU-Texas is likely to be favored in each of its remaining games.

Then all they gotta do is win, right?

Tulsa needs a win Saturday at home against Wyoming. The Cowboys are 3-0 and took down Mizzou in Week 1, remember. They’ve struggled with Texas State (23-14) and Idaho (21-16), but this is clearly a team the Golden Hurricane needs to find its ‘A’ game against, or bowl eligibility will be hard to find.

Is TU the first team in history to play only two mascots in its first four games? Spartans, Spartans, Cowboys, Cowboys.

OK, let’s get to the questions.

Love this question. Probably 95 percent of sportswriters — maybe more — got into writing about sports because they loved watching sports. I know I did.

(Full disclosure: I’m a Rams fan because, growing up in North Pole, Alaska, we only got the West Coast games when I was a kid and since San Francisco and San Diego usually weren’t any good, that meant a lot of Rams and Raiders. So I’ve been a Rams fan since I was 5.)

Here’s the deal: When I used to cover the NFL for the Tulsa World, I used to occasionally cover Rams games. They were in St. Louis, played the Cowboys and/or Chiefs from time to time, and we had plenty of local players go through there. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching “my team” in person, I never came close to mixing my fandom with my job, never crossed that line. The job always came first.

It’s actually kind of amazing that I (we) can shut it off like that. That impartiality is like a safe. When we’re covering a game with a team we might have grown up pulling for (or still do outside the press box), we put everything else inside, lock it up and stow the key.

 

This is what I know: fan bases from every conference think their officials are the worst. It’s like a gross badge of honor.

“I just cleaned my gutters, and I know they were way filthier than yours!”

I’ve long held the belief that game officials should have to give press conferences just like the athletes and coaches whose fate they too often decide. Forget that “one pool reporter talks to the head official in a controlled setting” stuff. Turn on the cameras and mics and let’s ask them some real questions.

 

Well, first of all, Todd Graham is currently unemployed. Some TU fans would still prefer Philip Montgomery’s caring attitude and likeable personality, while I’m sure others would settle for Graham’s win-loss total.

What TU needs to do first is get better quarterback play. It looks like that’s happening with Zach Smith. I’ve seen real progress in his three games, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect more.

Second, Montgomery needs to do a better job recruiting the next TU quarterback. Giving Mason Fine a cursory look and essentially dismissing him as a tiny QB in a gimmicky offense in little ol’ Class 3A Oklahoma was a mistake. Fine became an absolute superstar in Conference USA, while the quarterbacks Monty preferred just fizzled out.

I like the changes that Joe Gillespie has made as defensive coordinator. The TU defense plays with an attitude and is more physical than any Tulsa squad we’ve seen since Graham was here. Again, we should expect that to continue.

More practical spending from the top down wouldn’t hurt. Tulsa’s athletic department needs to cultivate a younger, more vibrant donor base, but that isn’t happening. (To be fair, I’m not sure what the answer is there, other than knocking on more doors, involving more people.) Furthermore, the TU budget got a rocket boost from joining the American Athletic Conference, but that money hasn’t always been put to good use. In many ways, some purse strings on campus actually seem tighter now than when TU was in C-USA.

 

I think there may very well be a depth issue. That’ll be worth watching Saturday night as Chuba Hubbard recovers from what seemed like an excessive 32 carries last week at Tulsa.

Is 264 carries over 12 games too much of a load? I don’t think so. Mike Gundy said someone of Hubbard’s stature (6-1, 210) can handle it, and I think he’s right. But in order to keep him fresher for bigger games down the line, Gundy needs to find alternatives.

To be clear, I think 32 carries was too much against TU, but it might be the right number against Texas — if he’s fresh enough.

 

I must say, I’ve never heard that term before Mike Leach’s press conference this week. Someone who is actively interested in the “Harry Potter” series? Does he mean Harry Potter nerd? I got a few of those in my family. Does he equate the class-status storyline in “Harry Potter” (muggles, mudbloods, etc.) with the battles some activists are fighting today?

If I were a WSU beat writer, I’d ask for a clarification.

 

There’s one easy answer and one hard one.

The easy one: UCF and USF. The Knights and Bulls are not really that far below (if at all, in some cases) where WVU and TCU was when they joined. What I like about adding them is two-fold: you grow your conference’s footprint into Florida for both TV subscribers (Exhibit A: Rutgers in the Big Ten) and recruits. It’d be slow at first, but having even a little more access to Florida recruits would elevate the Big 12 overall. Think of how Texas A&M joining the SEC opened the door for Texas schoolboys to migrate to the SEC, only this would be on a smaller scale.

The hard answer is Arizona and Arizona State. That’s poaching, of course, and those in the Pac-12 would call it a lateral move. But Pac-12 schools are really disillusioned with the league’s foundering network setup. Last year Pac-12 schools brought in some $26 million each, while Big 12 members made about $36 million—plus, Big 12 schools get to keep their own third-tier media rights. That’s another $15 million a year for Texas, about $10 million a year for Oklahoma, and other schools are have brought in more than $9 million.

There are pitfalls to both. But that’s the nature of conference expansion. Commit to it and make it work. The Big 12 should have added two members three years ago rather than do what it did: experiment with online dating, then decide it would rather stay home, eat ice cream and watch romcoms.

 

Ah, yes. I’m all about this question. And not just the last part.

It’s in our nature as college football fans to want to project the champion, the final four, etc. But how about we let LSU play some games in the SEC before we send them to the playoff?

I think much of what we’re forming our opinions from in that game was the athletic ability and playmakers we saw all over the field. LSU, in particular, looks like it might produce a dozen NFL players from this team, maybe more. But that doesn’t always equate to a championship, does it?

Similarly with Texas, the Longhorns team we watched that night in Austin has some serious playmakers, but there are also obvious deficiencies. The Horns, for instance, rank at the bottom of the Big 12 in pass defense, pass efficiency defense and total defense. I know we’re only three games into the season, but rankings that low are a red flag.

As I said at the top, big week for the Big 12. Texas with two losses — even if it beats OU twice — isn’t going to the College Football Playoff.

 

Two questions huh? OK, I’ll allow it.

I’m starting to come around a bit on my stance from 3-4 years ago that the Big 12 will officially fold in 2022.

I based that on the Big Ten starting negotiations with the networks around that time and operating from a position of power that would allow them to expand by adding OU and Texas. What about the Big 12’s grant-of-rights clause, you ask? In 2022, the Big 12’s GOR will be small enough (two years) and the Big Ten will be so rich (they’re currently making something like $54 million per school) that money won’t be an issue.

But I’m wondering if I erred in doubting the Big 12’s resolve. The league seems healthier than it’s been in decades. Not just financially (third behind the Big Ten and SEC, which is two spots higher than they were just 5-6 years ago), but having so many A-type personalities out of the board room (and replacing them with other A-type personalities who don’t harbor ill feelings toward their peers/rivals) seems to have produced a harmony and even something of a brotherhood that this league just hasn’t ever enjoyed.

 

Yes, as it should.

Harbaugh’s record at his alma mater is 40-14. That includes just 26-9 in Big Ten play. In games he’s coached Michigan against Top 10 opponents, he’s 1-9. That includes an 0-4 mark against rival Ohio State and only 2-2 against Michigan State.

Michigan is paying $7.5 million a year for that?

Only Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney make more money than Harbaugh, yet they’ve won a whole lot more games.

 

It so reminds me of Les’ start with OSU: you didn’t see an immediate surge in talent, but you did in the players’ attitude and intensity. That’s why he’s been successful: players want to play hard for him.

I watched all of KU’s win at Boston College and a couple things jumped out at me.

One, while the defense is clearly limited, they did not shy away from their enthusiasm for contact. (Actually, that sounds like something Les would have proudly said.) That hasn’t been the case in Lawrence.

Two, and blame this on BC if you want, but I saw an offense that created a lot of space downfield. Give offensive coordinator Les Koenning credit for minimizing Carter Stanley’s accuracy issues by getting receivers, especially juco transfer Andrew Parchment, wide open. And of course, credit the talent of Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert and their blockers, who just gashed the Eagles for 329 yards on the ground.

So there’s talent there, and there’s coaching. But can Les put them together and win some games in the Big 12?

 

I’ll start local: Golden Hurricane. I’d like to remind all writers and broadcasters reading this that it is, indeed, one singular Hurricane, not 11 little Hurricanes out there on the field.

And I’ll match your Tulane Green Wave with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

After that, FBS gets a little iffy.

Stanford, the Cardinal. That’s a color, not just some random, lone bird out hunting worms. And Syracuse, the Orange. Is a color (or a fruit) singular? Same with North Texas Mean Green. I don’t care how mean you are if being Green is your only schtick. Unless you’re multiple shades of green. Right?

NC State Wolfpack and Nevada’s Wolf Pack? It’s a singular pack, but without multiple wolves, it’s … well, it’s a lone wolf. Same with Marshall’s Thundering Herd. It’s just one herd, but if it were truly singular, it’d be just some kind of animal out for a jog.

College football tradition being what it is and all, this is a question more suited to the WNBA or the MLS. Talk about your existentialism discussion. Wonder if Mike Leach would like to weigh in?

 

Not any more. Not since the Big 12 Championship Game has been placed there. Jerry might be willing to bid on it, but he doesn’t necessarily want two OU-Texas games if that’s what it comes to. I just think the State Fair of Texas has become such a part of the game, and vice versa, that the Fair and the City of Dallas will never give it up — and that’s a good thing ($$$) for the schools.

I used to think it might migrate to campus stadiums, like every other year rotate it between Austin and Norman. Let’s admit, that’d be fun as heck. But it would also detract from the spectacle that the game has become.

 

I agree. The Browns upgraded their defense and skill positions, but didn’t do much to help protect Baker Mayfield and let him utilize all those wideouts.

And I think you’re right on Freddie Kitchens, too. Kitchens’ only coaching experience was as a position coach (he was actually an assistant on the North Texas team that lost the 2003 season opener at OU) before he became the Browns’ offensive coordinator last season.

He’s got a lot to learn when it comes to being in charge of an entire NFL team.

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Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. 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 co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover
@JohnEHoover

John Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he was co-host of "Further Review" and "The Franchise Drive." Now he's The Franchise college football insider: Oklahoma's state Heisman rep, a voter in the FWAA Super 16 poll, an FWAA media access liaison, and a Big 12 writer at Sporting News and Lindy's preseason magazine. 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. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist and 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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