John Hoover

Ask Hoover: Trey Sermon? Speed D? CFP matchups? Rough Riders? Big 12 fines? Lincoln to Dallas? Leachs’ Big 12 mascot seedings? Bedenbaugh? Sooners vs. Renegades?

Ask Hoover: Trey Sermon? Speed D? CFP matchups? Rough Riders? Big 12 fines? Lincoln to Dallas? Leachs’ Big 12 mascot seedings? Bedenbaugh? Sooners vs. Renegades?

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley celebrates after his team scored a touchdown against Texas at the end of the first half of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Time again for Ask Hoover, my weekly Twitter mailbag where I answer your college football questions.

I not only answer each question here, but I also devote an entire segment on my Friday “Locked On Sooner” podcast. It’s part of the Locked On Podcast Network, with podcasts devoted to every NFL team, every NBA team, every MLB team, and a lot of college teams. We’ve also started podcasting the NHL teams. There’s also plenty of fantasy podcasts, league-wide podcasts — but today you should check out “Locked On Sooners.” I upload a new episode every weekday.

This is a different podcast than The Franchise “Inside OU” podcast with me, Rufus Alexander and Brady Trantham. We upload a new episode of that before games, after games and during the week, and each episode is a bit longer, a little more in-depth. You can find here on The Franchise website, and you can download them both wherever you normally get your podcasts.

No. 5-ranked Oklahoma is riding high after taking down Texas last week, and the question now is can the Sooners avoid the Texas hangover. Lincoln Riley talked about this week’s game against West Virginia revealing who this team really is: did they play great against Texas because it was Texas, or did they play great against Texas because playing great is just what this OU team does? Should be fascinating to watch.

Oklahoma State could really make a statement with a win over No. 18 Baylor on Saturday. And that statement would be this: we don’t stink. OSU ha lost two of three in Big 12 play, and if the Cowboys are who they think they are, they need to quit turning the football over and man up against a Baylor team that’s really surprised a lot of people, especially with how good its defense is.

Tulsa needs something good to happen after another collapse, this time against Navy last week. I answer a question below about which game was more representative of who TU really is: the SMU game (a 21-point lead evaporated in the fourth quarter) or the Navy game (a 45-17 lifeless loss).

Let’s get to the questions:

 

These hit my timeline a couple days apart this week, so I’ll answer them both below:

 

I thought it was as bizarre an occurrence as I’ve seen in an Oklahoma football game: a running back with extensive experience (more than 2,000 career rushing yards) plays in a hugely important rivalry game but does not touch the football. I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure I buy Lincoln Riley’s explanation Monday.

“Yeah, just some of it is the way the game went,” Riley said. “He played, I think, the second-most snaps of any running back we had. It’s just kinda how it went. Jalen’s eating up some of the carries from some of the backs this year. You kinda, you just never know if you’re gonna be an explosive group offensively. We’ve had, just kinda throughout the season, once again, just hadn’t had many plays. Most of it for good reasons.

“It’s a competitive backfield right now. We’ve had other very talented backfields in the last several years here, but I don’t know that we’ve had one with as much depth as we currently have right now. Getting TJ Pledger back was great. That was a little bit earlier than we anticipated so having him back last few weeks has been great. Obviously, the emergence of Rhamondre (Stevenson) has been a factor. Kennedy’s still a very good player with a lot of great experience. Trey’s still a very good player with a lot of great experience. We’ve got four guys back there we’re pretty excited about handing the ball to, and then our quarterback’s a pretty good runner, too.

“Some of it’s numbers, some it’s play numbers and then honestly the other day, it wasn’t really schemed up like that, it just kinda happened. The times he was in there, the ball just didn’t find him. But again, that happens. CeeDee (Lamb) had like two touches the week before. It happens when you’ve got other good players. He’ll have his other big moments for us.”

That’s all one, long answer. Unmodified. Uncut. Kind of rambling: the ball didn’t find him, we have other good backs, the quarterback ran it, Pledger was back, the flow of the game — so strange.

Riley was pressed to clarify whether Sermon was, in fact, uninjured, and he confirmed that Sermon was healthy. But in the Cotton Bowl, it sure looked like he wasn’t 100 percent healthy and may have been used as a decoy.

This is as strong an indicator as anything that Alex Grinch’s defense is well prepared. Under Grinch, there’s no need to panic when an offense comes out in a given formation; rather than burn one timeout after another, they just run what’s called and make the best of it. Grinch’s defense is versatile enough to not get caught with its pants down, so to speak. And when players know what to do, they do it faster and with greater efficiency.

 

That’s a great question. Sure, it looks like Wisconsin has the defensive chops to hang with Oklahoma’s offense, but the Badgers still look a bit one-dimensional on offense (granted, they do throw the football significantly better this year).

I still think Alabama would be the greatest challenge, for two reasons: the Nick Saban factor, and the fact that ‘Bama still has the greatest collection of individual talent in the country. Injuries have certainly diminished the whole “2020 first-round draft pick” air the defense has had, but the talent is still higher than anyone else.

Can’t overlook the defending national champ. Clemson’s quarterback play hasn’t been what it was at the end of last year, but Trevor Lawrence has been better than he and Kelly Bryant were at the beginning of last season. Losing your entire defensive line to the NFL has been problematic, but there are still wild beasts roaming the front seven.

Georgia took a hard L last week, but that’s a team stocked with future NFL players. Would definitely give the Sooners a hard time.

But here’s my pick for the team Oklahoma needs to fear in the 2019-2020 playoff: LSU. This is a different team entirely with Joe Burrow at quarterback and passing game coordinator Joe Brady directing an aerial assault that’s as good as anyone in the country. Now couple that with future NFL receivers and running game that can still grind you down, as well as the usual LSU punishing defense, and the Tigers suddenly look like a top contender to topple ‘Bama and chase a national championship.

 

Not a question, but I take all the compliments I can get.

Also … I agree! Thank you!

And don’t forget to check out my other podcast, “Locked On Sooners!”

 

It’s amazing to me how fast the sports-on-TV game is changing. When we signed up for DirecTV three years ago, we bought the Ultimate Sports Package. Now, I can’t even watch a Thunder preseason game? I called Wednesday night when the Grizzlies-Thunder game was blacked out and they said I needed the NBA League Pass. I said, “Pass this. No thanks.”

Part of the problem is Disney’s purchase of the regional Fox Sports networks. We knew that would affect how we get our programming. When the purchase was announced, I said at the time what a huge story that was, but people around me didn’t think so. Now, we have to watch Thunder preseason games on our phone? Who knows what that will look like in the future?

 

Another two-fer. Answer below:

 

It seems Oklahoma has made a habit of wearing its alternate “Rough Rider” uniforms for the West Virginia game. Who knows why it’s always WVU? Somebody in Norman sure likes it.

As for your second question, blame Brent Musberger. He pretty much ruined the prediction game for all on-site broadcasters.

Kirk Herbstreit used to make his picks for all the games on “College GameDay,” even the game he was calling later that night. But when a “trusted voice” makes a pick public and then has to at least give off the appearance of being unbiased when his pick is going toes up, it can create an image of impropriety — a conflict of interest. So, perhaps fueled by Musberger’s constant allusions to sports wagering during his broadcasts, ESPN/ABC asked Herbstreit to refrain from “picking” the game he’s assigned to.

Makes sense, I guess.

 

So this is about a play late in Baylor’s 33-30 win over Texas Tech, a play that should have been a turnover but was overturned because officials blew the play dead because, apparently, they thought they saw the football move, which is an illegal snap (false start) and negated the result of the play entirely. (It wasn’t an illegal snap, but that violation isn’t one that can be clarified through replay review.) Without the erroneous whistle, Texas Tech recovers the fumble and wins the football game. Instead, Baylor was allowed a do-over and went on to win the game.

I see a few layers to this:

One, good for Hocutt because, while $25,000 is not a small amount to you and I, it’s pocket change to Texas Tech. And if the athletic director feels strongly enough to issue a statement casting light on the Big 12’s error — a statement about information that he knew would come to light anyway through routine reporting and public records requests — then I fully support him. I have great appreciation for transparency, and he made sure everyone saw the Big 12’s inept officiating blunders as well as the league’s acknowledgement of those blunders. The Big 12’s fine is draconian and ultimately unfair.

Two, Hocutt is right. He didn’t criticize the officials or the league. He just made a preemptive statement that the league acknowledged an officiating mistake that cost his team the game.

“We simply stated the facts in regards to the communication with the conference staff, the decision on the field, and that the play is not reviewable,” Hocutt wrote in a letter to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “We give complete deference and respect to the conference in our statement.”

And don’t worry about Hocutt. He just got a raise and contract extension that pays him $12 million through 2027. Oh, and the Tech chancellor tweeted he’ll be starting a fundraiser to pay the fine.

 

I still think it’s Texas. I saw the quality of the overall roster as well as high-level quarterback play from Sam Ehlinger, and in this league, that’s enough. Just like last year, that would be a fun rematch, wouldn’t it?

Then again, Baylor and OU are two of just 12 FBS teams still undefeated. Why not the Bears? They’re in Stillwater this week, and that’s a big one. They also have the gauntlet of Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks coming up on Nov. 16 and Nov. 23. If they beat OSU and win one of those other two, they’ll be the ones headed to the Big 12 title game.

And we shouldn’t overlook Iowa State. Now 2-1 in Big 12 play, they seem to be hitting their usual midseason stride. They come to Norman on Nov. 9, the scene of where Matt Campbell handed Lincoln Riley his first career loss.

 

Yes. And no.

I talked with some Dallas media about this last week, and we all agreed that Jerry is notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to paying coaches.

Lincoln is now making $6 million a year, with a million stay bonus due on April 1, 2021.

It was estimated last year that Jason Garrett’s salary is $6 million a year, though that’s unconfirmed by the Cowboys.

I suppose $10 million a year could lure the Rileys to Dallas, if Jerry were so inclined to drop that kind of cash on a college coach, but you know Joe Castiglione and the OU brass would counter with a very lucrative offer.

Here are the real questions that will ultimately decide this: does Riley think he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL? Is he aware that Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and others tried it and failed spectacularly? Does he have that NFL itch? Or is he more eager to continue adding his own legacy to the Oklahoma football empire?

Riley’s job security in Norman is virtually unassailable. He won’t be fired after a bad season because, well, Oklahoma doesn’t have bad seasons.

And don’t think for a minute that Riley would fly off to the NFL because of the grind of recruiting and other college entanglements like dealing with parents and keeping guys eligible. He loves recruiting. That’s why he’s so good at it. Every day is a new challenge to him, and he runs head-first at challenges. Also, he seems to really embrace players’ families. That won’t be a hindrance. And lastly, it’s not a coach’s job to keep guys eligible any more. That falls to the academic staff and compliance departments. And FYI, Riley just got a $30,000 bonus because his team made a certain APR score.

The bottom line: would you rather reign indefinitely at a college blueblood like OU, or would you rather take your chances in the meat-grinder that is the NFL? Sure, the rewards would be higher, but so, too, are the risks.

I think Riley loves OU and loves coaching college football just enough to stay … as long as he wants.

 

I honestly can’t answer this one.

Neither one would be an upset, yet apparently both would be. I think Baylor’s a lot better than many people gave them credit for before the season, and I think a two-loss OSU team that is careless with the football will have a hard time beating them.

So I guess, backed into a corner, I’d say OSU winning would be more of an upset. Vegas has been wrong before.

 

No. Sam’s just notoriously shy. He’d be welcomed back any time he wants to drop in, and if he said, “Please use my name, image and likeness for your promo materials,” OU would be all over it.

Sam loves OU and I may be off base on this, but I think he’s very prideful about his abilities, and the way his NFL career fizzled out was something of an embarrassment to him. Maybe he’s just not ready to put himself out there quite yet.

(For the record, I wish Sam had never been drafted by my Rams, who ran through offensive coordinators like a kid through juiceboxes and never prioritized his safety by bringing in elite offensive linemen. He hit the Rams in their dark days. If he had been picked by any other team, he’d have had a chance, and if his injuries hadn’t piled up, he’d have been a Pro Bowler.)

 

You probably aren’t podcasting enough. For moderate to severe itching and burning between the toes or anywhere else on the body, I’d recommend a daily dose of the “Locked On Sooners” podcast, and definitely follow it up with The Franchise “Inside OU” podcast a couple times a week as needed.

Also, try wearing sandals while listening to both podcasts.

 

Goodness, that was even better than his breakdown of the Pac-12 mascots.

I loved his references to the Masked Rider’s “mystical powers,” Davy Crockett “sneaking through the mountains” and Iowa State’s “getting God involved.”

But when the Sooner Schooner appeared, my first thought — before he even said it — was that there might be a Gatling gun in there. Then Leach only confirmed what I thought: If Sooners aren’t afraid to cheat on a land run, then they probably have some pretty heavy armaments under that tarp, too. Short of any supernatural hijinks, I agree: OU wins.

 

Well, aren’t they the same thing?

It’s the age-old question, would you rather lose 21-point fourth-quarter lead, or would you rather never have a chance from the opening kickoff?

Navy’s 4-1, while SMU is 6-0, so both are way better than TU.

Tulsa definitely needs to figure some things out, from the athletic director to the head coach to the players.

 

I don’t know. I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t more movement among assistant coaches between college and the NFL. I think the NFL likes safe bets, meaning they hire a lot of retreads. Bill Bedenbaugh would be something new, so maybe that’s why that hasn’t happened yet. Plus, it’s just a different game. Not that Bedenbaugh couldn’t do it, but it just seems he might never get that chance.

Besides, I get the feeling that Bedenbaugh would much rather be a college head coach than an NFL assistant. He seems to be on that track.

 

Give me the Sooners. I’m pretty sure 21-year-old Tre Brown could cover 31-year-old Ryan Broyles just fine.

 

That’s easy: Alabama versus Oklahoma in one semifinal (Jalen Hurts vs. Tua, Saban, et al) and LSU versus Ohio State in the other (Joe Burrow versus Justin Fields).

Plus I’d go to every one of Coach O’s media sessions.

 

That’s not really something that is clickable, so without several hours research, I suppose it’s hard to say.

If you listen to The Franchise, though, maybe you heard me refer to the two years I covered the Arkansas Razorbacks. In 1997 they had a bad team (and a bad defense) and went 4-7, and the following year, they hired Houston Nutt, who hired Keith Burns, who invigorated a bad unit to be one of the SEC’s ball-hawkingest, quarterback-sackingest defenses that year. The Hogs went 9-2 (they should have beaten eventual national champion Tennessee in Knoxville and should have beaten Mississippi State in Starkville) and then lost a dramatic game to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl as Tom Brady suddenly became Tom Brady.

I said the same thing could happen at Oklahoma, that they were good players, they just needed good coaching.

That seems to have happened in Norman just like it did in Fayetteville.

 

History teaches us many things. Here, it teaches me to take the under.

I’ll believe OU can cause turnovers when I see OU cause turnovers. The Sooners are currently tied for seventh in the Big 12 with just six takeaways in six games.

That said, West Virginia does rank second in the Big 12 with 11 giveaways (OSU has 13), so maybe the Mountaineers are willing to oblige.

______

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, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. 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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