NORMAN — Oklahoma was installed as an 11-point favorite over Texas Tech this Saturday night in Lubbock. That line almost immediately jumped to 14 points.
So Vegas loves the Sooners.
No. 16-ranked OU (4-2 overall, 3-0 Big 12 Conference) has been a double-digit favorite five times now this season. The first three, the Sooners lost (Houston), won but failed to cover (Louisiana Monroe) and won but failed to cover (Texas).
Saturday’s 38-17 victory over Kansas State (a 14-point underdog) was the first time OU covered the point spread this season.
Bob Stoops, of course, can’t concern himself with point spreads.
But still unbeaten in Big 12 Conference play, the Oklahoma coach most definitely can concern himself with playing well enough to win. Keep making incremental improvements like they have the last few weeks and the Sooners can find themselves hoisting another Big 12 championship come December (and who knows where that can lead?)
For Oklahoma, winning is all that matters.
And according to some betting websites, teams that are a double-digit favorite win just over 75 percent of the time.
Being a double-digit favorite is one of the truest measurements of elite college football programs.
But how a program actually performs as a double-digit favorite — forget whether they cover, do they win or do they lose? — is the final step for the game’s most elite.
At Oklahoma, those final steps have been occasionally troubling.
Sixteen times in his 17-plus seasons at OU, Bob Stoops’ teams lost as a double-digit favorite. Doesn’t sound like a lot — about once a year. Seems sort of manageable. Accidents happen, injuries happen, crazy things happen. It’s football.
And hey, surely Stoops’ teams have been heavy favorites a whole bunch, right?
According to the website OddsShark.com, Stoops’ record as a double-digit favorite is 124-16, or a winning percentage of .886. Not bad. At first glance, actually, it looks strikingly good.
Until that mark is compared with Stoops’ contemporaries — that is, coaches with a national championship and $4 million salary. In that rarest air of just five men, Stoops’ winning percentage as a double-digit favorite ranks last.
Les Miles, believe it or not — the same Les Miles fired last month at LSU — ranks first with a .988 winning percentage (84-1) as a double-digit favorite. In fact, Miles’ first loss in that category came this season when LSU lost at Wisconsin.
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (.955, 106-5) ranks second, Alabama’s Nick Saban (.950, 114-6) is third and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (.898, 44-5) is fourth.
Two other national title-winning, $4 million coaches recently retired but still belong on the short list: former Texas coach Mack Brown almost never slipped up as a double-digit favorite, winning 94.0 percent of his games (109-7). And Stoops’ mentor, Steve Spurrier, won at a .936 clip (117-8) before retiring at South Carolina midway through 2015.
OU didn’t stumble as a big favorite in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 or 2010, but has suffered at least one massive upset every year since 2011, including eight in the last six seasons. The current perennial streak began with an incomprehensible loss that severed a 35-game home field winning streak. The Sooners were a 29-point favorite.
Against Texas Tech.
I asked Stoops on Monday during his weekly press conference if, given his almost 18 years experience as a head coach, he can impart anything to this year’s team to prevent any future letdowns (they were 13-point favorites at Houston, remember).
“Well, you just point out ways that it happens,” he said. “You look around the country, it happens every week. It was close to happening a few games last week (Ohio State at Wisconsin and N.C. State at Clemson, both going to overtime).
“What do we do to be at our best?” Stoops continued. “That’s what we focus on. And you get ‘em to understand that there’s a fine line, and it’s razor sharp, that if you’re not, you open yourself up to that happening. It’s really concentrating and focusing on, how are we at our best? That’s what we’ve got to push for in practice, meetings and in the way we step on the field.”
Notice Stoops uses last week’s near upsets to illustrate to his troops, rather than anything from the Sooners’ past. None of these players had begun grade school yet when Stoops suffered his first loss as a double-digit favorite way back in 1999 — to Texas Tech, no less, a 10 ½-point underdog. When the Red Raiders inexplicably won in Norman in 2011, these players were all in junior high or high school. BYU, Colorado, TCU, the early OSU losses — none of that resonates with today’s youth like seeing it unfold on live TV just last week.
As with so many young people, lessons from the past are lost.
“Yeah, they don’t want to hear that,” Stoops said. “That doesn’t pertain to them.”
Even a firm reminder about their own performance in the season-opener at Houston (OU was a 13-point favorite and lost by 10) might have ill effects as the team strives to keep improving.
“Yeah, bringing up too much negative stuff,” Stoops said, “doesn’t always end up positive.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270, on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.
Records as a double-digit favorite of coaches who have won a national championship with a salary of $4 million or more:
+Les Miles 84-1 (.988)
Urban Meyer 106-5 (.955)
Nick Saban 114-6 (.950)
*Mack Brown 109-7 (.940)
^Steve Spurrier 117-8 (.936)
Jimbo Fisher 44-5 (.898)
Bob Stoops 124-16 (.886)
+ fired during this season
* retired after 2013 season
^ retired during 2015 season
Bob Stoops’ losses as a double-digit favorite
Opponent (point spread) result
at Texas Tech (10 ½) L 38-28
OSU (27) L 16-13
at Texas A&M (10) L 30-26
at OSU (15) L 38-28
Kansas State* (14) L 35-7
TCU (24 ½) L 17-10
at Colorado (23 ½) L 27-24
BYU+ (23) L 14-13
Texas Tech (29) L 41-34
at Baylor (17) L 45-38
Kansas State (15 ½) L 24-19
Notre Dame (11 ½) L 30-13
Texas^ (13 ½) L 36-20
OSU (19 ½) L 38-35
Texas^ (16 ½) L 24-17
Houston# (13) L 33-23
*Big 12 title game, Kansas City
+ Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington
^ Cotton Bowl, Dallas
# NRG Stadium, Houston
DATA SOURCE: OddsShark.com