Bill Little commentary: Welcome to the new Big 12
Oct. 14, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It's not like we didn't tell you this was coming. College football, particularly in the Big 12 Conference has changed, and nobody, not the coaches, the players, the fans or the media have an immediate answer to what is happening. Week to week, fans are outraged, the media is stunned, and the teams and coaches are mad and frustrated.
Saturday's America in the Big 12 was the most cryptic example to date. Three weeks ago, some writers were forecasting Oklahoma's doom. One long-time pundit actually predicted the Sooners would go 6-6. In Lubbock, folks were ready to cry for the head of Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville. Baylor was the next hottest thing on the turf, second only to West Virginia, which it was said might be the best team in the country. TCU was written off after losing their starting quarterback on disciplinary issues. Kansas couldn't beat anybody and Oklahoma State was a couple of seconds away from being unbeaten. Kansas State was set to roll through the league after whipping Oklahoma in Norman, and Iowa State was merely an afterthought following a loss to lightly regarded Texas Tech, and Texas was coming on strong after splitting scoreboard shootouts with Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Then comes Saturday, and the first full weekend of league play. Texas Tech knocks West Virginia out of the top five, 49-14. Oklahoma beats Texas, 63-21. Oklahoma State survives Kansas, 20-14. Kansas State has to come from behind to beat Iowa State, 27-21. And TCU goes into Waco and hammers Baylor, 49-21.
So get used to it. Welcome to the new Big 12.
What the league fathers have done with this collection of teams from the middle part of America plus West Virginia, is to put together the most unpredictable league in the country. Just when you think you have it figured it out, you don't.
The only constant in the weekend is that the Texas-Oklahoma game, AKA the AT&T Red River Rivalry, is (unfortunately for Texas right now) following an historic pattern that reflects a series which goes in streaks.
The pendulum swung in the early part of the seventies, when Oklahoma won five before the 6-6 tie in 1976 ended that run. Fred Akers achieved early success, putting together a 4-1-1 streak from 1977-84. Oklahoma countered with a 4-0 string from 1985 through 1988. Then David McWilliams and John Mackovic combined to lead their teams to a 5-1-1 mark from 1989 through 1995. Texas stretched the overall run to 8-2-1 by going 3-1 to close out the last decade of the 20th century and open the Mack Brown era with back to back wins in 1998 and 1999. The 2000s have found OU with a five game streak to start the decade, before Texas won three of the next four. Now OU has won three straight.
Mack Brown was the first to acknowledge that the Longhorns' performance in the game Saturday was unacceptable by any standard. What makes it even more puzzling is that there was no way to anticipate its coming. The defensive coaches have been scrambling all season to pull together a unit that came into the season very young, and has been hit by critical injuries. Fourteen sophomores and freshmen were on the two-deep for the Oklahoma game. Mack praised the play of seniors Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro on Saturday, but Okafor's book end on the other side at defensive end, Jackson Jeffcoat went out with injury. Jordan Hicks, a junior who is the most experienced linebacker, hasn't played in two games because of injury.
Having worked for two years in Oklahoma City with The Associated Press, I can tell you that the Oklahoma nation traditionally approaches this game with more intensity than our folks south of the Red River. Again, that is a given, year after year.
An expression I heard a long time ago from a coach often serves well as you bounce back from a loss like Saturday's. Somebody asked him to break down the debacle he had just seen publicly.
"It serves no purpose," he said. And he was right. A learned oilman once was told that one of his workers had inadvertently run over and broken a well-head in West Texas.
"I am going to fire that guy," said the foreman. "No," replied the oil man. "You're not going to fire him, because he is the only guy in the company who knows where that well-head is."
In the locker room following Mack Brown's comments, players spoke emotionally and defiantly, not about what had happened, but about the future of this team.
Games like Saturday are a reminder that sport teaches lessons of life, and life, conversely, teaches lessons in sport. In a league where everybody plays everybody, there is a bunch of business - a combination of challenges and opportunities - remaining in this season.
As a kid, I was a great fan of poetry, and one of the most interesting was a poem by an author named Edmond Vance Cooke. It was entitled, "How Did You Die?"
A significant, and applicable-at-this-time verse reads, "You are beaten to earth? Well,well, what's that? Come up with a smiling face. It is nothing against you to fall down flat - but to lie there, that's disgrace."