As soon as Clemson started to pull away in the second half of the Orange Bowl, I knew this was coming.
“OU isn’t physical enough.”
“Big 12-style ball is for chumps .”
“Bob Stoops needs to go to Nick Saban coaching camp.”
Earlier this week, Tulsa World columnist John E. Hoover gave voice to the knee-jerk masses.
But the lessons learned this season — from both the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl — is that the Big 12 Conference is currently not capable of winning a national title.
Not when there are dragons out there from the top of the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten Conference terrorizing the college football countryside.
Hoover posited that playing in the Big 12 forces its members to run up-tempo spread offenses that tax their defenses. Furthermore, that style of play supposedly requires teams to load up on receivers and defensive backs, so they ignore their depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
And since they haven't won any national championships lately, it means that style of play disqualifies them national title contention.
Here are the teams that have won national titles since OU in 2000: Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and either Alabama or Clemson.
While a few of them ran the spread and a few of them ran up-tempo, they all have one thing in common: Every national champion from the last five decades of football ran an offense that utilized fullbacks, tight ends and big, nasty offensive linemen (in Auburn and Florida’s case, a transcendent quarterback was enough to overcome no fullback).
I happen to agree. I bet Bob Stoops would, too. It would be great if OU could replicate what ‘Bama or Florida St. or Ohio St. do.
And by that, I mean stockpile the roster with loads of elite talent.
What separates the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes and other national title contenders from the pack are the depth charts layered with four- and five-star players. That includes the offensive and defensive lines, the two areas where top-tier teams often the have biggest advantages. Physically talented dudes who weigh 300-plus pounds are in short supply, so it makes sense that the best recruiters would focus in on those positions.
Playing manball instead of the spread, however, is a red herring. It’s not fun to accept that the teams with the best talent generally win the most games. It makes us want to search out those correlations like “style of play” in the hopes that we can find a more accessible solution than the true causation.
Clemson -- which, ironically, runs an uptempo spread offense -- beat OU because the Tigers had better players, and the gap was particularly pronounced at the line of scrimmage. That doesn’t mean that Stoops should ditch the spread. Contrary to Hoover’s suggestion, OU doesn’t need to join a new conference just so it can play in a league where keeping it old school is more fashionable.
OU needs continuity. It needs players who stay in the program. It needs to find its way out of a cycle of counting on young bucks to be key contributors as soon as they get to campus.
The Sooners are regaining their stability after a few years of too many players temporarily passing through Norman on their way to parts unknown. They just made college football’s final four. You'd think people would take that as a sign that the program is heading in the right direction.