Although I haven't heard nearly as much criticism of ABC play by play man Brent Musberger in recent years, there are those who still don't appreciate a consummate pro when they see or hear one. Brad Nessler is a buddy-and I know and have worked with Brent and consider him a friend as well-but Big Game Brent can follow up his unequalled ability to hype a big game with a fabulous sense of understanding what's going on and how to set up his sidekick. Kirk Herbstreit mans the booth with him and always provides provocative analysis. If the teams play as well as that team will call the game then we'll have a doozy.
Buddies tell me Norman is hopping with enthusiasm and anticipation. Horns honking and traffic jams. If you don't think the Stoops challenge to the fans of making a difference has not been heard loud and clear, you've got another drink-I mean think coming.
To us old-schoolers it just doesn't seem right that an OU/ Texas Tech game should be discussed in the same category of significance of the old OU/Nebraska rivalry game and OU/Texas. It is also worth noting that with the over-saturation of media coverage that Saturday's game was only trumped in coverage by Obama's trip overseas. But in reality, this game can indeed be put into those discussions as championships are possibly on the line and the ultimate hope for many that the BCS could wind up looking more foolish than ever.
TT WR Crabtree is very, very special-for many reasons. He's 6-3, has long arms, strong hands and never lets the ball get to his shoulder pads. Tackling this cat is both a challenge and a necessity. YAC will be critical to both defenses.
The TT defense is probably the most improved unit in the Big 12-offense or defense. And a slimmed down but still 6-7, 334 pound LT Loadholt will kill the Sooners if TT DE Williams has similar success to that of UT's Orakpo. A distinct possibility with the undersized Williams showing a burst and quickness that often is problematic for Big Phil.
OU will no doubt employ lots of looks in trying to get in the face of QB Harrell. One DL stud says he doesn't think Harrell is the listed 6-3 and that batted down passes should be expected. Of course getting in the same area code as the TT tosser is required before thinking about batting balls down. OSU did not have success with a three-man front, especially when it brought a linebacker on what often seemed to be a late blitz. If you are going at the QB you'd better get on your horse and go. Otherwise, you're just giving TT their beloved numbers advantage and setting yourself up for disaster. Unfortunately for the Sooners, they will not have their two most important defensive players-DE pest English (AND another DE in the rotation in Davis-and MLB Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds' understanding of offenses, getting players into the correct position, play-making skills and experience will be sorely missed. It seems injuries never strike at positions or to people where it's not important.
A lot has been made of OU's inexplicably poor kickoff coverage-108th best in the country. And I'm not buying in very much to the statistical fact that they've had more kickoffs than any team in the country. But keep an eye on OU's punt game. Several bad snaps, a dropped snap and near blocks have been an issue.
Neither team is up to par when it comes to kicking the oblong leather towards the goal posts. This has the potential of putting OU and Jimmy Stevens under the gun. The logic is that Tech basically plays a bend but don't break defensive philosophy outside the red zone where they become mighty stingy with yards and points. Translation? Go for it on fourth down or attempt field goals. Score and distance will dictate decisions by Bob Stoops. Who knows what dictates things inside the melon of the Mad Scientist. Whatever it is, usually works.
Despite the facts that TT has enormous momentum from wins over Texas and OSU and the confidence that results from winning big-time games on such a huge national stage, ...AND...knowing they have beaten OU recently....AND the invaluable experience and success under fire under QB Harrell, OU plays at a different level at home.
The home field advantage of four points the odds makers placed on this game will be an overriding factor-one that will be more than Leach and TT can overcome. Odds makers don't play favorites. They call it how they see it and how they are betting the public sees it. Our prediction weeks ago that OU would go in a TD favorite was spot on. But that doesn't mean they'll win? They were favorites over Texas (and would be tomorrow if the two played tomorrow in Dallas), in the Fiesta Bowl and almost every game of every year.
Leach knows what Vegas and the off-shore guys think. He could not care less. A guy who skates around Lubbock, Texas listening to Jimmy Buffet and who is infatuated with pirates is not concerned with being an underdog, even though his team is undefeated, second-ranked, red-hot and has the Heisman front-runner. He's rather have QB Harrell and WR Crabtree than have the well-earned respect from Vegas.
Stoops is ready. Unfortunately, he and Brent Venables and Chris Wilson and Jackie Shipp are not playing. But the OU coach has a lot on the line. With him yesterday, I can tell you the eternal optimist had a little more pep in his step than normal-not that he's ever been lacking in the confidence department or been outwardly worried going into a big game. But he just seemed to have an unusual self-assurance about him. Reminded of the third, fourth and fifth times he consecutively beat Mack and Texas. Another big-game feisty and focused confidence, the hallmark of his success...the look that was paramount in turning the woebegone program he inherited in '99 into one that could conceivably play in its fourth national title game in ten years-40 percent success ration in this era of parity is not shabby.
Stoops has been embarrassed at the lack of postseason success. It's been about as bad as his conference championship record of success. Winning five-and playing in six-conference championships in nine seasons in a conference with Texas and three or four other legitimate threats matches up with the only other coach in that time span. But Pete Carroll doesn't have to year-in-year-out contend with a Texas, Texas Tech, Missouri and an off and on stern challenge from their in-state rivals. And of course the joke of all jokes, the unquestioned powerhouse Trojans are in one of those conferences that do not play in a high-stakes conference championship game. Point being, Carroll and Stoops are 1-2 in the past 9 years.
I believe the embarrassing latest BCS debacle against West Virginia will prove to have been the driving force that jumpstarted this staff and program. OC Kevin Wilson's offseason switch to the no-huddle/fast-paced offense and the leadership of QB Bradford is the best examples of how this team has shown that the '08 team has legitimately re-dedicated itself to play with a purpose and be successful.
Incidentally, the biggest problems OU will face in gaining the edge over Texas in a three way tie-breaker are: 1. Politics 2. Texas won head-to-head. 3. Recent failures in BCS games. An impeccable source with knowledge of the thinking of many coaches and others influential in the BCS process believe Stoops is going to have to prove himself in BCS games to offset the recent failures. I'm told the big-game problems beginning with the USC title blowout will right or wrong would play a role if the final decision of the OU-Texas debate. The record shows that despite the fact that Mack has still won exactly one conference title in all his years coaching compared to the five in nine seasons of Stoops, Texas has had more recent postseason success.
However, convincing wins over TT and OSU would go a long way in helping overcome those recent failures and begin to re-establish the Big Game Bob moniker. That could make the final BCS decision that would lift the Horns or Sooners into the KC national title semi-finals come down to an infinitesimal point difference.
But, first things first. Sooners 42-36. That would set up the latest "game of the year" and give a dangerous OSU team the next best thing to winning the whole ball of wax: spoiling OU's hopes of a chance at an 8th national title.
But first things first............