Thursday, December 4, 2008

The UT-OU BCS mess

It's done. OU passed UT in the BCS and will play Mizzou in Big 12 championship. I'm not a big fan of the Big 12 in the first place. Aside from UT and Colorado, all the schools are less than impressive academically. I remember when the SWC broke up. There were rumors that UT would join the Pac-10 and TAMU would join the SEC. That made a lot of sense. Culturally and academically, UT would have been a great fit for the Pac 10. Same for TAMU in the SEC. TTU and Baylor would have been thrown into the wilderness like TCU, UH, Rice and SMU. Actually, with a couple of additions those remaining schools could have made an attractive conference.

Anyway, UT and OU essentially tied in human polls. I really don't know what the coaches were thinking. Find me one who would say their own team should be voted behind a team they beat on a neutral field when they have the same records. And for you OU people who say the Cotton Bowl is not a neutral field, just what are you smoking? Dallas is basically equidistant between the two schools and there are a huge number of OU alumni in DFW. OU never has a problem filling its side of the field and the administration of the game is by a third party. How much more neutral can you make it?

I am a UT alumnus. You can say I'm biased, but evaluate my arguments based on their content.

I don't think there's much difference between beating a team by four touchdowns or seven. Once you're up by four touchdowns, the game is basically out of reach and the rest of the game is largely superfluous. So, to me 35-7 with your starters on the bench for the fourth quarter is just as big of a beatdown as 65-21 with your starters playing half-way through the fourth quarter. A blowout is a blowout and running up the score does not make you a better team.

Now, there are two big differences between UT and OU in the style they play. First, UT plays a possession-focused offense that chews up yardage and time. OU has a big-play offense. One is not superior to the other. Both of their offenses have put up lots of points. Yes, OU has scored more, but that leads to the next point. UT's offense helps keep its defense fresh and off the field. No one will argue with the assertion that for both teams, the offenses are better than the defenses. UT's style of play keeps the defense off the field and puts the opposing offense at a disadvantage. Simply put, UT's opponents have to match UT's scoring in less time. I've seen numerous UT drives that were 15 play, 90 yard behemoths that chewed up six or seven minutes of clock. In the games I've seen, you have a great chance of stopping OU if you can make them run more than five plays in a drive. After this offensive difference, there is a big difference in the defenses. To put it simply, UT's has been a little bit better. The most points UT gave up were to its two best opponents -- OU and TTU. In the other 10 games, they gave up an average of 15 points. Take away points they gave up after the game was already in hand, and we fall to single digits. Outside of its two best opponents, UT and TTU, OU has given up an average of 23 points a game. In fact, they have not held a single Big 12 opponent to less than three scores. You can argue that OU's offense leaves its defense exposed. That argument does not indicate that OU's defense is actually better -- it just argues that the coaching staff has decided they can risk exposing the defense.

Here's the thing about the Big 12 this year. In the top half of the conference, the offenses are so good that if your team comes out flat, you will very quickly find yourself down three scores. Mizzou came out flat against UT and it was 28-0 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. UT came out flat against TTU and it was 19-0 with a little under 10 minutes to go in the second quarter. TTU came out flat against OU and it was 21-0 with about ten minutes go in the first half. This is not the Big 10 where teams don't seem to get their shoes tied until just before halftime. Okay, you can say OU never came out flat like that. But they played TTU at home and UT at a neutral site. Who knows how they would have fared in a hostile, sold-out stadium. The OSU game had at least 10,000 empty seats. Empty seats are the direct enemy of a hostile environment for the visiting team.

Now, let's look at what has happened when one of the teams fell behind. UT was behind by double-digits multiple times to both OU and TTU. In both games, they staged comebacks that led to a double-digit win over the Sooners and a last-second loss to TTU (on a phenomenal play by last year's Biletnikoff winner.) OU was only ever behind UT and they basically folded. Now, this is not much of an argument the UT is better than OU. It directly refutes the OU argument that TTU is better than UT, though. When UT fell behind on the road, they regrouped and took control of the game. When TTU fell behind, they crumbled further.

So, what it really comes down to is this -- What loss is worse? A six-point loss on a hall-of-fame catch and run with one second left in a VERY hostile stadium on the road or a ten-point loss on a neutral field?

The rest of the season is essentially even. Yes, OU played Cincinatti and TCU. They also played Chattanooga (FCS) and Washington (0-12). UT played Rice (tied for first in its conference), Florida Atlantic (bowl eligible), Arkansas (5-6, but defeated LSU) and UTEP (5-7). The non-conference schedule doesn't amount to much, but it might be slightly in OU's favor. The two teams basically blew out who they should, but OU had a couple more games actually make it to the fourth quarter. So that's slightly in UT's favor. It's a wash to me. It comes down to which loss is worse. Losing on a neutral field by ten is much worse than losing on the road on a last-second play.

For the Big 12 honchos, I'll ask the following: which team is more likely to beat a Florida or Alabama in the National Championship Game? The team with a defense, the proven ability to come back and an offense that not only scores but keeps the other team's offense off the field is the best choice.

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