Oklahoma Sooners: 3-point stance

1. Bob Stoops said Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast that when Oklahoma beats Texas, he gives his Sooners a couple of hours to enjoy the State Fair of Texas with their families before the buses head back up I-35. Stoops said he doesn’t go near the Midway, but he does find a quiet picnic table to munch on a hot dog. After 15 seasons and 160 victories -- the most by any head coach in Oklahoma history -- Stoops remains unimpressed with himself.

2. When Joker Phillips finished the 2012 season as a lame-duck head coach at Kentucky, he discussed the emotions of leaving players and a school to which he had devoted 10 years of his life. That’s not how Phillips left Florida. He resigned Wednesday for personal reasons at a time when coaches and players are not together. Two years ago, someone asked Phillips about his future. “I'm 50 years old,” Phillips said. “I don't have a lot of time. I like to think I'm a young 50, but this game is going fast for me.” His departure from Gainesville came way too fast.

3. BYU went into independence four years ago with such optimism, and why not? BYU is a religious school with a national following. But college sports has gotten more exclusive, and even Notre Dame, the ultimate independent, cut a football deal with the ACC. Still, Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall’s public plea to join the Big 12 sounds like the frustrations of a coach. If BYU were serious about giving up on independence, the university wouldn’t use its football coach to make its case.
1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.

3-point stance: Letter of the law

February, 20, 2014
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1. Only schools that have served NCAA time come around to the right way of thinking about the silliness of the rules. Oklahoma forcing three football players to cough up $3.83 apiece because they ate too much pasta at a team event is a great example. Look the other way? Nope. You adhere to the letter of the law, roll your eyes and move on. As Austin Woods, owner of one of the outlaw stomachs, tweeted, “That was some great pasta! We felt we ate more than $3.83 so we donated $5.” Perfect.

2. The coaches against the 10-second defensive substitution period screamed, and on Tuesday, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the NCAA football rules committee, backpedaled like a corner. On the ESPNU College Football Podcast yesterday, Rogers Redding, the editor of the rulebook and the national coordinator of officiating, said the committee had plenty of support for the change before Alabama coach Nick Saban came in and made his presentation. Where are those voices?

3. Georgia’s Mark Richt combines love and discipline as well as any head coach I know. In the wake of the dismissal of Bulldog safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, here’s what Richt said to me last spring. “We try to really help these guys grow as human beings and as men and be very well-balanced human beings, you know? Mental, physical and spiritual. I mean it just all comes into play. I think if we don’t do that, we’re not doing the full job of what we should be doing as educators and people that care about these guys at a very critical stage of their life.”
1. Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell is moving to tight end, which makes the Sooners coaching staff the absolutely last people to look at the 6-6, 252-pound Bell and think, “Isn’t this guy out of position?” The truth is Bell remained Oklahoma’s best option at quarterback until Trevor Knight matured enough to take the job. Knight answered that question at season’s end. Bell’s move, taken with the Sooners’ great close to recruiting season, means Oklahoma is a step closer to ending that three-year Big 12 title drought.

2. That said, Sooners coach Bob Stoops almost didn’t win Best Recruiting Class in his family. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, 2-10 last season, signed the No. 20 class. Mark Stoops said Facebook and Twitter deserve a big assist in overcoming the stigma for the Wildcats, who have lost 16-straight SEC games. “I think it's easier in some ways because of all the social media that you have,” he said. “These players understand what we're doing….(W)e're working right now for 2015, and the 2015 recruits know what's going on with 2014. That has an effect. Again, it's all this information they get very quickly.”

3. They might not be playing championship football in the state of Virginia, but they’re creating some kind of a story. Virginia, also coming off a 2-10 season, signed a top-25 recruiting class. Is that strictly because Mike London and his staff can still recruit? Is it because Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has entered the retirement spiral (15-11 the last two seasons) as he moves toward 300 wins (266 and counting)? This has gotten fun.
1. The NFL and NFLPA standing firm on not taking players until they are three years out of high school has been good for college football. But the record 95 players who declared themselves eligible for this year's NFL draft should give anyone pause. That’s 22 more than the record set last year. Not all of them are ready, and their departure will diminish college football. The bottom line is that adults have the right to make a bad decision. But look for coaches and the NFL to redouble their efforts to provide the info to keep early-entry candidates from coming out before they should.

2. In its season wrapup, Oklahoma displayed a long list of improvements the Sooners made from 2012 to 2013. The ones that struck me: Oklahoma rushed for 62.5 more yards per game and gave up 55.4 fewer rushing yards per game than it had the previous season. That total of nearly 118 yards per game speaks directly to the Sooners’ play at the line of scrimmage, where Bob Stoops hired a new O-line coach (Bill Bedenbaugh) and D-line coach (Jerry Montgomery) a year ago. The results are plain to see.

3. Fred Hargadon, the admissions director at Stanford from 1969-84, died Wednesday. Hargadon had a wonderful sense of humor. In 2006, he told the story of fending off former Stanford coach John Ralston. “I said, ‘I’m really sorry, John. There’s no way we can take this guy,’” Hargadon said. “He said, ‘Well, OK. We’re going to see him in our backfield one way or another next year. Either playing for us or running through us.’ And sure enough, he went to ... Southern California, and came up here and ran for 200-something yards.”
1. Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight came of age Thursday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which is more than anyone can say about anyone in Alabama’s secondary. A young group of defensive backs, riddled with injuries, cost the Crimson Tide on a big stage. Knight threw for four touchdowns in the No. 11 Sooners’ stunning 45-31 upset. Oklahoma got seven sacks against an Alabama offensive line that allowed only 10 all season. You can’t blame all of those on the absence of injured right guard Anthony Steen.

2. Anyone still think Bob Stoops has lost a step? Oklahoma finished the season with consecutive wins over top-six teams, one on the road against an in-state rival (No. 6 Oklahoma State) and this one on a neutral field against a two-time defending national champion (No. 3 Alabama). And Oklahoma did it by scoring the most points a Nick Saban team has allowed in seven seasons at Alabama. Saban is 4-0 in BCS Championship Games at LSU and Alabama, and 1-2 in BCS bowls that don’t involve a crystal football.

3. Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt called Auburn senior fullback Jay Prosch “the guy that makes them go.” Pretty impressive for a guy with no carries and five catches all season. Prosch, a Mobile native, went unrecruited by SEC schools. When a family illness two years ago compelled him to try to transfer near home, Auburn offered a scholarship. “It was a huge opportunity for me, and an honor,” Prosch said. “Now that I’ve played in this conference and had a year of success, I really feel great about it.”

3-point stance: Stoops' bowl success

December, 26, 2013
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1. With great fanfare 19 years ago, Joe Paterno of Penn State became the first coach to win every major bowl (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and, for you oldsters, the Cotton). With a lot less fanfare, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma has a chance to match Paterno if the No. 11 Sooners can figure out a way to knock off No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops is 0-1 in the Sugar; Oklahoma lost to LSU a decade ago in the BCS Championship Game.

2. Speaking of Paterno, one of his favorite methods of scouting recruits was to watch them play basketball. It gave him a different measure of their athleticism and competitive spirit. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, in discussing Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s prowess as a pitcher, told the Associated Press recently that he loves seeing recruits play another sport. This flies in the face of the 12-month-a-year commitment that is expected of most kids today. Here’s hoping Fisher’s message breaks through.

3. Watch the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Thursday night when Northern Illinois has the ball. The Huskies have Heisman third-place finisher Jordan Lynch at quarterback and led the Mid-American Conference in every major offensive statistic. Utah State led the Mountain West in every major defensive statistic. In fact, the Aggies are the only MWC team to win by shutout this season. Utah State defeated Colorado State, 13-0, on Nov. 23.

3-point stance: Don't underestimate OU

December, 8, 2013
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1. The rise of Auburn to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game has focused on the improbability of the Tigers’ last-play victories against Georgia and Alabama. But let’s not forget that Auburn went 3-9 last season, including 0-8 in the SEC. In fact, only one other team in the 16 years of the BCS rebounded from a worse record. Illinois went 2-10 in 2006 and played in the Rose Bowl the following season. But the Illini did win a Big Ten game in ’06, and they didn’t win the Big Ten in ’07. Ohio State won it and played for the crystal football.

2. Oklahoma lost to Texas by 16 points and to Baylor by 29, at which point the Sooners got written off. Oklahoma had played in only one BCS bowl in the past four seasons, it had a 7-2 record after losing to the Bears, and gee, hadn’t Bob Stoops slipped a bit? The Sooners then won three straight, scored two touchdowns in the final :19 to upset No. 6 Oklahoma State, 33-24 and appear headed for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. That’s Stoops’ ninth BCS game, a record that will forever be his, and in his 15 seasons, the Sooners have had 12 10-win seasons. The Sooners aren’t back. They never left.

3. A year ago, Tyler Gaffney, minor-league outfielder, sat in the stands on Jan. 1 and watched his former Stanford teammates win the Rose Bowl. Gaffney decided to return to the Farm to play football, in part because he wanted to win a Rose Bowl, too. How often does such a dream become reality? It’s hard enough for the players who won to repeat. Gaffney made sure it happened. He won the Pac-12 championship game MVP with 133 yards and three scores in the Cards’ 38-14 rout of Arizona State. Gaffney finished the season with 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns -- and an invitation to play in Pasadena.

3-point stance: BCS shakeout begins

November, 8, 2013
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1. For two months, Baylor's point-a-minute-plus offense begged the question of quality of opponent. November arrived, and the Bears answered that question with authority. The 41-12 defeat of No. 10 Oklahoma should allow Baylor to slip into Oregon's chair in the BCS debate. The Sooners, meanwhile, have a question to answer. Where are they going to find a quarterback?

2. In preparing for Oregon, Stanford head coach David Shaw watched the Cardinal's last five games against them. The lack of turnover in their coaching staff makes it worth his time, Shaw said. "Just looking at things that they changed, things that we changed, things that maybe worked before, or things that didn't work before that we don't need to try again," Shaw said. Anyone else that Shaw delves that deep into history? "For nobody except these guys."

3. The convincing nature of No. 6 Baylor's victory, and that undefeated record, makes it conceivable the Bears will leapfrog the No. 5 Cardinal in the BCS ratings Sunday. Stanford solidified its position as the top one-loss team. And, of course No. 2 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State will benefit from the Ducks' loss. The BCS race is only starting to get interesting. All the handwringing about a surplus of undefeated teams is a waste of energy. There are five Saturdays left.

3-point stance: First impressions

September, 2, 2013
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Three-Point Stance, It’s Only One Game, But … Edition

1. … Washington backed up the confidence that head coach Steve Sarkisian placed in a team that has been 7-6 for the last three years. The Huskies moved back into their home after a $280-million renovation and looked as if they couldn’t have been more comfortable. The 38-6 victory over Boise State, the Broncos’ first loss by more than six points in six years, is evidence enough. But the 592 yards of offense without suspended preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a sign that the Pac-12 North may be the best division in the FBS.

2. … the union of LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger appears to be a success. Mettenberger completed 16-of-32 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown, nearly doubling his raw QBR of a year ago (74.6/3did 9.3). Moreover, Mettenberger put up those numbers against TCU, year in and year out one of the toughest defensive teams in the nation. Mettenberger made big, precise throws, putting them in places where defenders couldn’t reach them. That’s what NFL quarterbacks do.

3. … Oklahoma may be out of its long defensive slump. The team that allowed at least 34 points in four of its last five games whitewashed Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0. That’s the Sooners’ first shutout in three seasons, and came against a team that went 8-5 last season and has eight returning offensive starters, including four-year starting quarterback Kolton Browning. The Sooners allowed 166 total yards and only 2-of-16 third-down conversions. In other words, they looked like a Bob Stoops team.

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