The September stretch of the college football calendar, filled with more glorified scrimmages than statement games, is over. But there have been lots of lessons learned as we prepare for October, the month that separates contenders from pretenders in the conference races.
With defensive coordinator Mike Stoops calling the signals, Oklahoma ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense (12.0 avg.) and No. 17 in total defense (299.5 yards per game) heading into this week’s game against TCU (2-2).
That caused Mike’s older brother, Bob, to pose for the most telling postgame photo of the season after Saturday’s victory in South Bend, Ind. Bob, flanked by his wife and mother, stood in front of a scoreboard emblazoned with the final score — “Oklahoma 35, Notre Dame 21” — as fans milled about on the field after the contest.
As a self-described “Irish Catholic kid” from Youngstown, Ohio, there was no hiding Stoops’ glee in helping OU improve its career mark to 2-9 in meetings against Notre Dame. Nor is there any denying that OU and No. 17 Baylor (3-0) have positioned themselves as the teams to beat in the Big 12 race as conference play begins in earnest this week.
No. 21 Oklahoma State (3-1) removed itself from that list, at least temporarily, with a shocking 30-21 loss to a West Virginia team that scored just seven points in eight quarters against the combined defensive efforts of OU and Maryland earlier this season.
The trickle-down question is whether USC’s move will expedite the hair-trigger reflex of officials at Texas if embattled coach Mack Brown cannot turn around this season after a 2-2 start. Texas, 24-19 in its last 43 games under Brown, now has another power program to compete with in off-season efforts to land a new coach if it goes in that direction. And USC already has the jump on Texas and everyone else in making meaningful overtures to replacement candidates. If Haden does not have the number for Jimmy Sexton, agent for Alabama’s Nick Saban and other notable college coaches, on his speed dial, he will soon.
The Big 12 will battle the American Athletic Conference and the Big Ten for softest touch among the elite leagues. That’s too bad because Oklahoma (4-0) and Baylor (3-0) should both be top 10 teams very soon. And both could use more high-profile wins on their ledgers (requiring better play from league peers) when it is time to decide BCS bowl berths in December.
As things stand, the Big 12’s lone BCS bowl berth this season projects to be the Fiesta Bowl slot reserved for the league champion.
Baylor ranks first nationally in total offense (751.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (69.7 avg). A&M is fourth in total offense (586.4), fifth in scoring (49.2 avg.). The teams could meet in the Fiesta Bowl, if Baylor wins the Big 12 and A&M earns an at-large BCS berth. Or they could hook up in the Cotton Bowl in the final season of the existing agreement to match a Big 12 team against an SEC opponent in Arlington.
Regardless of location, a matchup of the state’s two most explosive offenses would be a postseason treat for college football fans in Texas.