Here we are in Year Four of the College Football Playoff and it’s time to introduce a character who well-represents the Big 12 Conference.
That would be Joe Btfsplk.
Now, dear readers, I’m sure many of you are wondering if your Visiting Professor has lost his mind (a reaction that, honestly, is not rare). Who, you wonder, is Joe Btfsplk and what in the wide, wide world of sports does he have to do with the Big 12 and the CFP?
Joe Btfsplk was a character in the long-running comic strip Li’l Abner. (Younglings encouraged to Google terms “comic strip” and “newspapers” for further information). In the cartoon penned by Al Capp, Joe was depicted with a small rain cloud hovering over his head. That’s because he was a world-class jinx who brought misfortune to any and every situation.
Now you get it. The Joe Btfsplk-Big 12 connection makes perfect sense. The 22-year-old league formed via shotgun marriage has produced two national championships in college football and at least two dozen issues and calamities that have plagued it on a seemingly yearly basis.
Week Three of the CFP rankings have Alabama, Clemson, Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma as this week’s top four. The Sooners moved up one – that’s right, one – spot thanks to their dominant victory over TCU (which the CFP had at No. 6 last week) and Georgia getting woodshedded at Auburn.
Clemson and OU are the only top four teams with a loss. The Tigers being ranked No. 2 and the Sooners at No. 4 created considerable debate since the rankings were announced Tuesday night. The discussion of the relative merits of the two teams brings forth numerous discussion topics.
- The current ranking is innocuous. Clemson and Miami are headed to a showdown in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. If Oklahoma wins its remaining three games, including a rematch with either TCU or Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game, the Sooners would be assured a spot in the CFP final four.
- The absolute unarguable worst aspect of the CFP is its weekly ratings exercise that begins six weeks before season’s end. This is made-for-TV drama thanks to ESPN/ABC executives who spent billions of dollars for the rights to televise three games. Justifying the Big Check with additional programming was a tradeoff made by the commissioners who agreed to the deal. Is weekly attention over the second half of the season good? Yes. Are rankings revealed on a weekly show – which Tuesday was sandwiched by two basketball games – necessary. Hell no. Plus the fact the rankings are revealed on Tuesday instead of Monday is just another example of ESPN saying “jump” and the men running the sport asking, “how high?”
- The rankings reveal engenders its own problems. The CFP committee chair is subjected to questions regarding the rankings. Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt is in his second and final year chairing the committee. In the off-season, he was quoted being surprised about how closely his comments were monitored and parsed. That’s because the Tuesday reveal provides ESPN – and other media outlets – red meat to roast on debate shows where the volume far surpasses the substance. ESPN, in essence, uses the CFP rankings show to help program its daytime debate shows.
- The committee chair – Hocutt was proceeded by Jeff Long, still a CFP member despite being fired as Arkansas’ athletic director Wednesday – must explain and defend the weekly rankings on national television and then on a teleconference with reporters. It’s an exercise in wasted oxygen because the rankings of Week Three – this season, next season, the previous seasons – have a shelf life of convenience story sushi.
Which brings us to the Clemson-Oklahoma “controversy.”
The Tigers lost at Syracuse, the Sooners lost at home to Iowa State. The Orange have a 4-6 record and other than beating Clemson their best victory is over Central Michigan. The Cyclones, in addition to beating OU, defeated TCU, another top five team.
Clemson freshman quarterback Kelly Bryant was knocked out (literally) late in the first half at Syracuse with the Tigers trailing 17-14. The committee said it has taken Bryant’s injury into account while pointing out that the Tigers have the most wins (six) over teams with winning records. That bullet point apparently outperforms Oklahoma’s victories at Ohio State and Oklahoma State and at home over TCU.
“When we looked at Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State, there was no such injury that the selection committee had talked about or was aware of,” Hocutt said. “We continue to take into account with Clemson’s loss the injury to their quarterback and also the fact he came into that game not 100 percent.”
In the first quarter against Iowa State, the Sooners lost starting running back Abdul Anderson and starting wide receiver CeeDee Lamb were injured and sidelined for the rest of the game. Oklahoma led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“I don’t trust the committee anymore. I just don’t trust them at all,” Fox college football analyst Joe Klatt said this week. “The bias is out of control. Oklahoma’s (resume) is so much better. They’ve got three top-15 wins. … all three were by 10 or more points.”
Another concern for the Big 12 regards last week’s class discussion. On four occasions, Hocutt mentioned the committee “likes defense.” That comment was used when talking about both Clemson and Miami. The Sooners and their conference’s perception as a collegiate version of arena football displays the prejudice and ignorance of the committee members.
Again, the Big 12 can counter that perception if Oklahoma wins the national championship. The Sooners’ offense, with Heisman Trophy favorite Baker Mayfield, is unmatched by any of the other contenders. Of course, to reach the CFP OU will need to beat a good team it has already defeated in a rematch. The SEC, if Auburn faces Georgia, is the only other conference where a Dec. 2 rematch is possible.
It appears that instead of voting to restore the Big 12 championship game, the conference’s board of directors should have directed its schools to stop scoring so many points.
At least Tom Herman beat Kansas
A year after discarding Charlie Strong following three mediocre seasons, Texas finds itself needing one victory in its last two games to become bowl eligible. The Longhorns are 5-5 following Saturday’s victory over Kansas. UT’s overtime loss to the Jayhawks last season was Strong’s Waterloo.
With little change in the won-loss record, the improvements are intangible. First-year coach Tom Herman is preaching about improved effort and attitude. While “coach Mensa” can talk a good game, some fans are beginning to wonder if the hot air will ever float the program’s balloon.
The Longhorns are at West Virginia, which is ranked No. 24 in the coaches’ poll, Saturday before closing the season against Texas Tech on Black Friday in Austin. UT has lost three games to top 10 opponents (USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) by a total of 11 points.
“I think where we’re at is not where we had hoped to be,” Herman said this week. “We’ve got to win one that we’re not supposed to. I think right now, save for the very first game, we’ve won the ones that we’re supposed to, and we haven’t [won] the ones that people said we weren’t supposed to. So I think that’s got to be the next step.
“I think when you look at the direction, it is exciting because we’re not going to have to deal with some of the cards that we dealt with this year.”
The Longhorns’ defense has played better than .500 football but the offense has been an ongoing disaster. The running game has been awful and the passing game just above average. The biggest reason/excuse has been the offensive line. The one unit where Texas was thinnest has endured the most injuries. The lack of consistent blocking has wrecked the offensive plans.
But after seven seasons of break-even results, Texas fans aren’t satisfied by reasons and excuses.
This week in bulletin board material
Texas plays at West Virginia Saturday. Cedric Golden, columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, asked UT defensive end Breckyn Hager an innocuous question about the Mountaineers fans and the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium.
I asked Breckyn Hager what made West Virginia such a tough venue for visiting teams. "Because it's a bunch hillbillies drinking moonshine."
— Cedric Golden (@CedGolden) November 15, 2017
That sort of comment is not a fluke. A year ago, before the Longhorns were scheduled to play at Texas Tech, Hager said the UT defense’s goal was to “injure that quarterback.” He was referring to Red Raiders QB Patrick Mahomes, who was playing with a bum shoulder. Hager later apologized.
- Baylor freshman receiver Gavin Holmes suffered a season-ending ACL injury Saturday against Texas Tech. He had started the last four games and posted 12 of his 13 receptions in those games. With two games remaining, the Bears have had 30 players miss a combined 111 games due to injuries.
- Kansas State has given up an average of 401.0 passing yards in three Big 12 road games (Texas, Kansas, Texas Tech) this season. Saturday the Wildcats are in Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State and quarterback Mason Rudolph, who leads the conference with 369 yards passing per game.
- Iowa State senior linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning has a sack, interception, fumble recovery, rushing touchdown and passing touchdown. The last FBS player to do that in a single season was Utah’s Eric Weddle in 2006.
- West Virginia has three receivers with 800 or more yards receiving – Gary Jennings (938 yards), David Sills V (856) and Ka’Raun White (907). The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences each have one player with 800-plus yards on receptions.
- Texas hopes that All-America tackle Connor Williams, who suffered a knee injury at USC, will return to action Saturday against West Virginia. The Mountaineers are ninth in the Big 12 and 94th in FBS, allowing 191 yards rushing per game. In the seven games Williams has missed, the Longhorns have rushed for only 2.83 yards per carry (300 attempts for 849 yards),
- TCU’s path to the Big 12 championship game goes through Lubbock. Unfortunately, that’s a road trip that has become a problem for the Horned Frogs. They’ve lost four of their last five games at Texas Tech. The only victory came in 2015 when TCU won, 55-52, on a deflected touchdown pass in the final minute.
West Virginia lineman Kyle Bosch on quarterback Will Grier’s scrambling from Kansas State’s pass rush and completing passes for big gains:
“A lot of those plays looked like recess.”