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Bill Haisten: A weird OU-Texas game fits perfectly in a decidedly irregular 2020 season

Bill Haisten: A weird OU-Texas game fits perfectly in a decidedly irregular 2020 season


Oklahoma’s Theo Wease collected a two-point conversion pass from Spencer Rattler (background) as the Sooners prevailed 53-45 over Texas on Saturday.

As OU-Texas was equal parts sloppy and dramatic, a 53-45, four-overtime Sooners victory fits perfectly within a 2020 season that through its first full month of competition is defined by wildly irregular developments.

Those developments involve teams that actually have been participants. The Big Ten season doesn’t start until Oct. 24. As the Pac-12 copied the Big Ten decision to not play and also the Big Ten decision to reconsider, the Pac-12 eventually will get around to trying football again.

The only time I really think about the Pac-12 is when I study weekend television listings, and there are no late-night contests involving West Coast squads. Out of sight, out of mind.

Oregon has had a shining moment here and there, and Washington was trounced by Alabama in the College Football Playoff four years ago, but the Pac-12 has been mostly irrelevant since Pete Carroll was introduced as the Seattle Seahawks’ coach in 2010.

Pac-12 teams have a seven-game schedule that is nearly as ridiculous as MLB’s 60-game regular season. The conference begins play on a date — Nov. 7 — when some people already will have done some Christmas shopping.

As recently as the morning of Sept. 26, OU was ranked No. 3 in the nation and was expected to get another Big 12 title and another trip to the College Football Playoff.

Today, OU is unranked and in the Big 12 standings trails Iowa State and Kansas State by two games. OU trails Oklahoma State by 1½ games.

Because of a home loss to K-State and a setback at Iowa State, OU also has a tiebreaker disadvantage if matched with either of those teams in a tiebreaker that would determine a Big 12 Championship game participant.

The Oklahoma schedule also is among the irregularities of 2020. The Sooners won’t play a home game during the month of October.

On Nov. 23, 2019, OU beat TCU in Norman. OU opened the 2020 season with a blowout of an FCS opponent (Missouri State). When the Sooners defeat Kansas on Nov. 7, they will have recorded a home victory over a major-college opponent for the first time in 350 days.

If a 350-day gap seems unimaginable, you’ll shudder at this memory. On Sept. 23, 1995, the Howard Schnellenberger-coached Sooners won 51-10 over North Texas.

Not for 677 days did OU win again in Norman.

On Sept. 6, 1997, John Blake’s Sooners prevailed 36-34 over Donovan McNabb and Syracuse on Sept. 6, 1997. On the final play of that game, OU blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt.

Only a few months ago, LSU was hailed as “a team for the ages.” The 2019 Tigers actually were among the more talented and potent teams of all time, but the 2020 Tigers have fallen against Mississippi State and Missouri. Like Oklahoma, LSU now is unranked.

Mike Leach’s first Mississippi State team opened with a 44-34, 632-yard victory at LSU, but followed with only two touchdowns in a loss to Arkansas and no touchdown at all in a 24-2 setback against Kentucky.

The University of Tulsa has a defense that might be among the 15 best in college football. Ask Mike Gundy and Josh Heupel about the Tulsa defense. On Saturday — Oct. 17 — the Golden Hurricane plays for the first time at home, and it’s a huge American Athletic Conference date with seventh-ranked Cincinnati.

Alabama did defeat Ole Miss during the weekend, but the typically great Crimson Tide defense was scalded by Rebel totals of 48 points and 647 yards.

No one saw this coming — that Sam Pittman’s Arkansas Razorbacks could be the most improved team in the nation. A tragically bad officiating mistake robbed the Hogs of an opportunity to beat Auburn.

Of course, the pandemic has resulted in modest attendance figures or, in some stadiums, no attendance at all. So far, the largest crowd this season was the 24,709 who saw Texas A&M upset Florida in College Station.

Everyone saw this coming — that Clemson again would be really good. With Trevor Lawrence as the overwhelming Heisman Trophy favorite, top-ranked Clemson clearly is the best of the currently active teams. Defensively, Georgia is special. After the Big Ten starts to roll, Ohio State could emerge as Clemson’s primary threat.

Only two years after the Tar Heels were 2-9, North Carolina is undefeated and ranked No. 5. Mack Brown was a home run hire for North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham, the former University of Tulsa AD.

In seven seasons since Brown reportedly was forced out at Texas, the Longhorns’ records are 43-38 overall and 30-27.

College football is rife with oddities that include OU’s two-loss record. Lincoln Riley isn’t blind. He can see what we can see, and it’s clear that the Sooners aren’t winning another national title until he presides over a massive rebuild on the defensive side of the program.

Of all of the defensive mistakes made against K-State, at Iowa State and in the Cotton Bowl, this one was particularly glaring: A Sooner defender was grabbed by a Texas blocker near the line of scrimmage. While it wasn’t a blatantly horrible hold, it was the type of infraction that usually results in a flag.

This time, there was no flag. The OU player turned to an official, waving his arms and lobbying for a call instead of pursuing the Longhorn ball-carrier. It’s OK to ask for a flag, but not until the whistle is blown. Effort can never be compromised.

In his first Texas experience, Spencer Rattler had a somewhat uneven performance but made the plays that mattered most. With regard to decision-making, Riley has had better days.

The ultimate takeaway for any OU fan should center on the bottom line. With his worst team and during the most unusual college football season ever, and when matched with a counterpart — Tom Herman — who must have felt tremendous pressure to win, Riley still found a way to beat Texas.

Bill Haisten918-581-8397

Twitter: @billhaisten

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Sports Columnist

I joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to becoming a sports columnist in 2016, I was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397

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