Big 12 Media Days have come and gone. As each power conference enters the media spotlight this week, you’re going to read a discussion about it. Here’s our installment on the Big 12, which exited the scene in 2013 by affirming the staying power of a familiar brand name in college football while elevating a longtime doormat to a rare and considerable height.
We’ll talk about old-guard Oklahoma and newly ascendant Baylor in this roundtable. We’ll discuss other teams and subjects as well, here in the latest edition of The Editorial Section.
Question No. 1: Did the end of the 2013 Big 12 season change the way you assess Mike Gundy and the job he’s done at Oklahoma State?
On Twitter @TheCoachBart
There’s an old Seinfeld episode that includes a “contest” where the four friends bet one another that they can be more … ahem … restraining when it comes to self-gratification. The Contest, it is called. You come to find out in the last episode that even the winner lied and no one had the requisite patience. You may as well have just called it The Modern College Football Fan.
If the end of 2013 has affected your thinking, then you are readily admitting that your expectation level for the Oklahoma State program has had the bar raised because of Gundy’s time at the school. Times weren’t always where the Pokes were expected to win the conference and play in BCS bowl games. That now has become the expected rather than the aberration.
I mean, we’re only 13 years removed from Dirk Koetter taking the head gig there, then backing out, then the fallback option of Les Miles who produced seasons that right now would get Mike Gundy fired. Gundy was only 4-7 his first year as top dog in Stillwater. The fact that the end of 2013 is considered a potential referendum on the state of the Pokes’ program shows how great they’ve become and the enhanced expectation level that comes with being great. Oh, and Rickie Fowler is doing okay too. Good time to be a Poke.
On Twitter @SectionTPJ
One of the hardest things to do in life is to not overreact when something negative happens. While the final two games of the 2013 campaign (including the Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri) left a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboy fans, there’s no reason to view Mike Gundy’s tenure at Oklahoma State as anything other than successful.
That’s not to say it’s been perfect. During his nine years in Stillwater, Gundy is just 4-14 against Texas (3-6) and Oklahoma (1-8).
However, a closer examination of his full body of work will show that Gundy is arguably the greatest coach to ever roam the sidelines in Stillwater. In just 9 years on the job, Gundy is already the winningest coach in school history, amassing 77 wins during that time. He didn’t compile this record through longevity, as his .669 winning percentage is the third best in school history behind Pappy Waldorf (34-10-7 from 1929-’34) and Paul Davis (6-2-1 in 1914).
To put it in perspective, that’s a higher percentage than both Jimmy Johnson and Les Miles had at OSU.
Those last two paragraphs are a better description of his tenure than closing out the season with losses against two top-10 teams.
On Twitter @SectionMZ
Everything was set up for Oklahoma State last December.
Following a convincing win over Baylor, the Cowboys welcomed a flawed Oklahoma team with a very shaky quarterback situation to Stillwater. Oklahoma State might not have had more weapons than the Sooners, but it certainly had the better and more polished ones. Mike Gundy stood just one win — on home turf — from a second Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl appearance in three seasons. He would have attained unquestioned and (most important of all) sustained superiority over OU and Bob Stoops. Just one win could have cemented the notion that a full power shift had taken place in the state of Oklahoma. The Cowboys were just about ready to supplant the Sooners en toto.
Someway, somehow, Oklahoma State couldn’t finish the job. The Cowboys figuratively froze on a day that was literally quite cold.
How should one perceive Mike Gundy after seeing the way in which the 2013 Big 12 season concluded? As Bart quite rightly says, the reality of Gundy’s accomplishments, which have brought Oklahoma State to such a point of prominence, should serve as the central and primary verdict toward him as a coach. Agreed.
Yet, the missed opportunity against the Sooners did deprive Gundy of a chance to be seen on a much higher level in the college football coaching community. The loss to OU didn’t dent Gundy’s reputation, but it did prevent him from climbing past a number of his peers in both the Big 12 and the sport at large.
Question No. 2. Which achievement from the 2013 season was more improbable: Baylor winning the Big 12, or Oklahoma responding to a woodshed whipping at the hands of Baylor by marching to the Sugar Bowl and waxing Alabama?
Prior to Art Briles’ Baylor football team’s 7-6 season in 2010, the program’s last 7-win season was in 1995. Prior to 2011’s 10-win season, the last one had been in 1980. Prior to that year, the last one had been NEVER.
Maybe we’ve become desensitized to just how bad certain programs were or maybe Northwestern in the Gary Barnett era set the watermark we’ll just never feel can be broken. Yet, Baylor was staggeringly bad for so long; for the older population of us (plus-30 I guess), it’s a true shock to see the Bears competing for and winning conference crowns.
Bowl games are what they are … over-analyzed, small bodies of work not always representative of a team’s full season. Don’t get me wrong, what Oklahoma did was impressive, but there are a handful of “surprises” every year. That it was Alabama getting boat-raced is what moves the meter much like Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, or a handful of other blue bloods getting eviscerated.
What Baylor has done and sustained is a derivative of great program building from the ground up, and of a belief that has turned a place from the cemetery of college football to the forefront. At the same time, Baylor basketball has risen. Baylor is a destination now for top-shelf athletes. That’s more shocking. And Oklahoma is a program where blowing anyone out shouldn’t be that big of a jolt to the system.
Bowl games are strange — just ask Baylor and Oklahoma.
Baylor, a huge Fiesta Bowl favorite, floundered. Oklahoma, a massive Sugar Bowl underdog, surged. Yet, the stories authored by these teams en route to their showcase bowl games provided the two most riveting accounts of transformation from the 2013 Big 12 campaign.
On a more immediate level, Oklahoma’s feat was more impressive. The Sooners looked so lost and feeble after getting hammered by Baylor on that Thursday night in Waco. Injured and without a proven quarterback, the Sooners faced what appeared to be very narrow margins for error. That they successfully pulled off the tap-dance in road wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State marked one of Bob Stoops’s most remarkable coaching achievements in a career full of them. Winning the Sugar Bowl — after a month to get healthy — wasn’t the biggest surprise. Bagging that victory in Stillwater against an Oklahoma State team that had just thumped Baylor marked the kind of “How’d he do that?” moment which has defined Stoops’s legendary career.
Speaking of history, though, you can’t look at the past 33 years of college football and say that you knew Baylor would put all the pieces together in 2013. The Bears didn’t just overcome a third of a century of gridiron sadness. They smashed that third of a century to bits. While Baylor’s style of play was aesthetically pleasing and athletically imposing, the key point to realize in Waco is that the Bears brought such swagger to the field despite having little historical reason to believe in themselves. Art Briles knows his Xs and Os, but he did an even better job last season of instilling the right mindset. Yes, Baylor’s feat is, on balance, more impressive than Oklahoma’s… but it’s a close call.
While both were impressive feats, Oklahoma’s victory against Alabama was the more unlikely of the two.
Make no mistake about it: People expected the Bears to have a very good team last year. Sure, the media picked them to finish fifth in the preseason poll, but almost everyone qualified their comments with, “If Baylor finds some answers on defense, watch out!” After Art Briles’ squad demolished the Sooners, 41-12, on Nov. 7, there was no doubt that Baylor was the team to beat in the Big 12.
On the other hand, this drubbing caused many people to completely dismiss Oklahoma. Things didn’t get any better the following week, as the Sooners lost quarterback Blake Bell for the season against Iowa State. And even with decisive wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma State to cap off the season, OU entered the Sugar Bowl as a 15-point underdog against the Crimson Tide.
Just to recap: Oklahoma won the Sugar Bowl without its starting QB (at the time) against a Nick Saban-coached team that had plenty of time to put a game plan together. To me, that’s a much bigger surprise than an up-and-coming program with a solid foundation rising to the top and winning the Big 12 title.
Question No. 3. What can Texas realistically expect to achieve this season?
With Charlie Strong at the helm, there’s no reason to believe that Texas can’t win the Big 12 Championship this season.
Let’s be honest: The biggest problem that the Longhorns had was on defense last year. While talented, the UT “D” simply couldn’t get the job done.
That won’t be the case this season. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford had tremendous success at Louisville, guiding the Cardinals’ defense to top-25 finishes in total defense during each of his four seasons at the ‘Ville. While that doesn’t mean that he’ll transform the UT defense into the top defensive unit in the nation as UL was a year ago, it does suggest that he will mold it into a much more consistent performer than it was in 2013 (69th in total defense, 407.2 yards per game).
Defense wins championships. And with one of the most improved defenses in the country this season, it is realistic to expect the ‘Horns to compete for the conference title — not next year or in two years, but right now.
Charlie Strong was repeatedly asked about national championship aspirations at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday afternoon. Texas fans want their coach to think in terms of national titles, and that’s reasonable in a larger context.
However, this is year one of Strong’s tenure, following a pronounced decline in the quality of the program. Even at schools such as the University of Texas, a complete restoration typically takes more than a year. It’s going to be very hard for Texas to beat even one of the top three (anticipated) teams in the Big 12 this year: Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Baylor. If the Longhorns win nine games this season, Strong will have done well. Next year is when the expectations need to be raised in Austin.
Fun fact: Poison ivy is not poison ivy, and poison oak is not poison oak … they are both a part of the cashew family. And Texas football hasn’t been Texas football in a while, and yes, there are a few nuts in its family as well.
As vague and tough as it is to quantify for fans, the goal this year should be what coaches are always seeking day in and out: to get better. Whether that manifests itself in practice habits or wins and losses, that is always the goal and one will eventually lead to the other, which is wins instead of losses.
The truth about Texas football is the same as most every elite college team, one that mostly holds true in the NFL: no quarterback, no success.
Texas has a tough schedule with UCLA and BYU on the non-conference slate, and Charlie Strong started off at Louisville slowly, so there is reason to suggest it will take time for players to understand how to win in his system. Yet, it’s Texas, and Texas can mostly out-talent its way to 7 to 8 wins a year if it was that simple.
How far the program takes to get turned around, however, will depend on how long it takes to find a quarterback. That’s been the one constant since the Vince Young/Colt McCoy days: a subsequent drop-off rooted in inconsistent play from the most important position on the field. “Getting better” and parlaying that into “wins over losses” starts there. Nuts, right?