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In Defense of Bob Stoops, the BCS (again), and the Big 12 (and a Look at the 2009 Season)

Posted: Jan 09, 2009

Proof, in college football, always comes over at least a two year period.  This means that Heisman winners and BCS Championship opponents almost always have to have a strong previous season leading into their big year.

It is very rare for teams or players to come out of nowhere.  There must be some inkling of greatness already established.

As we sit in the aftermath of what was a fantastic BCS Championship between Oklahoma and the victorious Florida, the typical media questions have begun - who was robbed?

We at Tribal Fever have defended the BCS already, and we won't run through it again.  It might not be perfect, but nothing really is.

So, let's run down the complaints du jour:

1.  Undefeated Utah was robbed!

2.  A seemingly dominant USC team was robbed!

3.  Oklahoma and the Big 12 were overrated!

and, of course...

4.  The BCS stinks!

As we've already established, college football is based on previous accomplishments.  It takes at least two seasons to prove oneself.  The BCS fits right into that paradigm.

Looking back to the BCS beginnings, the college football landscape was dominated by a handful of teams.  Back then, it was Florida and Florida State - Spurrier vs Bowden.  Bowden and his Seminoles played in the first three BCS games and won one. 

This streak of mini-dynasties continued.  Miami played in two in row, then USC did, then Ohio State did.  In each case, unless undefeated during the regular season, these teams were left out of a BCS game, perhaps unfairly, only to return and win the following year (ex. Miami in 2002 and USC in 2005)

During that same period, Bob Stoops re-energized a fading Oklahoma program after becoming their head coach in 1999.  Stoops and Oklahoma won a BCS title in 2001 against FSU before their recent fade and played and lost in the 2003 and 2004 BCS Championship games.

Much happened during this period of college football.  When Stoops first came to Norman, the Big 12 North dominated the conference behind Nebraska and Kansas State.  Stoops' time at OU served as a bridge of two Big 12 eras.

Stoops not only revitalized Oklahoma.   He also ushered in today's Big 12 South.  Texas hired Mack Brown in 2004 and the shift began towards the Big 12 South's dominance over the Big 12 North.

In addition to the Big 12's Southern shift, the rest of college football underwent a significant change.  No longer was it all about a few dominant teams (ie FSU to Nebraska to Miami to Oklahoma to USC).  Strong conferences were now becoming the real story.

2005 was a watershed BCS year.  In 2004, a one loss LSU team beat a one loss Oklahoma team 21-14.  That same year, a one loss USC team soundly beat a highly ranked Michigan team.  That led to split polls with the coaches voting for LSU as the BCS requires and the AP going for USC.

The next year USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn were all undefeated.  Largely on last year's accomplishments (yet again), USC and Oklahoma were chosen for the BCS Championship.  When USC trounced Oklahoma, Auburn fans were livid making a sound claim that they proved their worth by winning the SEC, the conference which had produced last year's winner - LSU.

The increased weighting of conference strength over big name programs took hold and became more relevant in each subsequent year.  The following year's BCS pitted the heavily favored and undefeated USC against undefeated Texas.  When Texas won that game, voters began to look even more closely at the value that comes in playing in a deep conference with a conference championship game - something USC's Pac 10 doesn't have.

When a favored Ohio State lost in back to back years to the SEC's Champion, first Florida and then LSU, the transition was complete.  Sporting a great record had to come in second to the level of competition played (ie your conference).

At the beginning of this year, we had a few unwritten rules:

1.  The SEC was the best conference and its winner, as long as it only had one conference loss, should be in the BCS Championship picture.

2.  USC's conference is so weak that it must run the table to ensure its BCS position

3.  Non-BCS conferences are inherently weak and don't deserve much consideration.  (This was due to Hawaii's embarrassing loss to Georgia.)

Of the six BCS conferences, only three have conference championship games - the SEC, the Big 12, and the ACC.  While the ACC is still emerging, the SEC and the Big 12 have provided proof that their conferences have depth and present and ample challenge to the ultimate conference winners.

When both the Big 12 and the SEC remained strong as expected AND USC lost to Oregon State after being heavily favored, the rules were already in place.  USC was going to be on the outside looking in.  Similarly, Utah suffered because of Hawaii's performance in the year before.

So where do we stand now?  Well, we pretty much know how the 2009 season will play out.

These are the facts.  The landscape of future college football seasons are determined by its recent past.

Let's get back to Bob Stoops.  Much has been made of Stoops' recent BCS stumbles.  However, we think it is best to put them into perspective.  He won a title with defense in 2001.  Soon after that, the Big 12 became a spread offense conference dominated by the Big 12 South.  Stoops altered his style to compete with Texas.  Keep in mind that Texas beat USC while Stoops and his formerly pedestrian offense at Oklahoma were blasted by the Trojans.

So, to sum up, the 2001 Sooners were underrated.  The 2005 Sooners were overrated.  His losses to Boise State and West Virginia were an example, most recently demonstrated by Alabama, of teams that really didn't care about the bowl games they were in because their rival won the conference.

Yes, the Sooners lost yet another BCS game, but in defeat they showed that they were more than worthy.  Their defense played extremely well.  Their offense, although slowed at times, showed that it could explode and score against Florida.

In the end, Stoops and Oklahoma were undone by the Big 12 overall lack of depth, especially in the Big 12 North.

For Florida, it came down to two things:

First, playing in the SEC is still a stronger challenge than the Big 12.  Florida had more than a few tests, especially against Alabama, which gave them the necessary tenacity to win big games.

Second, Tim Tebow is a better big game player than anyone on Oklahoma.  Considering that Tebow may be one of the great college players ever, this is hardly an embarrassment for Oklahoma.

The questions about Stoops began when USC blew them away in 2005.  However, Florida didn't blow them away last night.  In fact, Oklahoma could have won this game if not for a few bounces or tips of the ball.

We realize that passionate Sooner fans will remain mired in their current 0-5 bowl game funk.  However, TF believes that this actually says more about Stoops' greatness than his failures.  He will be back as will the Sooners, maybe as soon as next year.

We are already looking forward to 2010.  There is a good chance that USC will start Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams, for Arkansas players whose subsequent transfer provided the push for Houston Nutt to leave Arkansas for Ole Miss.  Maybe a USC vs SEC Champ will finally happen.

We can't wait!

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