First and 10: If Rivalry Week proved anything, it proved Oklahoma and Texas must come to the SEC. Now
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
It’s time to go. Get the attorneys in a room, and hash out an agreement that works for both sides and move on.
After last weekend’s Bedlam game, after the most rational of us can look at the officiating in Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State and think something is clearly off, it’s time cut bait.
Oklahoma and Texas must leave the Big 12 in June, at the end of the 2021-2022 sports season, and officially join the SEC.
Not another year in a conference that doesn’t want them.
Not another season of petty temper tantrums, and holding hefty multimillion-dollar buyouts over the collective heads of Texas and Oklahoma like an I Told You So guillotine.
Sit down and discuss an equitable divorce like rational people do, and move on to the next stages of your sports lives.
“I don’t see how it can last another season,” an industry source told me Sunday afternoon. “There’s no way either one of them can go through another season like this with the animosity on the field and in (Big 12 conference) meetings.”
Especially with the strange – and depending on your conspiracy belief, blatant – missed calls in a game that knocked Oklahoma from playing for another Big 12 Championship and from potentially earning a place in the College Football Playoff.
Before we go further, understand that while poor officiating could contribute to winning and losing, players on the field decide games.
Blown calls happen week after week, in every sport.
But two high-profile missed calls in Oklahoma State’s 37-33 win over Oklahoma will give plenty of fodder to those who believe the Big 12 will make life miserable for Oklahoma and Texas until their scheduled departure in 2025.
— Oklahoma, facing 3rd-and-27 from its 8 with 13:18 to play and leading 33-31, ran Kennedy Brooks for 6 yards before he was stood up by a group of Oklahoma State defenders. The whistle blew, and the group, led by OSU LB Devin Harper, kept driving Brooks back toward the line of scrimmage before Harper eventually threw Brooks to the ground.
An official then threw a flag for dead ball, unsportsmanlike conduct – which would’ve given Oklahoma an automatic first down. After the officials met, they decided to pick up the flag with no call.
The ABC broadcast team includes Bill LeMonnier as a rules analyst. A Big Ten official for more than 20 years who has worked major bowl games and national championship games, LeMonnier chimed in immediately – before being asked by the announcing crew.
“Totally unnecessary,” LeMonnier said. “(No.) 16 (Harper) got away with one. If I had the flag, I’d stick by it and dig my feet in and say no, that’s totally unnecessary.”
OU punted, and after an Oklahoma State drive stalled, the Cowboys punted – and OU returner Eric Gray fumbled the punt at the Sooners’ 5. Two plays later, Oklahoma State scored the game-winning points.
— Oklahoma is facing 2nd-and-10 from the OSU 24 with 28 seconds remaining and trailing 37-33. QB Caleb Williams throws into the left corner of the end zone for WR Trevon West. OSU CB Korie Black – with the ball in the air — grabs at West’s torso and waist and arms, and nearly tackles him.
Immediately, LeMonnier chimes in, “That’s pass interference.”
With an interference call, OU would’ve had the ball on the OSU 9 with 1st-and-goal and 22 seconds remaining. In other words, time to run at least 3 more pass plays.
Instead, Williams’ 3rd-down throw was caught out of bounds in the end zone, and he was sacked on 4th down to end the game.
Then-Sooners coach Lincoln Riley didn’t blame officials immediately after the game, though he did say that, “We had the ball down there in the end zone to West that he got tackled on.”
Again, officials don’t dictate games. But there’s little doubt that in every sport, in any close call that goes against them, OU and Texas officials will have the idea of paybacks in their collective minds.
Is it real? No, it’s a blown call. And one more time: They happen week after week in every sport.
But do you really want to put your athletes and coaches and fans through the nightmare of what could’ve been or should’ve been — or how in the world was that call made or not made? – with the backdrop of Big 12 animosity clouding all reality?
It’s time to go.
At the end of the day, it’s only money.
2. Survival of the fittest
Depending upon which legal team you ask – Texas and OU vs. the Big 12 – each school would owe the Big 12 at least $80 million each to leave for the SEC in June 2022.
That’s not counting the legal arguments about whether the OU and Texas media rights were given to the Big 12 in perpetuity.
But this is so much more than money. At its core, this is about the survival of the Big 12 as an Autonomous or “A5” conference (called Power 5 by media).
There are 5 A5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12) and Notre Dame, and 5 Group of 5 conferences (Mountain West, AAC, CUSA, MAC, Sun Belt) — and the monetary distribution difference between the sides is as wide as the Grand Canyon.
While the 10 conference commissioners of college football have never given a breakdown of the estimated half a billion annual revenue from the College Football Playoff, there are kings and paupers – and little doubt where each conference stands.
Without Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 no longer is an A5 conference. Forget about the additions to Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and UCF; they don’t move the needle for television. They won’t help the Big 12 avoid getting kicked out of the exclusive club by the remaining 4 A5 conferences.
If you don’t think the remaining 4 A5 conferences and Notre Dame would vote to remove the Big 12, look at history. The same conferences – then known as the “BCS” conferences – voted out the Big East a decade ago after it was picked over in the first round of major expansion.
One less A5 conference means one less mouth to feed with not only the current CFP contract but also a new CFP deal that could potentially double the revenue of the current deal.
The Big 12 wants A5 access. Guess who can help the Big 12 stay in the exclusive club?
That’s right, the SEC.
3. Helping each other
This isn’t that difficult to understand, especially when it’s laid out on a spreadsheet for all to see.
“(The Big 12) would have to be crazy to cut off their nose to spite their face,” another industry source told me.
Let’s say that Texas and OU pay $80 million each and leave in June 2022, and the Big 12 gets a deposit of $160 million into the coffers. The 8 remaining schools in the conference would each get $20 million — to essentially flush their collective futures down the drain.
That’s $20 million for the right to drop down to the Group of 5 level, where you’re scraping for everything you can get and avoiding the inevitable of the autonomous conferences eventually pulling away on their own down the road.
Or you can work with the SEC — the most powerful conference in college football with OU and Texas (powerful enough, and good enough, to have their own league and Playoff) – to find a monetary mitigation from the $160 million.
A mitigation that allows Texas and Oklahoma to join the SEC in June 2022, and gives the Big 12 a percentage of the buyout cash and the weight and might of the SEC while trying to keep its A5 status.
The SEC, Notre Dame and the Big 12 would vote to keep the Big 12 as an A5 member, and the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC couldn’t move to push out a current member without a unanimous vote. It’s that simple.
The mitigation negotiations, on the other hand, won’t be.
4. Deep speed
I don’t want to minimize the defense played by Auburn, or the unique scheme used by Tigers defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
But the Alabama offense without WR Jameson Williams may as well be the Alabama offense without QB Bryce Young.
So don’t read too much into the Tide’s struggles to move the ball against Auburn – especially with the big, bad Georgia defense standing in the way in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.
The one flaw in the Georgia defense – is there really a flaw with a team giving up 6.9 points per game? – is the secondary. Georgia is No.2 in the nation in pass defense, but that number is buoyed by a pass rush that leaves the secondary with minimal time to cover.
The more Alabama can protect – and sophomore right tackle Damieon George is a liability right now – the better chance of Williams making plays against the Georgia secondary. Before getting ejected for targeting early in the win over Auburn, Williams had developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in the nation.
In the previous 6 games, he had 42 catches for 854 yards (20.3 ypc.) and 10 TDs. He had at least 123 yards in 5 of the 6 games.
Here’s a better barometer of Williams’ impact: On 3rd down this season, he has 14 catches for 368 yards (26.3 ypc.) and 3 TDs.
“They love throwing it deep to him on 3rd down,” an NFL scout told me. “(Young) throws it well, but really, he just runs go (route) and runs under it. Having someone who can outrun coverage is a dangerous luxury.”
5. The Weekly Five
Five steps to fix the Florida Gators for new coach Billy Napier.
1. Recruit the state of Florida better than every coach since Urban Meyer. Don’t ignore IMG Academy.
2. Hire an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach who can develop uber-talented but raw QB Anthony Richardson.
3. Hire assistant coaches with SEC experience – who know the value of recruiting and developing players (see: Kevin Steele).
4. Embrace the Florida ideal that every coach in every sport is in it together. Get involved beyond the football field.
5. Get everyone aligned — from the president, to the athletic director, to coaches, to players, to the equipment managers – on the same goal. Or in the words of Nick Saban, The Process.
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Ole Miss DE Sam Williams.
“A lot of questions coming into this season. He absolutely took plays off last year. You want guys that love the game, and are relentless – especially your edge guys. He wasn’t that. But he’s a different guy this season. It’s more than just effort and want, he has developed off the edge. He’s no longer a one-trick guy; it’s more than just the speed rush. His leverage is better, and he’s clearly better and smarter in run and pass situations. The results are increased production. He has come a long way in terms of do you want it, and how you go about changing. That’s a great sign of a coachable guy.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: postseason plans.
1. Georgia: Win or lose to Alabama, College Football Playoff. High: 1 seed, Low: 2 seed.
2. Alabama: Beat Georgia, No. 1 seed in CFP. Lose, and still not out of CFP – but likely New Year’s 6 bowl (Sugar Bowl).
3. Ole Miss: Peach Bowl vs. ACC champion (Pittsburgh)
4. Arkansas: Citrus Bowl vs. Iowa (if Georgia and Alabama in CFP, Ole Miss to Sugar, Hogs with outside chance at NY6).
5. Texas A&M: Texas Bowl vs. Iowa State
6. Mississippi State: Music City Bowl vs. Purdue
7. Kentucky: Outback Bowl vs. Wisconsin
8. Tennessee: Gator Bowl vs. Clemson
9. Auburn: Cheez-it Bowl vs. Kansas State
10. LSU: Birmingham Bowl vs. Houston
11. Missouri: Quick Lane Bowl vs. Western Michigan
12. South Carolina: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. NC State
13. Florida: Gasparilla Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
14. Vanderbilt: Getting early jump on spring practice planning.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you see Mark Stoops staying at Kentucky, or will this crazy offseason pull him away? — Kevin Stillman, Louisville.
Kevin: Stoops is happy at UK and the administration will pay him what he wants, but don’t think he doesn’t understand the reality of the situation. Has he hit the ceiling at UK, or can the program be more than a disrupter in the SEC race (especially with Oklahoma and Texas on the way)?
For all the good he has accomplished – the 10-win season(s?), the dominance of a rival, the 2 wins over Florida in the past 4 years – this is still a program that, all things being equal, is mid-level. Still a program that can’t recruit to the level of other programs that win big. Bigger than Kentucky.
Stoops could easily be part of the coaching searches at LSU and Oklahoma, or any other collateral domino searches. With all the uncertainty in coaching right now, there’s not a better time to move to a bigger job and get paid – or stay and get a lifetime contract. Because UK might just offer it to keep him.
9-1. The Heisman Trophy race, fair or not, has always been about the most important player to an elite team – not necessarily the best player in the sport. In that sense, why not Georgia QB Stetson Bennett?
Heisman voters are big on November games to remember, and Bennett has 9 TDs and 1 INT in 4 November games. He hasn’t thrown an interception against a ranked team all season, and will get a marquee game Saturday against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Have the best game of his season in a big win over the Tide, and there might be enough momentum to get him to New York City for the ceremony.
10. Quote to note
LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who had his headphones off for the game-winning play against Texas A&M: “I was just being a cheerleader by then.”