Sooner State sadness

If yesterday was not the worst display of college football on New Year’s Day since bowls were regularly played on the day, then it had to come close.

Five games, five blowouts. No game decided by fewer than 16 points, and four of the five decided by at least 28 points.

The night ended with another runaway. Ole Miss took a 34-6 lead over Oklahoma State at halftime of the Sugar Bowl and coasted to a 48-20 victory, capping an 11-2 season for the Rebels and victory in their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the end of the 1969 season, when Archie Manning was a junior.

The Rebels played without their best player, All-American defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who was suspended by coach Hugh Freeze following an incident in an Atlanta hotel where it was revealed he was smoking marijuana. Marijuana may be legal in some states, but it is certainly not in Georgia or Mississippi.

It was two very bad days for the state of Oklahoma.

The Sooners lost in the Orange Bowl to Clemson on New Year’s Eve, ending their hopes of a national championship. Last night, it was the Cowboys’ turn. Combined with Tulsa’ loss to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl the day after Christmas, it was an imperfect trifecta for the Sooner State.

Oklahoma State was 10-0 and ranked sixth in the College Football Playoff poll, but ended the year with a giant thud, losing at home to Baylor and Oklahoma to close the regular season, then going to New Orleans and getting thoroughly manhandled by Ole Miss.

The Cowboys need to get better on defense in a hurry. They cannot try to outscore every opponent, a plan which was fatally flawed. Oklahoma State was fortunate to be 10-0 in the first place, as it needed last-second drives to defeat Texas by three and Kansas State by two early in Big 12 play. And don’t forget the Cowboys struggled mightily to win at Iowa State before taking on Baylor and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State isn’t going back to the dark days of the early 1990s when it was on probation in the post-Barry Sanders years and found itself consistently at or near the bottom of the Big Eight. But if the Cowboys are to stay in the upper crust of the Big 12, they will need help.

For those in Stillwater hoping for better, wait until baseball season. Your basketball team is going to have to fight tooth and nail just to finish eighth in the Big 12. At least TCU should keep the Cowboys (and Texas Tech) out of the cellar.

Such will not be the case in Norman, where Lon Krueger has coached the Sooners to the No. 3 spot in the polls behind Michigan State and Kansas. Provided the Jayhawks and Sooners both win today, Monday’s matchup in Lawrence will be No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Oklahoma football will be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Baker Mayfield will be on the short list of Heisman Trophy favorites, joined by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fornette. Bob Stoops will be in Norman as long as he wants, as long as he doesn’t get taken down by scandal as was the case with Barry Switzer in the late 1980s.

Ole Miss had to wonder what might have been all throughout their stay in New Orleans.

The Rebels beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in September. Yet they blew that signature victory by losing at Florida, at Memphis and at home to Arkansas in overtime. Ole Miss blew the Arkansas game by allowing the Razorbacks to convert a fourth-and-25 in overtime, then committing a facemask penalty on the 2-point conversion attempt, allowing Arkansas another shot, which it converted.

Had Ole Miss beaten Arkansas, it would have played for the SEC championship, not Alabama. The Rebels would easily have handled Florida, even though the Gators beat Ole Miss 38-10 in Gainesville in October. If the College Football Playoff committee truly values conference championships, then there would have been no way Alabama could have been in the playoff ahead of Ole Miss or Pac-12 champion Stanford. And would Iowa have been able to hold a top-four spot after losing to

Thankfully, we did not have to find about Iowa in the playoff. Its pathetic performance in the Rose Bowl proved it was overrated.

On the other hand, Stanford has to feel some animosity towards Ole Miss. The Cardinal would have been in Miami and not Pasadena had the Rebels not blown it vs. Arkansas.

However, that’s all hindsight. It’s Alabama and Clemson in nine days.

Today’s football kicked off a few minutes ago in Jacksonville with Penn State and Georgia facing off in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly the Gator Bowl). TaxSlayer? Please.

In 1982, Penn State defeated Georgia, led by Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl. Today’s matchup holds a lot less intrigue. Just another bowl.

 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on January 2, 2016, in College Football and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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