Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Big 12 Existence At Stake

Now that Texas A & M has finalized their intention to leave the Big 12 in writing, the real handwringing begins. And not just the hands of Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe.

In Austin. In Norman. In Stillwater. And from Waco to Ames, Iowa. This is the defining moment for the Big 12's very existence.

And, the only man who can save this tradition-rich, historic conference dating back to the old Southwest Conference days, is a former player in that old conference who knows more about the tradition, history and success of the coalition of schools who comprised the Southwest Conference than anyone else.

His name: Jerrel Wayne Jones. He goes by Jerry around these parts nowadays.

A former starting offensive lineman and co-captain on the 1964 undefeated, national champional Arkansas Razorbacks, former successful oilman from North Little Rock via Los Angeles, and the defacto head of the board of regents for the University of Arkansas, Jerry Jones is the only man alive who can make the Big 12 whole again.

His mission: convince the University of Arkansas leadership that it is time to end the S.E.C. experiment and literally call the hogs home. Waiting for them is that prized Texas recruiting ground that accompanies playing actual football games in the state of Texas in front of the actual high school recruits it so covets. A top 5 television market with millions of eyeballs to actually watch Razorback games. A renewal of a long-standing, hated, natural border rival in Texas. A new match up with neighbor Oklahoma that old king Barry Switzer never wanted any part of while he was feeding the monster in the 70's but one in which the new king of Norman, Bob Stoops, would eagerly welcome today. An instant BCS nod that would annually come against Big 12 North division foes the likes of Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri instead of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi. A Big 12 Championship Game in Fayetteville South-Cowboys Stadium in December. And the one thing that Jerry understands more than anything else: more money than they are currently receiving from the S.E.C.

An Arkansas entry into the Big 12 will certainly cause eyebrows to be raised in South Bend, Indiana. Who knows. Maybe the "independent-minded" Fighting Irish will take another look at a Big 12 conference that consists of perennial national powers Oklahoma and Texas, a rejuvenated-Oklahoma State, who has been flirting with national success the past few years, a 20 million person market in Texas and an instant ticket to the BCS bowl dance. If Arkansas comes along with Notre Dame does that also bring another national power looking for a home in the Southwest like say, Florida State? Who knows. But Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe better be on the phone to Dallas-neighbor Jerry Jones at this instant to find out the hogs interest.

At yesterday's SMU Athletic Forum Luncheon featuring Troy Aikman, SMU Athletic Director, and former Notre Dame alumni, Steve Orsini opened the luncheon with three questions for the jam-packed audience:

1) Why does the city in the heart of the most tradition-rich football region of the county with long-standing ties to the Big 8/12 and Southwest Conference not have an Automatic Qualifying BCS school?

2) Why does the 5th largest television market in the country not have an Automatic Qualifying BCS school?

3) Why do Ames, Iowa; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Lubbock, Texas and Waco, Texas have an Automatic Qualifying BCS school and Dallas does not?

Obviously, Mr. Orsini is selling SMU's possibility of capitalizing on Texas A & M's departure hoping the Big 12 will look at an SMU entry into the league. Not a bad idea and one I would be selling if I were in Mr. Orsini's shoes. And, it's the same case Dan Beebe should be selling to Jerry Jones, the University of Arkansas and Mr. Orsini's alma mater.

Yes indeed. The future success of the Big 12 depends on Jerry Jones. Let's hope for the sake of the entire Southwest and football-crazed Texas he succeeds.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tulsa QB Ready To Accept His Mission

G.J. Kinne will attempt to go where few opposing quarterbacks have gone in recent years against the University of Oklahoma in Norman next Saturday, September 3:

A win against the Oklahoma Sooners at Owen Field.

The Sooners are 72-2 in Norman under Bob Stoops and have not lost at home since a 17-10 loss to TCU in the home opener in 2005. They also own the longest, current home-winning streak in the NCAA with a 36-consecutive game win streak.

Combine those stats with the pre-season #1 ranking in both major polls: USA TODAY/Coaches and Associated Press. Add in an unprecedented ESPN "All Access" for opening week of practice by the normally reclusive Bob Stoops, a top 5 national showdown week three against #5 ranked Florida State in Tallahassee and the entire Sooner Nation is absolutely giddy about a potential 8th national championship.

But hold on Boomer & Sooner, those irrepressible shetland ponies who usher the Sooner Schooner onto Owen Field after every OU scoring drive, this Tulsa team is potent. And no one is more potent than quarterback G.J. Kinne. The third year starter brings a veteran team with playmakers on both sides of the ball to Norman which is a far-better team than the Golden Hurricane squad that lost to OU in 2009, 45-0.

So, without any further delay, here are 10 ways Tulsa can ruin the Sooner Nation's BCS National Championship dreams before they ever get started.

Reason #1: Be Like John!

In 1980 a skinny, no-name sophomore quarterback in just his fourth collegiate start from Stanford brought his Cardinal football team into Norman to face the #4 ranked Sooners. Just one year removed from Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims gracing the Sooner sideline, 8-consecutive Big 8 Championships (including two national championships along the way) and back-to-back Orange Bowl victories over Florida State, little known Stanford upset Oklahoma at home 31-14.

The quarterback's name? John Elway.

Riding an unabashed confidence and a gunslinger mentality, Elway shocked the Sooner faithful by shredding the OU defense. Elway lit up the Owen Field visitor scoreboard by completing 20 of 34 attempts for 3 touchdowns and 237 yards. To add insult to injury, Elway also ran 18 times for 37 yards and another touchdown.

How big of an upset did Elway pull off? Consider this: the 31 points scored by Stanford were the most points ever given up by a Barry Switzer coached team and the most against Oklahoma since the infamous Nebraska "Game of the Century" in 1971 when the Huskers knocked off the Sooners 35-31. At least that one was competitive.

Elway came out throwing and led the Cardinal to an early 17-0 lead and never let up as a pouring rainstorm settled over Owen Field and literally soaked the Sooners chances of that illusive 6th national championship. Stanford added 14 more points and was up 31-0 midway through the third quarter before OU finally scored.

Stanford also rushed for 220 yards to keep the Sooner defense off-balance and ran off a modern day Sooner-like 90 plays. The Cardinal also benefitted from 7 OU turnovers including 5 fumbles. The victory ended Oklahoma's 20-game winning streak at home.

OU Head Coach Barry Switzer had this to say about Elway after the game, "The greatest exhibition of quarterback play and passing I have ever seen on this field."

So note to self if you are G.J. Kinne. It can happen. Ask John Elway.

Reason #2: Ask Jeff

Fast-forward to 1982 and the home opener in Norman. Oklahoma hadn't lost a home-opener since 1965 when they were blanked by Navy 10-0. The Sooners also had not started off a season 0-1 since 1968 and were 9-0 in home openers under Barry Switzer.

Enter little-known West Virginia junior quarterback Jeff Hostetler. Who? He was 10 years removed from his Super Bowl winning ways for the New York Giants but Hostetler came into Norman for his starting college debut, perhaps encouraged by Elway's success two years earlier, and shocked the Sooners 41-27. The 41 points were the most ever scored on the Sooners in the state of Oklahoma!

Hostetler was "Cool Hand Luke" burning the Sooners for 321 yards on 17 of 37 passing and four touchdowns.

West Virginia's high-octane passing game kept the Sooners defense on its' heels and guessing and after falling behind 14-0, rallied to lead at halftime 20-14 helped by a surprise onside kick and two late scores to shock the unsuspecting Sooners.

Said Mountaineer Head Coach Don Nehlen, "I would think for a guy who has never taken a snap at West Virginia it was a brilliant performance."

Reason #3: Learn, Read & Be Bold!

Neither Elway or Hostetler had any fears of facing Sooner Magic in Norman.

Both had excellent coaching and numerous hours of film study of previous OU defenses. Both executed their coaches game plans with a cockiness not seen in Norman by opposing quarterbacks.

Their "caution-to-the-wind" attitude fueled their underdog teammates who were emboldened by their fearless attitudes creating an atmosphere of winning.

So, G.J. Kinne can learn from Elway's and Hostetler's historic successes in Norman against higher-ranked Sooner teams and "go for it!"

Reason #4: Strike Early & Often

The key to beating the Sooners at home is to strike early and often if possible and take the overbearing home crowd out the game.

It's hard enough beating OU at your stadium but combine 85,000 rabid, screaming fans who create one of the most impressive home field advantages with the #1 team in the country and it's very, very difficult to beat the Sooners in Norman.

So, go deep early and often and hope you catch the Sooners off guard before they realize what hit them and hold on.

Reason #5: Test The Middle

Long-time Sooner Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables said it best recently when he mentioned that championship defenses are strong up the middle.

And, Venables qualified that "up the middle" includes the free safety. The Sooners lost All-American Free Safety Quintin Carter last year and are replacing him with Javon Harris who Stoops tried replacing by moving "Roy" backer Tony Jefferson to free safety earlier in fall practice. The 2010 Sooners also were considered "soft" at defensive tackle and were the 53rd best defense in the country. The same three defensive tackles return in 2011. And, OU lost starting linebacker and preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Travis Lewis the first week of practice to a broken toe and fifth year senior linebacker Austin Box who died unexpectedly in the offseason. To add to the Sooners woes, former linebacker and starting defensive end Ronnell Lewis' academic status remains unclear 10 days before the Tulsa game.

Indeed, the Sooners have question marks up the middle that a veteran, seasoned quarterback like G.J. Kinne can exploit.

Reason #6: Control The Ball

Oklahoma runs a high-octane, fast-paced pro-style offense that can score quickly in spurts, control the ball and run off 90+ plays a game. An unheard number of plays in college football.

This type of attack wears a defense out by spreading the field and keeping you guessing which target to attack.

For Tulsa to have any chance to win, they must control the ball on offense with a short passing attack exploiting the Sooners young secondary, combined with a balanced rushing game that keeps the Sooner defense on the field and guessing. Mix in a well-timed deep passing threat where a veteran quarterback like Kinne can attack and you have a recipe for an upset.

Tulsa has a veteran offensive line that is very deep. So deep that Tulsa will rotate two offensive lines to keep the players fresh in an attempt to wear down the defense.

And, Kinne has led the Golden Hurricane in rushing the past two seasons so just like John Elway did in 1980, Kinne can help his own cause with his feet just as well as with his arm.

Reason #7: Exploit the Special Teams

Bob Stoops will deny it until he's blue in the face but it's a well-known fact the Sooners have suffered on special teams the past few years.

How bad are the Sooners woes on special teams? Missouri broke their backs with a long kickoff return in the 36-27 loss in Columbia last October that sank the Sooners national championship hopes and ended their one week stay atop the BCS standings. Texas A & M did the same thing two weeks later in College Station that fueled a 33-19upset. And, OSU kept themselves in the shootout in Stillwater last Thanksgiving weekend with a long kickoff return for a touchdown.

So regardless of Stoops' denial and stubborness, the Sooners can be exposed on special teams and Tulsa needs a score on a long punt return or kickoff to pull off the upset.

Reason #8: Create Turnovers

Bob Stoops Oklahoma teams have created more turnovers than almost anyone else in college football the past 12 years by being very aggressive ball-hawks on defense.

The Oklahoma defenses are built on speed, aggressiveness and toughness exemplified by their head coach who was a former safety at Iowa.

So if the Golden Hurricane are to pull off the upset in Norman, they'll need to steal a page from Stoops' playbook and create some help along the way by their defense to get a key stop with an interception or fumble.

Take a cue from the 1980 Stanford Cardinal who benefitted from 7 Oklahoma turnovers.

Reason #9: Pressure Landry Jones

No quarterback likes to be pressured but some handle it worse than others.

Landry Jones has imploded in key games the past two years and enraged the Sooner faithful with off-balanced throws in the face of pressure. To make matters worse some of those ill-timed passes have resulted in instant pick sixes for the opposing team.

The only reason OSU hung in the first half in Stillwater last year was thanks to Jones' pick six in the first half that kept the Cowboys in the game.

Nothing can take the steam out of an offenses' confidence more than an interception returned for a touchdown.

New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has worked with Jones all summer to work on his reads, foot work and releases to minimize Jones' poor habit of tossing the ball to the opposing team.

How well Jones has learned will be discovered in 10 days when facing a Tulsa pass rush.

Reason #10: Believe!

And the most important reason why Tulsa can pull off an upset is simply believe!

The Sooners have proven beatable on the road in key games last year at Missouri and Texas A & M. They held on in an historic shootout against OSU last November and pulled out a 47-41 win for the ages.

And, Tulsa has to look no further than their huge 28-27 upset over Notre Dame in South Bend last year before a nationally-televised audience for a blueprint to pull off an upset over the Sooners.

Kinne completed 18 of 34 passes for 196 yards and added 78 yards on 20 carries as the leading rusher for Tulsa. Kinne got the Golden Hurricane off to a fast start by directing a 67-yard, 9-play scoring drive on the opening possession tossing a 9-yard pass to his favorite receiver junior Damaris Johnson. The Golden Hurricane defense added a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime and a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnson in the third quarter to seal the victory.

Kinne celebrated the historic Tulsa win by running over to the Tulsa band section, grabbing the director's wand and directed the Tulsa band in a victory celebration!

Yes the mighty Sooners can be beaten at home. It hasn't happened in the past 36-games stretching over 5-1/2 seasons and Oklahoma is 72-2 at home under Bob Stoops.

However, if any team can pull off the upset, Tulsa is poised to do it if they get a few breaks, score on special teams, pressure Landry Jones into throwing interceptions, create some opportunistic turnovers and hope their quarterback becomes a fearless gunslinger ala the ghosts of Elway and Hostetler.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Football Game Is A Matter of Life and Death to Stoops Family

Before last years football game between #10 ranked Oklahoma and #17 ranked Florida State in Norman, members of the Stoops football family had only met once before on the football field.

It is a memory that none of the Stoops family will ever forget.

In October of 1988, the Stoopses family patriarch and elder statesman Ron Sr. led his Youngstown, Ohio Cardinal Mooney team against oldest son Ron, Jr.'s Boardman team. Ron Jr. was the assistant coach in charge of defense for Boardman. Ron Sr. was the long-time defensive coordinator for Cardinal Mooney in his 28th year coaching at the same school where he had coincidentally coached all four of his sons.

During a heated, closely contested game late in the fourth quarter, with most of the entire Stoops clan in the stands watching, Ron Sr. collapsed on the Cardinal Mooney sideline. A hushed stadium, including son Ron Jr. watching down on his father from the press box, looked on anxiously as they watched Ron Stoops being treated. Ron Jr. was soon by his father's side as the game went into triple overtime with Mooney winning. Ron Sr. was attended to on the sideline and saw the outcome and then was placed in an ambulance.

A few seconds later Ron Stoops, Sr. died of a massive heart attack. He was 54 years old. "It's almost poetic," said his daughter Kathy, "You couldn't write a story and have it come out that way." (The New York Times, August 29, 2004.)

Suddenly the importance of something as simple as a high school football game wasn't very important anymore.

Fast-Forward to 2010

So you can imagine the intensity of the feelings building up inside 49-year old Bob Stoops and youngest brother Mark as they prepared to face-off against one another last September in Norman.

Older brother Bob had been dreading this game ever since that December night in 2009 that baby brother Mark had excitedly called him about his newest coaching opportunity. You see Florida State had an opening with legendary coach Bobby Bowden's forced retirement. Incoming coach Jimbo Fisher had reached out to the younger Stoops for the defensive coordinator job at Florida State. The younger Stoops was defensive coordinator on his older brother Mike's staff at Arizona. The opportunity to accept the Florida State job for first year coach Fisher and escape older brother Mike's shadow, prompted the call for advice to the man all Sooner fans knew as "Big-Game Bob" who was now simply big brother Bob.

The second oldest sibling Bob was well aware of the tragedy that had played out on the football field in Youngstown in 1988 between Ron Sr. and Ron Jr. but kept his thoughts to himself. You see Bob Stoops knew that Florida State was already scheduled to play Oklahoma in Norman that coming September. The very thought of facing off against baby brother was as heart-wrenching a thought as he could possibly think of. He knew the stress and strain of having to put his mother and family through another Stoops match-up on the field would create. He also knew that heart disease ran in his family genes, had been the main contributor to his father's fatal heart attack and had prompted him to get annual exams, control his high cholesterol with medications, maintain a healthy diet and strict work out schedule ever since his father's untimely death. Bob Stoops wanted nothing to do with contributing to another Stoops family coaching match-up and the first between the four football-coaching, sibling brothers all of whom had played defense for their father at Cardinal Mooney.

In fact, the very same situation had just been averted during the 2009 bowl season. It seems the Sun Bowl folks were absolutely giddy with the prospects of an Oklahoma vs. Arizona match-up in El Paso. Bob Stoops Oklahoma team was the likely representative from the Big 12. The top contender from the Pac-10 was Mike Stoops Arizona Wildcats.

Both Stoops brothers made their feelings known to school officials who conveyed their wishes to the Sun Bowl folks: there would be no Stoops vs. Stoops bowl game this holiday season. Fortunately for the Stoops family, Stanford qualified for the Sun Bowl against Oklahoma. Another Stoops match-up was averted.

So after getting his older brother's advice to follow his dreams, Mark Stoops accepted the Florida State job and the first person he called to tell the news was big brother Bob who replied, "That's great. Congratulations." And the first person who called him after that phone call was the head coach of one of his new teams' opponents the next season: Bob Stoops. "You realize I'm not going to talk to you for a year because we're going to play you the second game of the year?", Bob joked, realizing his youngest brother had weighed many factors before opting to leave Arizona, where he had worked for another sibling, Mike, but he hadn't looked at Florida State's schedule. (St. Petersburg Times, September 8, 2010.)

Fast forward nine months later and to complicate matters, it was Bob's 50th birthday and the entire Stoops clan from Youngstown was in the stands in Norman to watch the game, including both sisters and his 73-year old mother Dee. They celebrated Bob's birthday two days earlier. All the Stoops family was there except brothers Ron Sr. and Mike who were coaching their respective teams.

Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners put on a football clinic against Florida State last September winning convincingly 47-17. The win propelled the Sooners toward a 6-0 record and #1 ranking the first week of the BCS poll. As much as the win meant to Oklahoma and the Sooner Nation, Bob Stoops felt absolutely awful. To see his team manhandle and dissect younger brother Mark's Florida State defense so convincingly was not something he was proud of. Happy for the victory. Not happy with the situation. "It's a rotten place to be because I appreciate the way our team played and all that, but you just cannot separate blood," Bob Stoops said. "I just don't like it. I knew that coming into the game I didn't, and I'm positive of it now after the game." (Daily Oklahoman, September 11, 2010.)

2011 Match-Up Has Special Meaning

So as August two-a-day practices continue, injuries mount up and pre-season polls are announced, the brothers Stoops awkwardly anticipate another matchup between their two teams on September 17 in Tallahassee.

Except this time the football stakes are much higher. Older brother Bob's Sooners are ranked #1 in the USA TODAY pre-season poll. Baby brother Mark's Seminoles are ranked #5. To most outside observers, the stakes couldn't possibly be higher.

For the football-coaching Stoops family of Youngstown, Ohio, the stakes already have been as high as they could be.

Neither sibling is looking forward to September 17 because they know that one of them will walk off the field with a defeat for his team and the other one will have a victory. Neither one will like it.

They both will be trying to make their football coach-dad proud having turned the football instincts he instilled in them as young boys growing up in Youngstown into leaders of two of the most prestigious football programs in the country.

Regardless of the outcome on the field they both will be winner's in the Stoops family having carried on their father's legacy.

As the Stoops sister said, "It's almost poetic. You couldn't write a story and have it come out that way."

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Road to New Orleans Goes Through Norman

This will be the year of the Sooners!

After a near miss in 2010 featuring a brief one week #1 ranking and an injury-riddled 2009 when All-Americans Jermaine Gresham and Heisman Trophy Winner Sam Bradford succumbed to season-ending injuries the first week of the season, the Sooners are poised to return to the BCS National Championship Game for the first time since 2008.

The reasons? The Sooners are simply loaded with experienced talent at key positions, who are playing at the most tradition-rich, storied-football program in NCAA history and are coached by arguably the most talented coach in college football in Bob Stoops. Put it all together and what do you get: Championships.

The Oklahoma Sooners have won 7 of 12 Big 12 Championships in Bob Stoops career. More than any other school. Stoops overall record at OU is 129-31 for a winning percentage of .806%. He has single-handedly resurrected a winning tradition at the winningest program in modern NCAA football his first 12 seasons. Stoops-coached teams have played in the BCS National Championship Game 4 times, including a win in 2000, and the Sooners are poised to climb back up the BCS mountain in 2011.

The Sooners return 29 game-experienced or starters in the 2-deep depth chart including pre-season Heisman Trophy Award candidates Landry Jones at quarterback and Ryan Broyles at wide receiver. Jones has already thrown for over 7,900 yards in his first two seasons and led the Sooners to a 12-2 record in his first full season as starter in 2010 throwing for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. All-America Broyles is set to shatter all OU receiving records and a few national ones by returning for his senior season. He and Jones are comforted by the fact all five offensive lineman starters return including pre-season Lombardi Trophy candidates guard Stephen Good and junior Ben Habern at center. Collectively the Sooners o-lineman return 50 game-starts in 2011 meaning: The Sooners should be able to score at will in their hurry-up, high-octane offense regardless of the anticipated running back by committee approach of the law firm of Clay/Finch/Miller/Williams, etc.

On defense, the Sooners will simply be stifling. Led by pre-season Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Travis Lewis, the Oklahoma defense will be as stout as anytime in recent memory. The strength of this Sooner defense will be defensive end where all four projected starters have big-game experience. Frank Alexander and David King will anchor one side of the ball while special team sensation Ronnell "Hammer" Lewis, who will move from linebacker, and R.J. Washington will anchor the other side. Joining Lewis at linebacker will be sophomore sensation Tom Wort, who started
9 games in 2010, and sophomore Corey Nelson who had the entire Sooner Nation raving after an outstanding spring practice. Junior Jamarkus McFarland makes his long-awaited starting appearance on the defensive line. He will be joined by 300-pounders Casey Walker and Stacey McGee anchoring a solid 3-man rotation. Returning starters Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are back anchoring the corners and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Tony Jefferson returns in the secondary, as well. Sophomore Aaron Colvin will be projected to start at strong safety and will be joined by Javon Harris and Sam Proctor at free safety.

Add in highly-touted redshirt freshmen newcomers Torrea Peterson and Geneo Grissom on the defensive line and true freshman Brandon Williams at running back and all the pieces are in place for offensive and defensive greatness.

And special teams will be very special. Kicker Jimmy Stevens and punter Tress Way return to give the Sooners a 1-2 punch in the kicking game that will be among the best in the country. Ronnell "Hammer" Lewis is back to ensure kickoff coverage collisions make the introductory highlight video and continue Coach Stoops long-standing tradition of playing his defensive starters on special teams. And is there a better punt returner in the country who strikes fear in opposing teams than Ryan Broyles?

So add it all up and who is this years' pre-season favorite to end the S.E.C.'s five year run and win the eighth National Championship in school history? The 2011 Oklahoma Sooners. Stay tuned for the latest updates and opinions including pre-game and post-game thoughts throughout the run to the Road to New Orleans! Boomer!