Commentary

Sooners' impressive rout initiates Oklahoma-Texas debate

Originally Published: November 22, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- Order was simultaneously restored and destroyed here Saturday night.

Standard protocol in the Big 12 is this: Oklahoma owns teams like Texas Tech when they come to Owen Field. The challenge to that tradition was established when the undefeated, nouveau riche Red Raiders came to town ranked higher (second) than the once-beaten, old-money home team (fifth). The challenge was eliminated in an old-school, name-the-score massacre of a Red Raiders team that reverted to classic form -- too soft up front, and too intimidated to win a huge showdown on the road. And this shocking 65-21 beatdown gives "Big Game" Bob Stoops his nickname back.

But in the process of re-establishing their prowess, the Sooners also plunged the Big 12 South and the entire national championship chase into controversy. We're now one week away from a sticky three-way tie between one-loss teams in that division: Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. That will incite a royal rhetorical rumble about which one deserves to play for the Big 12 title and, by extension, which one deserves to play in the BCS National Championship Game.

One thing is certain: It's not the Red Raiders, who collapsed in a way 10-0 teams never do. They picked a lovely time to surrender the most points in school history.

So while Tech is dispatched back to the Poseur Dept., the Texas-Oklahoma debate is on. Big-time.

The ferocious rivals have two more reasons to disagree. They can argue over which team should be ranked higher, and which team's quarterback should now lead the Heisman Trophy race.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Tim Heitman/US PresswireBob Stoops and the Sooners will be focused on the BCS standings.

First, the bigger picture. The Big 12 uses the BCS standings as the potential tiebreaker in case of a divisional deadlock, which means poll voters could be helping decide a conference championship as well as a national championship.

Until Saturday night, the third-ranked Longhorns possessed the trump card: They beat the Sooners by 10 points on a neutral field. But now the Sooners have destroyed a Tech team that beat Texas three weeks ago in Lubbock. That cannot be ignored.

Going into this game, the Horns were in the rare position of rooting for the Sooners to take down Tech. But Oklahoma did the job too well. A blowout win changes the dynamic.

Texas can argue that it owns an authoritative victory over Big 12 North champion Missouri, a top-15 team Oklahoma has not played. The Sooners can counter with their nonconference schedule, which includes dominant wins over Top 25 teams Cincinnati and TCU. Not to mention the fact that they've crushed the guts out of five straight opponents, and have now topped 60 points in three straight games.

The Horns were a considerable distance ahead of the Sooners with the computers, but the human polls were close -- Texas led by 17 points in the USA Today coaches' poll and 101 points in the Harris Poll. Don't be shocked if Oklahoma vaults ahead with the humans this week.

Red Raiders coach Mike Leach, a voter in the USA Today poll, said he'll put the Sooners ahead of the Longhorns. Stoops, who is not a voter, certainly shared that viewpoint as he ramped up the lobbying effort.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
John Rieger/US PresswireDeMarco Murray ripped through the Red Raiders for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
"If you can't move us in front of Texas because they beat us, then you have to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas," Stoops said, but he wasn't done there. Next up was a shot at one-loss Florida.

"If you're going to forgive a team for losing at home to an unranked team because they're playing well now -- well, we're playing pretty well now, too. If it's logical for someone else, it's logical for us."

Bob, since when has logic been part of the BCS?

Only one thing is certain in this late-season stew: Tech is out of the championship picture. The Raiders had answered every nagging doubt as they climbed above their perennial station -- every doubt but one.

Could they win a huge game on the road against a powerhouse opponent?

The answer was painfully clear after just 22 minutes and 15 seconds of play. By then the score was 28-0 and this was a Tech-nical knockout. Tech's improved defense could not tackle tailback DeMarco Murray and could not cover tight end Jermaine Gresham. Through five possessions, Tech's explosive offense had punted three times and been stopped on downs twice.

"I think that we wanted to do well and we over-tried," Leach said. "Rather than just trying to do the little routine plays, we tried to make super plays. I felt that we squandered the first half trying to make too much happen and trying to be too good."

Oklahoma outgained Tech 299-45 on the ground. It sacked Tech quarterback Graham Harrell four times -- after he'd only been sacked five times in the previous 10 games. It was a physical and mental mismatch.

"Graham said on ESPN he can't get sacked," Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "He said that. Look, that's a challenge to us. … We never let him get comfortable."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Tim Heitman/US PresswireSam Bradford torched Texas Tech for 304 yards and four TDs.

The discomfort escalated quickly on the visiting sideline. It was 42-7 at halftime. It was 58-14 after three quarters. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford played one series of the fourth quarter, then retired for the evening with 304 more passing yards and four more touchdown passes on only 19 attempts.

He and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy can spend the next two weeks tussling for the Heisman, with erstwhile front-runner Harrell (361 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception) probably losing the trophy in this game.

"Sam's name has to be up there at the top [of the Heisman list] with anybody," Stoops said.

While Colt McCoy and Texas had the weekend off in preparation for their Thanksgiving Day game against Texas A&M (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), Oklahoma stepped up to deliver a powerful pitch to the voters.

"I think we sent a message to whoever was watching," Gerald McCoy said. "Whether it's the computers, an alien; whatever it is. At the end of the game, I think we sent a message. We're for real."

When it was over, the Sooners took a victory lap around the stadium, rejoicing with the record crowd of 85,646. Stoops applauded to the fans in the end zone, even giving them a we're-not-worthy bow as they chanted his name.

During the week he'd challenged the entitled fans to cheer like the game depended on it. This was a prove-it game for them as well as the players, and they came through so loudly that Stoops awarded them a game ball.

"I've always envisioned a loud and raucous crowd to influence the outcome of a game," Stoops said. "And they sure did."

There was one other noise audible on the plains Saturday night -- audible all the way south of the Red River, deep in the heart of Texas. The Longhorns are hearing hoofbeats behind them from the onrushing Sooner Schooner.

Don't look back, Texas. Oklahoma is gaining on you.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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