Sunday, November 23, 2008

OU's Win Probably Means UT Is Out

When Oklahoma trounced visiting Texas Tech, 65-21, Saturday night, the Sooners did more than just hang an impressive loss on a previously unbeaten team.

The dust hasn't settled yet, but we already know there will be considerable fallout from that one football game. It's possible that that many hearts haven't been broken in Lubbock, Texas, since the legendary "day the music died."

But the game may have broken more hearts in Austin.

The Longhorns, of course, have lost only once — that last-second miracle in Lubbock a few weeks ago — and they only have one regular-season game left, against their rivals from Texas A&M who have struggled through a 4-7 season. Most people expect Texas to prevail in that one.

But both OU and Tech have only one conference loss as well. And now all three schools' final games next weekend take on a significance in the Big 12 that they would not have achieved if the Red Raiders had won the encounter with the Sooners in Norman, Okla., Saturday night.

As improbable as it may have seemed when the season began, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas A&M can exert enormous influence on the outcome of the race for the Big 12 South title.

But the odds don't seem too favorable for the Longhorns.

Oklahoma must visit in-state rival Oklahoma State next Saturday — the Cowboys have often been pushovers in the past but not this year.

OSU is 9-2, but both losses came in conference play (to Texas, 28-24, and Texas Tech, 56-20) so the Cowboys can't get into the conference championship game unless several wildly improbable things happen. But they can influence who does.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, must play its final home game against 4-7 Baylor next Saturday.

The outcome of the Texas-Texas A&M game will already be known by the time both of those games kick off. The Longhorns and the Aggies will play this year's edition of their storied rivalry on Thanksgiving.

Stewart Mandel says, in Sports Illustrated, that OU's win over Tech has turned the Big 12 South into a "riddle."

But it's really quite simple.

And Oklahoma State seems to hold the key. Because the Cowboys are a ranked opponent, a victory over them will carry more weight in the computer rankings than a win over Texas A&M or Baylor.

So, while Texas has a slim lead today in the BCS, that lead could disappear when the BCS rankings that matter are calculated a week from now.

It will all depend on what happens in three games:
  1. In what looks like the most likely scenario, if OU beats OSU and both Texas and Texas Tech also win (as they will be expected to do), a three-way tie will exist at the top of the Big 12 South standings. Such a tie will be broken based on which team is ranked higher in the BCS standings. In such a scenario, all three teams would be 1-1 in their head-to-head meetings, and no one would hold the advantage.

    Assuming that beating Oklahoma State will give OU enough momentum to overtake Texas in the BCS standings, Oklahoma would advance to the Big 12 championship game.

  2. Now, if OU beats OSU and Tech beats Baylor, but Texas loses its focus and founders against A&M, then OU and Tech would finish in a tie for first, and OU would hold the tiebreaker.

    I haven't heard anyone suggest that an Aggie victory over the Longhorns is even possible. But, if it works out that way, as I say, Oklahoma would advance by virtue of its win over Tech.

  3. What if OU doesn't beat OSU? Well, then things will depend on what happens with Texas and Texas Tech.

    If UT wins but Tech loses, Texas wins the Big 12 South title outright. If Texas Tech wins, it won't matter what Texas does — Tech will win the Big 12 South.

    And, if all three teams lose, we'll have a four-way tie for first place in the Big 12 South (adding OSU to the mix). If that happens, all I can say for certain is that no one from the Big 12 South will play for the national title.

  4. Let's assume that Texas beats A&M and OU beats OSU but Tech can't rebound from losing the game to the Sooners and goes on to lose in a huge upset to Baylor.

    In that scenario, OU would share the title with Texas, and Texas would win the berth in the Big 12 championship game from the South division because the Longhorns beat the Sooners in Dallas last month.

    But Tech, as I say, is likely to beat Baylor. The game is in Lubbock, and Baylor hasn't won a road game all season. In fact, Baylor has won only two of its last eight games, and those two wins came against 2-9 Iowa State and 4-7 Texas A&M.

    In other years, beating A&M would be a landmark victory for the Baylor program — but, in so many ways, 2008 has been unlike "other years."
It seems to me that (other than Oklahoma State) Texas needs the most help getting into the Big 12 title game.

OU should get into it by beating Oklahoma State. And, if OU stumbles in Stillwater, I expect Tech to earn the bid to the conference championship game by beating Baylor.

Texas can win a two-way tie with OU, but it isn't likely to have the highest BCS ranking in the event of a three-way tie. And such a two-way tie with OU can only happen if Tech loses to Baylor.

How long has it been since Baylor beat Texas Tech? Well, the two teams were members of the old Southwest Conference before forming the Big 12 with the members of the old Big Eight along with Texas and Texas A&M in the 1990s. Baylor has never beaten Tech since they've been members of the Big 12.

The last victory Baylor enjoyed over Tech came when they were still in the SWC. It was on Sept. 25, 1993 — by the score of 28-26.

Bill Clinton had been president for less than a year.

Baylor hasn't beaten Texas Tech in Lubbock since 1990.

In just the last four games played between the two teams in Lubbock, Texas Tech has won by an average margin of about five touchdowns, 46.75-12.25.


Curtis Wayne - Actor said...

Great explanation, David. The clearest I have read to date.

It is so sad that one needs a BCS Rosetta Stone to figure out who goes to the National Championship, or even the Conference Championships.

I totally disagree that coaches from other conferences should have input into who wins the Big 12 (in the event of a 3-way tie), or vice-versa. There should be some objective, in-conference criteria for determining who wins the conference, such as point differentials, or results against common, non-conference opponents.

That a player like Colt McCoy, after his Heisman-worthy year, does not even get to play for the Big 12 Championship, seems criminal to me.

Much as it pains me, I will root for OU tonight, and hope that the BCS black box spits out UT's number.

Not bloody likely, though.

David said...

Thanks for the kind words, Curtis.

When I was growing up in Arkansas, I remember one season when the Razorbacks, Longhorns and Aggies tied for the Southwest Conference title. There were no divisions in college conferences in those days, and some conferences, like the SWC, sent their champions to specific bowls at the end of the season. The SWC was tied to the Cotton Bowl.

There was also no BCS, either, which seems to have been a blessing, in hindsight.

Since no team held the advantage in head-to-head competition, the SWC rules said that the team that went to the Cotton Bowl would be whichever team had been absent from the Cotton Bowl the longest. At that time, both Texas and Texas A&M had represented the SWC in the Cotton Bowl more recently than Arkansas so Arkansas went.

In the absence of anything better, how does that approach strike you? It takes the decision out of the hands of the coaches, and I completely agree that they should not have any input into this decision.

If OU wins tonight (and the game with OSU is still being played as I write this) and if such a procedure as the one I described from my youth were being used this season, Oklahoma would be immediately eliminated because the Sooners played in the Big 12 title game last year (and the year before that). Texas played in the title game in 2005 so that would mean that Texas Tech would represent the division.

Curtis Wayne - Actor said...

>>In the absence of anything better, how does that approach strike you? <<

Frankly, not very well. I would prefer a more performance-oriented set of objective measurements, such as:
1. W-L record overall
2. Conference opponent W-L record
3. Head-to-head meetings W-L record
4. Point differential, in conference
5. Point differential, head-to-head
6. Point differential, overall
7. Interconference offensive ranking
8. Interconference defensive ranking
9. Interconference special teams ranking.

You get the idea. :-)

It should not be hard to come up with a performance-based, objective set of criteria that everyone knows and understands before the season starts. If that means you run up the score on a hapless opponent to secure a conference championship, so be it. If you were coaching the Superbowl, you would do the same.

This "black box" business is ridiculous. As we speak I am pre-figuring my 2008 tax returns, combing over obscure IRS tax code for depreciation of real residential property.

I wonder if Roy Kramer used to work for he IRS...

David said...

Fair enough.

Although I would leave out the interconference comparisons on the basis of not being relevant to the determination of a conference title. That would still leave half a dozen statistical comparisons on which to break a tie.

I think any method that would take the coaches from other conferences out of the equation would be preferable.