The College Football Playoff rankings discussion have taken a major shift in our state.
In the first few weeks of the rankings, committee chairman Gary Barta was asked extensively about OU and why the then-unbeaten Sooners were ranked lower than normal for an unbeaten team.
But this week, the talk shifted to OSU, which is 9-1 and ranked ninth.
Here is the transcript from Barta’s Tuesday night teleconference, with each question and answer followed by my responses. And one additional note: I moved the OSU questions all to the top.
Q. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Oklahoma State; how much does the committee look at the way they had started really controlling their games, and sometimes in different ways? The West Virginia game was controlled primarily on the defensive end and was an overwhelming win, obviously the TCU win this week was more balanced but maybe even more toward the offense with a 63-17. How much does the committee take into account controlling wins?
Barta: “Well, each team has a little bit different style, obviously. Controlling wins, if you think about watching games, that’s more important than just a team that’s just running up the score in my opinion, and I think we talked in the committee, when a team has total control of a game, that might be defensively, it might be offensively, so it’s certainly something that we watch, but every team is so different in their style that it just sort of depends on the team.”
Tramel: It’s an interesting question, based on the committee’s pre-2021 history of focusing on “game control.” Whatever that means. It’s sort of a made-up concept. But it is worth noting that OSU has controlled some games not by scoring 50something points, but by not allowing opposing offenses out of the starting gates. Let’s see. In terms of game control, OSU didn’t “control” games against Missouri State, Tulsa, Boise State, Baylor, Texas or Iowa State. The Cowboys sort of controlled the Kansas State game. So OSU’s games that were totally controlled have come in the last three weeks, against Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Christian. The Cowboys probably are on the short side of game control, compared to most.
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Q. You’ve got Oklahoma State 9 this week and Oklahoma 13. They now have the same record and their schedules are virtually identical. The only difference is Oklahoma State has played Texas Tech, Oklahoma hasn’t played Iowa State. How would you describe the discernible differences in the committee’s mind with ranking those two teams four slots apart?
Barta: “Well, Oklahoma — going into this week Oklahoma was undefeated. The committee recognized that and credited them for that. One of the things that was talked about was that their strength of schedule and the teams that they had beat leading up to last week, they just weren’t as strong as some of the other teams we were comparing them to. Had their opportunity against a very good Baylor team and obviously Baylor came out on top. As we started to go through the rankings this week, we don’t necessarily compare Oklahoma directly to Oklahoma State, but in the grouping, Mississippi, Baylor and Wake Forest all had big wins. Mississippi beat A&M, Baylor of course beat Oklahoma head-to-head, and then Wake Forest had a nice win against North Carolina State. Oklahoma ended up at 13 partly because of the wins that were ahead of them. Oklahoma State’s defense, the committee thinks very highly of the way they’ve been playing defense, some of the best defense this year. They beat Baylor, and so that certainly resonates with the committee. And then as of late offensively, Oklahoma State has been playing much better the last several weeks.”
Tramel: This was my question. It really wasn’t answered. I asked it hoping to gain some insight on how the committee thinks. Is it timing? OU lost last week; OSU lost in mid-October. Is it exasperation over the Sooners’ failure to meet expectations? Is it Kansas? Is that really what it is? OU just monkeying around with Kansas? Might be reason enough.
Q. You’ve spoken highly about Oklahoma State. If they were to finish the season with just the one loss they have and with wins potentially over Oklahoma and Baylor, where would the committee kind of view them against other programs from across the country in different conferences?
Barta: “Yeah, one of the things the committee works really hard at is we don’t talk at all about projections. I can’t answer that question. They’re at 9 this week. You can look ahead yourself and see who they play, but as a committee what we’ll do each week is just come back and compare Oklahoma State, who they beat or who they lost to and then compare it to the people around them. I know that doesn’t answer your question, but that’s by design because the committee just doesn’t project ahead.”
Tramel: Novice question. The committee is not going to project. Questions that start with “if” have little chance of being answered. And that’s good. Because the resume’ changes from week to week. For instance, one of the reasons OSU’s resume’ is strengthened from a few weeks ago is because of Boise State. The Broncos are playing much better. OSU’s win at Boise State didn’t look as strong three weeks ago as it does now.
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Q. Gary, I wonder if you could just kind of describe Cincinnati’s position, how firm it is at 5, like how close maybe Michigan or even Michigan State is from jumping the Bearcats?
Barta: “Yeah, well, when I talk about how firm their position is, this week it’s rock solid at No. 5, and I say that because we really don’t — we start over every week. Great discussion about Cincinnati and Michigan and where to place those two. The win at Notre Dame, obviously the committee values that and the fact that Cincinnati remains undefeated. So there’s not a degree of closeness, but this week, again, Cincinnati is ahead of Michigan. Next week we’ll take a look at — each of them has a game in front of them, and we’ll compare them again next week.”
Tramel: Fun discussion that means nothing. If Michigan beats Ohio State next week (and Maryland this week), the Wolverines will jump Cincinnati. Otherwise, no. No reason to get worked about it now.
Q. Did the way Ohio State was able to put up points and play against Purdue last weekend at all make you rethink their position with Oregon, or is head-to-head still the separator between those two teams?
Barta: “Yeah, there was a lot of conversation this week, really including Alabama. The 2, 3, 4 positions, the committee had a lot of discussion about where Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State should all land. Alabama, the committee still considered the way they’ve been playing offensively, defensively, Mississippi, Mississippi State wins, and we didn’t learn a lot new about Alabama, but they stayed at No. 2. Now directly to your question, Oregon continues to play really solid football. They had a strong win against Washington State. To your point, Ohio State rolled on Purdue. The offense just continues to be one of the best offenses in the country. So then you compare Ohio State has wins at Minnesota and then against Penn State and Purdue. Oregon has the win at Columbus, and that’s a big one. They also won at UCLA and beat Fresno State. The long answer to your question is those two are compared this past week, and the committee just felt that they were close enough that that head-to-head still ruled the day, so Oregon stayed at 3 and Ohio State is at 4.”
Tramel: This was really an insightful answer, because it showed that the committee gives the Buckeyes the ultimate respect. It puts Ohio State on the same plateau as Alabama. All of which is interesting, because there isn’t much difference between the resume’s of Ohio State and OSU. Their game controls are about the same, even to the point that both struggled against Tulsa. Ohio State’s loss came against a much-better team, Oregon, than OSU’s loss to Iowa State, but at least the Cowboys lost on the road. Ohio State lost at home. OSU has a better victory (Baylor) than anything the Buckeyes have produced. Ohio State does not have a win over a team currently ranked in the committee’s top 25. I guess the biggest difference between the two is that while OSU struggled against Missouri State, the Buckeyes whacked Akron. And Ohio State has dominated with offense, while the Cowboys have dominated with defense. But the committee likes Ohio State.
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Q. What can you share about the conversations around Notre Dame, pros and cons?
Barta: “Well, they have great wins — they won again this week at Virginia. One of the things the committee did note is that Virginia did not have their starting quarterback, but they’re (the Fighting Irish) 9-1, they have a very strong strength of schedule. They have wins against Wisconsin and Purdue. Their loss, obviously, was to Cincinnati. We think very highly of them. They continue to play good football. Just put them just after Michigan State, obviously.
Tramel: There aren’t many cons about Notre Dame. They lost at home to Cincinnati. That’s it. Otherwise, the Fighting Irish have navigated a solid schedule.
Q. To circle back on Ohio State, I know that we parse your words a lot in this process, but on the broadcast you really emphasized that Ohio State was playing some of the best offense in the country and you mentioned that again when you were answering an earlier question. I’m curious, what’s the committee’s assessment of Ohio State defensively right now, and how is that affecting the ranking maybe especially relative to Alabama and Oregon like you discussed?
Barta: “I would tell you that the committee has continued to be impressed with the way Ohio State’s defense has improved since the beginning of the season. I really highlight the offense just because they might be playing the best offense in the country. They’re not playing the best defense in the country, but their defense is playing impressively. But in the end the committee still felt that Oregon should be third and Ohio State fourth.”
Tramel: I give Barta credit. He doesn’t talk as much about offense and defense as some of his predecessors have. Barta still brings it up, just not as much as, say, Jeff Long or Rob Mullens, chairmans of yesteryear.
Q. Obviously Georgia at No. 1, the committee has looked at the Bulldogs weekly. What about them has most impressed the committee?
Barta: “Well, one of the questions that the committee had several weeks ago was Stetson Bennett going to continue on as the quarterback. It looks like he’s secured that spot, at least just watching week to week. The offense is in the top 15 in scoring. James Cook had a big game this past week. The defense, sort of what I said earlier about Ohio State having one of the best offenses, Georgia has the best defense in the country, but their offense continues to play efficiently and play much better with each passing week. It’s just a dominant team on both sides of the ball.”
Tramel: It would have been more concise to say: Strengths, many; weaknesses, few.
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Q. I’m curious from your perspective, after going through the exercise this week, how strong is that grip that Alabama has on that No. 2 spot, especially when compared to 3, 4 and 5?
Barta: “Well, this week the committee — every week we go from top to bottom, and we talk about every team. I can tell you that 2, 3 and 4 was an area where the conversation was a little bit longer. I mentioned earlier, we didn’t learn a lot about Alabama this week but continue to be impressed with the way they play on both sides of the ball, but there was good conversation about where Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State should be placed. Ultimately when the vote occurred, it ended up the way it is, 2, 3, 4, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State. But there was a lot of conversation with those three teams.”
Tramel: I suppose the grip matters, because if Alabama finishes 11-2, with a loss to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game, the committee will have a difficult decision to make. I’m guessing Bama gets into the playoff under that scenario, but the committee might be giving itself some wiggle room with this declaration that Ohio State and Oregon are right there with the Crimson Tide.
Q. Gary, you mentioned that the committee doesn’t project ahead, so maybe this question can’t be answered, but specifically to Notre Dame maybe in general with injured players, their best player has been out since the end of October, Kyle Hamilton, and he is projected to come back after they finish their season. As you evaluate them down the stretch here, do you evaluate them with the possibility of Hamilton or the probability of Hamilton coming back, or just on their body of work without him?
Barta: “Yeah, you answered your own question. We don’t project. We’re aware when players are or aren’t available in the week that we’re evaluating it. For example, I mentioned that Virginia didn’t have their starting quarterback. So we’re aware each week who’s available and who’s not available, but we don’t project ahead as to who might or might not play.”
Tramel: This is quite pleasant to hear. It’s bad enough that the committee considers that have occurred. It would be worse if the committee considered recoveries that might be made.
Q. You’ve spoken a lot the last several weeks in evaluating Michigan versus Michigan State and Oregon versus Ohio State, how you factor in the head-to-head. Has there been any discussion in the room in any week about whether Notre Dame should be ranked ahead of Cincinnati even though Cincinnati has the head-to-head?
Barta: “The honest answer to that is no, there hasn’t. I’m just saying, in the areas in which we’re having these conversations, looking at Ohio State and Michigan, Cincinnati sandwiched in between those two right now, there has not yet been any conversation of having Notre Dame ahead of Cincinnati, but again, next week will be a new week and we’ll evaluate who each of them play and go from there.”
Tramel: Interesting answer. Barta’s take seems to be that it’s clear cut that Michigan should be ahead of Michigan State, despite the head-to-head result, and that Oregon should be ahead of Ohio State, though they are close. But Cincinnati and Notre Dame are firm, in that order.
OSU, OU basketball update
OSU basketball has played five games, and by the end of the week, OU basketball will have done the same.
The Cowboys are 4-1, with a nice win over North Carolina State but a discouraging home loss to Oakland.
The Sooners are 3-0, after a 79-74 victory over East Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. OU plays Indiana State on Friday in the tournament semifinals.
Here are observations of the Bedlam rivals:
► No Cowboys is averaging double-digit scoring. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before on the college level, even five games into the season.
Kalib Boone leads OSU with The Cowboys with 9.3 points a game, followed by Bryce Thompson (9.2), Moussa Cisse (8.2), Keylan Boone (8.0), Rondel Walker (7.4), Avery Anderson (7.2), Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (7.2), Isaac Likekele (6.2) and Bryce Williams (5.7).
► Anderson has to get going for the Cowboys. He’s shooting 29 percent from the field, with more turnovers (3.2) than assists (2.0) per game. Anderson should be OSU’s best offensive player. Instead, he might have been OSU’s worst so far.
► More Tyreek Smith. Give me more Tyreek Smith. The Texas Tech transfer has been good inside, though he’s clearly behind Kalib Boone, Cisse and Moncrieffe. Smith has averaged just 8.8 minutes per game but has made nine of 14 shots, with 14 rebounds. I know Mike Boynton can’t always play big, but Smith gives Boynton plenty of reason to.
► Likekele is OSU’s best player. That’s no great surprise. But his defense is great. He rebounds like Fred Jonzen (literally, 5.7 rebounds per game for Jonzen over his career, 5.6 for Likekele). And he organizes the offense. The Cowboys are a scattered bunch when Likekele sits.
► OSU needs more out of the Bryces. With the looks of this team, Thompson could be OSU’s leading scorer. He and Anderson have taken the most shots; Thompson is shooting an acceptable 47.4 percent from the field but has made just three of 11 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Williams returned from a two-game suspension and has been largely ineffective. He’s capable of more.
► Walker and the Boone twins give the Cowboys a major boost off the bench. Walker started the first two games but is averaging 7.3 points in his three games coming off the bench.
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► The Sooner defense wasn’t suffocating against East Carolina. That has to change. OU can’t count on shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range every game. That’s what the Sooners are shooting now. Play suffocating defense and make 3-pointers, and victories will come in floods.
► Tanner Groves has been good. Jacob Groves has been disappointing. Tanner, the 6-foot-10 center transfer from Eastern Washington, is averaging 16.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. He’s made 3’s and he’s scored around the bucket. Good player. It won’t be easy in the Big 12, but he’s got a chance to be an impact player. His brother has struggled, though. Jacob Groves is averaging 2.7 points a game and has made just 27.3 percent of his shots.
► Elijah Harkless is OU’s best player. He defends, he rebounds, he attacks every possession like it’s life or death. His shooting is weak, but every opponent all year will take a big sigh of relief when Harkless goes to the bench.
► Duke transfer Jordan Goldwire has been solid. Good defender, of course, and is averaging 8.0 points, 5.0 assists and 2.0 turnovers per game. But Goldwire, like Harkless, don’t always know a good shot. Combined, they have made five of 18 3-point shots.
► You know how I feel about Jalen Hill. Good at just about everything. The guy has made 12 of 15 shots this season. But Umoja Gibson also seems quite comfortable. He’s made eight of 21 3-point shots and seems better than ever at finding open creases.
Big 12 Pregame: Cincinnati-SMU creates mixed emotions
Southern Methodist plays at Cincinnati on Saturday, and before the crazy year of 2021, SMU at Cincy would have been merely a blip on the Big 12 radar.
Now Cincinnati-SMU is huge from every Big 12 corner.
► It’s a major game for Big 12 hopes in the College Football Playoff. If a 12-1 Big 12 champion is to make the playoff – both OSU and OU are 9-1 – it would need some help. A loss by unbeaten and fifth-ranked Cincinnati would help immensely, since the Bearcats are a major threat to make the four-team bracket should they finish 13-0.
► It’s a major game for Big 12 pride. Cincinnati is joining the Big 12 in either 2023 or 2024. With three of the newcomers ranked in the playoff committee’s top 25, the Big 12’s selection of Cincinnati, Brigham Young, Houston and Central Florida looks prescient.
If the Big 12 doesn’t place a team in the playoff, the next-best thing would be Cincinnati’s inclusion.
Of course, the best result would be both Cincinnati and a 12-1 OSU or OU, though that’s quite a longshot.
► It’s a referendum on the Big 12’s selection of those four teams, since SMU on the short list of candidates.
Big 12 headquarters is in Greater Dallas. The irony would drip if a future Big 12 member was derailed by a Dallas-based team that was overlooked for conference expansion.
► Cincinnati-SMU is a possible future showdown of school vs. coach. SMU’s Sonny Dykes is considered the leading contender to get the Texas Christian job, which came open when the Horned Frogs parted ways three weeks ago with the iconic Gary Patterson.
It all makes for a gripping Saturday in the Queen City, where SMU is quarterbacked by OU transfer Tanner Mordecai, who has led the Mustangs to an 8-2 record.
“We’ve got a really tough game this week. We’ve got a really tough game the following week,” at East Carolina, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “If we’re fortunate enough to have a third one (in the American Conference championship game against Houston), we’ll have another really tough one that will give us every opportunity that we want, and I truly believe that.
“I know you’ve got to be in the realm to have any shot, and all we care about is we’re in the realm, and now we’ve got to take care of business.”
Big 12 eyes will be watching. With mixed emotions.
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Upset special: Iowa State over OU
Two massively disappointing teams. Both were preseason top-10 teams in The Associated Press poll. ESPN touted both as College Football Playoff contenders.
Now the Big 12 Championship Game very well could be OSU-Baylor. Iowa State is 6-4. OU’s record is where it almost always is this time of year, 9-1, but the Sooners have produced shoddy performance after shoddy performance.
Two major trends go against the Sooners on Saturday as they host Iowa State. The Cyclones under Matt Campbell play OU tough. Iowa State beat the Sooners in 2017 and 2020. OU won close games in 2018 and 2019.
And this Sooner team has not played well. Seven of OU’s 10 games have been tight fits. It’s somewhat remarkable that the Sooners are 9-1. They probably haven’t gotten enough credit for their resiliency.
OU is a 3½-point favorite, but the Cyclones aren’t scared of Owen Field. Let’s go with Iowa State in the upset.
Coach on the hot seat: Kansas State’s Chris Klieman
K-State is the sleepy team of Big 12 football. Sleepy. Sleepy but consistent. The Wildcats are 7-3 and nobody knows it.
They lost relatively-tight games to the best three teams on their schedule so far – OSU, Iowa State and OU. They beat Stanford and Nevada and West Virginia and Texas Tech in workmanlike fashion.
The Wildcats have blown out nobody – including Southern Illinois, in a 31-23 verdict – and been blown out by nobody.
Saturday, K-State hosts Baylor, and this is the Cats’ chance for a breakout win. Beat the Bears, and KSU is 8-3, with Texas and a bowl game remaining. Kansas State could have a 10-win season. The Wildcats also could finish 7-6.
Chris Klieman is an excellent coach. He’s stepped in for the legendary Bill Snyder and continued the K-State hallmark of consistency. But Klieman needs a victory Saturday to put his Wildcats in position for a special season.
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Ranking the Big 12 Games
1. Southern Methodist at Cincinnati, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: Maybe the biggest home game in Cincinnati history. At least, it ranks up there with Ohio State’s 2002 visit to Cincy, when the Buckeyes survived 23-19 and went on to win the national championship.
2. Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 7 p.m. Saturday, Fox: The Cowboys have been playing better and better. If that keeps up, it portends quite well for OSU’s stretch drive to what it hopes is a Big 12 title and a playoff berth.
3. Iowa State at Oklahoma, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox: Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff Show will go live from Norman on Saturday. The show was at OU for Sooners-Nebraska in September, and that game went to the wire.
4. Baylor at Kansas State, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: If K-State wins, and the Bedlam rivals win, it’s OSU-OU in the Big 12 Championship Game, guaranteed.
5. Memphis at Houston, 8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2: With all the fanfare over Cincinnati, UofH quietly has gone 9-1. The American Conference is down this year, but still, nice season for Dana Holgorsen’s Cougars.
6. Texas at West Virginia, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2: The Longhorns have been become a NASCAR crash. You know you shouldn’t gawk, but you just can’t help yourself.
7. Brigham Young at Georgia Southern, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Never fear, Cougar fans, the days of a pre-Thanksgiving road trip to Statesboro, Georgia, just to fill out a schedule, are about over. You’ll soon enough be in Stillwater or Waco or Manhattan instead.
8. Kansas at TCU, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus. The Kansas upset of Texas, in Austin, was one of the best college football stories of the year. And not because it came at the expense of the Longhorns. To see the joy of the Jayhawks, and the revelry around 2-point conversion hero Jared Casey, is one of the charms of college football.
9. Connecticut at Central Florida, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus: No real sorrow for UCF having to play this game. Heck, why didn’t Central Florida figure out a way to play BYU on this Saturday?
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Mailbag: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander a ballhog?
People can see the darndest things when watching a ballgame.
Mark: “The Thunder’s young star, SGA, is starting to remind me of Russell Westbrook trying to play hero ball instead of team basketball late in games this season. Just dribbling the shot clock down, not passing the ball, then throwing up a lousy shot. Are opposing teams figuring out how to defend him, like Miami did?”
Tramel: I don’t see that at all. I’ve seen SGA not get involved enough, rather than too much. Defenses are focusing on him, no doubt, but looks to me like he’s letting Luguentz Dort or Josh Giddey or whoever take the reins when that happens.
Venue Ventures: Jones AT&T Stadium
Texas Tech’s Jones Stadium opened in 1947, and it was a relic. My first game there was 1992, and Jones Stadium seemed like OSU’s Lewis Field, only with tumbleweeds.
But much like the way OSU transformed a decrepit ballpark into Boone Pickens Stadium, Tech transformed Jones Stadium into a gorgeous coliseum.
OSU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday night.
Jones AT&T Stadium was renovated with Spanish Renaissance architecture, fitting in nicely with the rest of the campus. Its suites are fabulous. One of the few knocks is that the visitor’s quarters remain subpar, or maybe par. Few teams have plush visitor locker rooms.
Jones Stadium now seats 60,454. It opened with a capacity of 27,000, which was raised in 1959 to 41,500 and in 1972 to 48,000.
The major renovations came in 2003 ($52 million), 2010 ($25 million) and 2013 ($16 million).
Now Tech has facilities that match any in the Big 12, including football operations areas attached to the south end of the stadium.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected] He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
OSU seems to have College Football Playoff committee’s attention