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Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2008

South supremacy: Tech, OU to battle with huge implications

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach directs his team against Texas A&M in this file photo from Oct. 18 in College Station, Texas.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach directs his team against Texas A&M in this file photo from Oct. 18 in College Station, Texas.

November 19, 2008

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Sorrentino's Lightning Round

Saturday’s Tech-OU matchup has an interesting storyline from a coaching perspective. Tech coach Mike Leach was the OU offensive coordinator under Sooners coach Bob Stoops in 1999. Leach only stayed in Norman, Okla. one year until the Red Raiders offered him a head coaching position in Lubbock, Texas.

“The meat and potatoes of what he did is still here in what he started in 1999,” Stoops said of Leach’s short, but significant impact on the OU program.

Tech’s run this season has been great for college football. Up to this point, Tech has conquered the the toughest division in the nation in the Big 12 South. I think their undefeated run ends Saturday, though.

History doesn’t decide games, but there’s something to be said about OU being 59-2 at home in the Stoops era. The Sooners just don’t lose at home.

Furthermore, a hostile environment will await Tech, which has never won the Big 12. Winning the Big 12 is what OU does. The Sooners have represented the South in the Big 12 Championship game six of the past eight years and they’ve won five of them.

Oklahoma in a modern-day Big 12 shootout, 50-42.

- Eric Sorrentino

The Texas Tech football program has made a habit this season of silencing doubters and controlling a Big 12 South division considered the toughest of any in America.

It started with a victory against No. 19 Kansas on the road and continued with triumphs over No. 1 Texas and No. 8 Oklahoma State at home.

No problem. The Red Raiders beat those three teams by an average of 28 points. They’re for real, and no one’s arguing that.

Know what’s scary, though? That was just a warmup.

No. 5 Oklahoma (9-1 overall, 5-1 Big 12) awaits Tech (10-0, 6-0) on Saturday in Norman, a place the Sooners are 59-2 in the last 10 years under coach Bob Stoops.

In a season that has featured Big 12 games such as Texas-Oklahoma, Texas-Oklahoma State, Missouri-Texas and Texas-Texas Tech, this one may trump all of them in the realm of prominence.

Welcome to the newest and latest Big 12 Conference regular-season game of the year.

Consider what could change in the world of college football after this 7 p.m. battle, which will air on ABC and be the game of choice for ESPN’s College GameDay:

1. The Heisman Trophy race

You’ll see three legitimate candidates in this one: Tech’s Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and OU’s Sam Bradford. The front-runners seem to be Harrell, Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy, so Saturday’s outcome should have serious implications on Heisman ballots.

2. The Big 12 South race

If Texas Tech wins, it would win the South and face Missouri in the Dec. 6 Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City, Mo.

It’s amazing what Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium can do to odds, though, even with an undefeated No. 2 Tech team visiting. The Sooners are seven-point favorites. Should they win on Saturday, it’s a possibility the South could end in a three-way tie between Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas. The South representative in the Big 12 title game then would be the team with the highest BCS ranking — likely Oklahoma or Texas in this scenario.

3. The BCS title game

Is there anyone more thrilled than Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe regarding BCS Championship implications? Chances are a conference representative will play in the game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. It’s just a question of which one.

Texas Tech controls its own destiny. Win on Saturday and the Red Raiders are one step closer to the BCS Championship.

Oklahoma still has work to do. After Saturday’s game, the Sooners will travel to Oklahoma State on Nov. 29. The Sooners have no margin for error and would immediately fall out of the BCS Championship picture with a loss.

Texas could sneak into the BCS Championship game with a home victory over Texas A&M on Nov. 27 and some help. Keep in mind, Texas is No. 3 in the BCS poll. Should No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Tech fall, the Longhorns would be in prime position for a spot in the BCS Championship game.

So pull up a chair on Saturday night, sit back and enjoy one of the Big 12’s strongest years in conference history.

OU-TTU Saturday showdown

When OU has the ball...

Just pray for mercy. The Sooners are averaging a borderline-illegal 51.4 points per game, tops in the nation. Quarterback Sam Bradford leads the nation with 38 TD passes and does a fine job of spreading the wealth. Four OU players have at least five TD catches, making the Sooners the most balanced passing team in the aerial-friendly Big 12. Primary weapons of choice are receivers Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Ryan Broyles, and tight end and red zone threat Jermaine Gresham. Oklahoma has ran the ball better of late with DeMarco Murray (804 yards, 11 TD’s on ground) and Chris Brown (782 yards, 12 TD’s), arguably the most lethal 1-2 running back punch in the league, along with Kendall Hunter and Keith Toston of Oklahoma State.

When Tech has the ball...

You know what they say about chickens with their heads cut off. That’s basically what the Red Raiders have done to opposing defenses this season. They average 47.9 points per game, second in the Big 12 and third in the nation. Graham Harrell (4,077 passing yards, 36 TD’s) and Michael Crabtree (1,010 receiving yards, 18 TD’s) have done their thing, but don’t sleep on the Tech running attack of Baron Batch and Shannon Woods. Consider that Tech was 119th (that’s dead last in the nation) last year in rushing offense with just under 60 yards per game. This year, they’re averaging 132.6. Much better balance.

- Eric Sorrentino

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