Texas Longhorns & Oklahoma Sooners: An Open Letter

Hooked. - Tom Pennington

Thoughts on rivalries, Red River and other.

Dear Returning Players and Newcomers,

Now that spring training is over, you really should be consumed with spending the next six months getting bigger, faster, stronger, smarter and hungrier. There is a score to settle with Oklahoma. Surely the memory of the recent butt-kickings and residual taunting are enough to motivate you. However, for those who need something a little more empirical, I will provide that.

Four times since 2000, Texas has taken a knife covered dish to a gun fight. Let me share how unprecedented and unparalleled that is.

Texas-OU vs. Other Showcase Rivalries

If you google "Top 10 college football rivalries," you’ll get a variety of lists. There are some rivalries that make all lists: Texas-OU, Auburn-Alabama, Ohio State-Michigan, Notre Dame-USC and Army-Navy. There are also many other well-known rivalries that are not universally listed: Pitt-West Virginia, Oregon-Oregon State, Florida-Florida State, etc. From these lists, I put together a sample of 15 rivalries as a way to determine "how often do teams in these showcase rivalries get blown out by 38 points, the smallest of the four whippings by OU?"

Here’s what I found about the showcase rivalries in my study:

Scope

Total Games

Point margin 38 points or greater

Percent blowouts

Showcase rivalries all-time

1,360

76

5.6

Showcase rivalries last 50 years

717

36

5.0

Texas vs.OU before current era

92

3

3.3

Texas vs. OU current era

15

4

26.7

OK . . . If the aggregate totals weren’t enough to turn your stomach, how about we look rivalry-by-rivalry:

Rivalry

All time meetings

Margin ≥ 38 points

All-Time % Blowouts

Last 50 years meetings

Margin ≥ 38 points

Last 50 yrs % blowouts

Texas-OU current era)

15

4

26.7%

15

4

26.7%

Texas-OU (before 1998)

92

3

3.3%

35

1

2.9%

Alabama-Auburn

77

6

7.8%

50

1

2.0%

Alabama-Tennessee

93

1

1.1%

50

0

0.0%

Arkansas-LSU

58

1

1.7%

22

0

0.0%

Army-Navy

113

3

2.7%

50

2

4.0%

BYU-Utah

94

8

8.5%

50

4

8.0%

Clemson-South Carolina

110

5

4.5%

50

2

4.0%

Florida-Florida State

57

2

3.5%

52

2

3.8%

Florida-Georgia

91

9

9.9%

50

6

12.0%

Michigan-Ohio State

109

6

5.5%

50

0

0.0%

Nebraska-OU

86

9

10.5%

44

3

6.8%

Notre Dame-Southern Cal

84

2

2.4%

50

2

4.0%

Oregon-Oregon State

95

2

2.1%

50

2

4.0%

Pitt-West Virginia

104

10

9.6%

49

5

10.2%

Southern Cal-UCLA

82

5

6.1%

50

2

4.0%

1174

61

5.2%

618

29

4.7%

A few things that caught my eye:

  • Three rivalries haven’t had a 38-point blowout in the last 50 years: Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-LSU and Michigan-Ohio State.
  • Alabama and Tennessee have only had ONE in 93 meetings . . . and there have been many years the talent gulf was enormous.
  • Only one all-time rivalry was in double digits: OU-Nebraska at 10.5 percent . . . although Florida-Georgia and Pitt-West Virginia were close.
  • Texas’ 26.7 blowout percentage for the last 15 years is so far outside the boundaries of any other showcase rivalry in college football, I am as speechless as you can be while penning a long-winded post.

Maybe Oklahoma was just that much better?

Uh, no. Better, sure. But not THAT much better.

If you look at the common opponents in the four years where OU blew out Texas, there’s nothing to indicate that:

Year

OU

Texas

W

L

W

L

2000

5

0

5

0

2003

5

1

6

0

2011

5

3

4

4

2012

7

1

5

3

22

5

20

7

OU’s record is only two games better than Texas against common opponents during the blowout seasons. However wins and losses don’t always tell the tale. Let’s look at point spreads.

Avg Margin of Victory over Common Opp.

Year

OU

Texas

2000

18.0

28.4

2003

34.5

25.7

2011

9.1

6.0

2012

13.1

2.8

If anybody can look at those two tables and provide a legitimate reason why a team stocked with 4 and 5 star recruits lost four games by an average of 42.7 points, I’d like to hear it. And if the gap in talent isn’t enormous, what other factors could be at work? Strategy? Level of effort? Perhaps a look at line scores might reveal something.

2000

1

2

3

4

TOTAL

#10

Oklahoma

14

28

14

7

63

#11

Texas

0

7

0

7

14

2003

#3

Oklahoma

14

23

14

14

65

#5

Texas

7

6

0

0

13

2011

#3

Oklahoma

6

28

14

7

55

#11

Texas

3

7

0

7

17

2012

#15

Texas

2

0

6

13

21

#13

Oklahoma

13

23

10

17

63

Average

#10.2

Texas

3.3

5.5

2.3

7.8

18.8

#7.2

Oklahoma

11.8

25.5

13.0

11.3

61.5

Some observations about the average linescore:

· Average ranking – Texas often times gets the benefit of the doubt from pollsters early in the season. And thanks to early season cupcakes, the inflated rankings may not get exposed until early October.

· First quarter – Emotional surge? Schematic surprise that catches OU off guard? Sorry, no evidence of either.

· Second quarter - One common theme in each blowout . . . OU put the game away in this quarter, outscoring the Horns by average of 20 points, just 1 point under three touchdowns.

· Third quarter – Adjustments? Pep talk? These always show up here . . or DO they?

· Fourth quarter – Would be worse if not for Case McCoy’s rousing 4th quarter in 2012.

What Exactly Does $5 Million Buy These Days?

I haven't mentioned Mack Brown's name . . . until now. To be fair, Mack is not the only coach to win a national championship yet suffer a loss of 38 points or more in a showcase rivalry game.

The list includes:

Bob Devaney, Nebraska (1970-1 national champions) lost 47-0 to Oklahoma in 1968
Bobby Bowden, Florida State (1993, 1999 national champions) lost 53-14 to Florida in 1983
Darrell Royal, Texas (1963, 1969-70 national champions) lost 52-13 to Oklahoma in 1973
Gene Chizik, Auburn (2010 national champion) lost 49-0 to Alabama in 2012
John McKay, Southern Cal (1962, 1967, 1972, 1974 national champions) lost 51-0 to Notre Dame in 1966
Lou Holtz, Notre Dame (1988 national champion) lost 63-17 to Clemson as South Carolina’s coach in 2003

One differentiating factor is that each of these coaches only lost ONCE by a blowout score. And all but Chizik had double-digit chances to do so. Only two other coaches in my sample have suffered two blowouts in showcase rivalries: Frank Cignetti of Pitt and John Blake of Oklahoma. They each lost twice. Nobody else has lost three, much less four.

As mentioned earlier, there have only been 36 showcase rivalry games in the last 50 years to end as blowouts (and Mack owns 11 percent of them). In looking at the 32 coaches who were on the losing end of those games, almost half (14 out of 32) suffered those defeats in either their last year or next to last year as coach.

At this point, I’m reminded of something NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell said while serving as a color analyst years ago. I’ve forgotten who the player was but an NBA all-star was having a horrible day from the field and was something like 1-for-15. When the play-by-play announcer tossed out that stat late in the game, Russell remarked, “You have to be good to be that bad.” After a pregnant pause, Russell added that if the player weren’t an all-star, the coach would’ve put him on the bench after the first three or four misses.

This is where we find Mack Brown. Besides winning a national championship, he’s averaged 10 wins a season, which puts him in small, select group and is greatly trumpeted in press conferences. He's also compiled a winning bowl record, and been an incredibly positive representative of the University of Texas. He’s even won six games against Oklahoma, including five against Bob Stoops. (John Cooper only beat Michigan twice in 13 years.)

Some (like me) will quibble with having won only two conference championships, but there’s no denying Brown is the second winningest coach for the second winningest team in college football history. Criticize as we might, he has suffered those four embarrassments .. . yet still has a chance for a FIFTH.

One last disheartening nugget. Unless you were in one of the recruiting classes between 2004 and 2007, every Mack Brown recruit who completed his eligibility has been on a team involved in at least one of the 38-point blowouts. (Not all members of the 2007 class were exempted. Those who redshirted were around for the 2011 blowout.)

So here’s the challenge

Let me close this open letter by noting that Oklahoma is not much, if any, better than you this year. Some might suggest that on paper, you are the superior team. However, after the last two years, I’m less concerned about the final score than seeing a team compete like every play, every step within that play, matters. Toward that end, I’ll circle back to some earlier themes:

Bigger, stronger, faster – In the next six months you will have lots of unsupervised and lightly supervised time. If you were micro-managed by one of the world’s foremost personal trainers, you could likely reinvent yourself the way a Brian Orakpo did. That would be a good thing from a career standpoint. But certainly it would serve you well Oct. 12.

Hungrier – In 1990, Texas was coming off a series of disappointing seasons. Beginning in the middle of the 1984 season, the vast majority of events in Longhorn football ranged from disappointing to gut-wrenching . .. things like a 30-32 overall record with three minor bowl appearances . . . a 55-14 bowl loss to Iowa and a 50-7 loss regular season loss to Baylor . . . multiple blowouts to Houston (60-40, 66-15 and 47-9) . . . and an 0-6 record against A&M. That 1990 team decided get up early (think zero dark 30) and work fanatically in the off-season to ensure that 1990 would be different. In addition to addressing the elements of the previous bullet about fitness, it also magnified a hunger that had not been visible in previous seasons. A 10-1 regular season followed. (Bowl? Sorry, memory has been purged.)

Smarter – Sometimes teams lose games because of busts rather than getting physically beaten. Knowing your job backwards and forwards, not to mention your neighbor’s job, is a major step toward avoiding that. After a mediocre sophomore year, Colt McCoy watched film of every single play of the 2007 season, making sure he had an iron-fisted grasp of the playbook. The next two years, he finished second and third in Heisman balloting.

So if you are fortunate enough to play against OU on Oct. 12 and you take a single play off, all I can say is shame on you. The only thing left to note now is that the clock is ticking.

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