It would give me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to begin this article by telling Sooner fans that things are brighter in Norman after Saturday's 31-15 win over Tulsa. Sadly, I cannot make that statement.
The criticism leveled at Chuck Long over the first two weeks of the season has been ill-placed. Coach Long has been doing his best with the talent, skills and experience available. While the Sooners called no pass plays in the second half against Tulsa it wasn't because it hadn't occurred to Long to order Bomar to attempt a pass; it was because he had little faith in the passing game's ability to succeed. During the stellar 2000 campaign, as Oklahoma found itself down 14-0 to Nebraska in Norman, offensive coordinator Mark Mangino asked Josh Heupel on the sidelines which plays he was most comfortable with. Those were the plays Mangino called to key the stunning come-from-behind 31-14 Sooner victory. Bottom line? Mangino knew that in order to be successful at any given moment he had to go with his strengths. And on Saturday afternoon, with their backs to the wall in the third quarter, Chuck Long realized that Adrian Peterson was the strength of the Oklahoma offense.
What should be questioned is how a world-class coaching staff leading a team loaded with blue chip athletes could underachieve the way the Sooners have these first two weeks. The confusion that has occurred on the offensive line, a disturbing common denominator in the first two games, has translated directly into a lack of success in the backfield with the exception last weekend of Adrian Peterson who managed to gain 222 yards largely without the benefit of blocking.
Without question, the defection of Akim Millington and Brandon Keith disrupted the cohesion of the line, but the problems go far beyond that. Necessarily or not, players on the offensive line have had positions shifted so often that it is not surprising that blocking, both run and pass, have floundered. And incredibly, the failure of Kevin Wilson to motivate the linemen to participate in off-season "voluntary" workouts appears to be bearing very bitter fruit (note: Wilson has conceded the soft-pedaling and has indicated that it will not recur).
On Sunday the Daily Oklahoman called this Sooner squad "very average." I think it is far too early for that assessment. In spite of running up gaudy scores on UTEP, Arkansas State and Rice, the 2000 Sooners looked very average and brought out the doom-sayers after a near miss against Kansas in the fourth game. And we all know how that season ended.
Am I suggesting then that these Sooners will turn it around and suddenly transform into a team of overachieving champions? At this point, that doesn't appear reasonable. But what is reasonable is to expect that these athletes, with the right motivation and direction, can still realize their potential in 2005.
However, if that motivation and direction aren't pretty quick in coming Oklahoma will require more than Sooner magic to avoid losing at least once in the next three games.
They'll require a Sooner miracle.
1. Texas (2-0 0-0) The bad news for the Big 12, north and south, is that Vince Young seems to have developed a talent for passing. The Texas victory over Ohio State showcased Young in two respects; what he can do early on before the opposing team has had a chance to make adjustments, and what he can do late in the game, when the Longhorns are down. Additionally, Young's supporting cast on both sides of the line of scrimmage played well enough to earn Texas a second straight week atop the power ratings.
Next up: September 17th – Rice in Austin.
2. Iowa State (2-0 0-0) The college football world is wondering just where in the heck these Cyclones came from. The interstate rivalry between Iowa State and Iowa has been a one-sided affair since, well, forever. And this year should have been no different. Iowa, coached by Kirk Ferentz and led by quarterback Drew Tate, was expected to blow the Cyclones out of Jack Trice stadium. Instead, Iowa State pretty much had its way as it dominated with a steady, bruising defense (Tate was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first half) and a perfectly balanced attack (169 yards rushing, 154 yards passing). The ‘Clones are looking more and more like the team to beat in the B12N.
Next up: Friday, September 23rd – Army at West Point, NY.
3. Colorado (2-0 0-0) The Buffs continued their 2005 campaign by rolling over another non-conference twinkie. Colorado allowed only 5 yards rushing and 176 passing in their 39-0 whitewash of New Mexico State. And although the NMS Aggies may not be Miami, Florida (or Miami, Ohio for that matter), they allowed Colorado to hone their team's on-field performance and build confidence. Barnett's boys will take next Saturday off to cram for their mid-terms when they'll pay a social call on Larry Coker et. al. the following weekend.
Next up: September 24th – Miami at Miami, Florida.
4. Oklahoma (1-1 0-0) Things are simply not going to be getting any easier for the Sooners in the near future. With the offensive line in disarray and the team clawing for victory over nondescript opponents, Oklahoma must head to the west coast to play a titled team to whom they've never lost – the UCLA Bruins. This is a better team than the one that came within one bad officiating moment of beating Southern California last year. These Bruins have outscored their first two opponents by an average of 32 points each. But the good news is three-fold: 1. Their first two opponents were Rice and UTEP; 2. The Bruins allowed Rice to rush for almost 200 yards; and 3. UCLA is being coached by Karl Dorrell. This is about as close to being a critical game as Oklahoma has seen since the 1970 Halloween game against Iowa State.
Next up: September 17th – UCLA at Los Angeles.
5. Texas Tech (1-0 0-0) Okay, so it was only Florida International on whom the Red Raiders unleashed their fury in a 56-3 blowout last weekend. But let's not sell Mike Leach short. It's been a long time since anyone except Texas Tech was held to 3 points in Lubbock. Tech looks like it has an opportunity to make some waves this season as their schedule is custom-made for a 5-0 start.
Next up: September 17th – Sam Houston State in Lubbock.
6. Texas A&M (0-1 0-0) No change in the Aggies' status on their bye week.
Next up: September 17th - SMU in College Station.
7. Kansas State (2-0 0-0) Bill Snyder should consider litigation against Mike Leach for stealing his ‘play-a-patsy' approach to September scheduling. But be that as it may, the Wildcats are now two-and-oh after clearing their first major early season hurdle with Marshall. K-State showed an effective offensive spark in the first quarter last weekend but completely fizzled out afterwards, allowing their defense to take them home with a two-point margin of victory. Next week it'll be back to business as usual as Our-Sisters-of-the-Weak-in-Spirit visit Manhattan.
Next up: September 17th – North Texas in Manhattan.
8. Nebraska (2-0 0-0) Zounds and gadzooks! Callahan has actually found a way to score some early-season points. While the guy they've pinned their '05 hopes on, Zac Taylor (of Norman, Oklahoma), was less than awe-inspiring, the Huskers took care of business with a believable defensive effort and a newly-discovered rushing attack as Cory Ross rambled for 123 yards and freshman phenom Marion Lucky managed three yards on two carries but looked darned good doing it. And incidentally, another indication that Nebraska has taken a substantial fall from the pinnacle of college football is that their score on the ESPN crawl at the bottom of the screen came after the William & Mary/VMI score and before the Duquesne/Fordham score last Saturday evening.
Next up: September 17th - Pittsburgh in Lincoln.
9. Oklahoma State (2-0 0-0) Nothin' like a good dose of Howard Schnellenberger for what ails you. And the Cowboys availed themselves good and proper of Howie's Florida Atlantic team last Thursday evening. OSU still shows signs of indecision and inexperience but were able to out-athlete the team with the unfortunate letters ‘FAU' on their helmets.
Next up: September 17th – Louisiana Tech in Lawrence.
10. Kansas (2-0 0-0) The Jayhawks' 36-3 bashing of Appalachian State meant far more to the morale of Mangino's players than it did to any power rating. Kansas has one more week to play footsie with the weaklings and then it's on to the heart and soul of their schedule. It won't be until October when we find out how good this team truly is. And hopefully we'll also discover the actual meaning, if any, to "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk."
Next up: September 17th - Appalachian State in Lawrence.
11. Missouri (1-0 0-0) Pinkel's team has too much talent and potential to be rating this poorly on the Big 12 Power chart. But their defense simply didn't show up against New Mexico last Saturday and in spite of Brad Smith's heroics (165 yards rushing, 248 passing and 4 touchdowns) the Tigers tanked. Missouri's coaching staff made the dire mistake of preparing to stop Dontrell Moore (who still gained 94 yards rushing) and totally ignored the Kole McKamey to Hank Baskett tandem which produced 209 yards passing and three touchdowns. Perhaps the most disturbing element here is that a Missouri player publically criticized the coaching staff after the game for preparing for the wrong aspect of NM's attack. And since the Damien Nash/Brad Smith flap of 2004 clearly demonstrated how Pinkel deals with in-house criticism, we can safely assume that there is still discord in the clubhouse.
Next up: September 17th - Troy in Columbia.
12. Baylor (2-0 0-0) Guy Morriss' Bagels have almost topped out on wins this season. I told you that they could win three and to do so, they'll have to encircle and destroy a bottom-feeding Army team this Saturday.
Next up: September 17th – Army at West Point, NY.
Wann Smith has served two years as national columnist for the Pigskin Post, contributed to the College Football News (a contributor to Fox Sports and the Sporting News) and is currently the editor of the College Football Gazette. Smith lives in St. Louis with his family.
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You can also contact Wann Smith at email@example.com
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