Tillman's Take

Former Sooner great and current CBS College Football Studio Analyst Spencer Tillman talks about the state of Oklahoma football, next Saturday's showdown against Texas and why he rates Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith ahead of Adrian Peterson (pictured) in his latest Heisman rankings. (AP Photo)

Spencer Tillman was a star running back at Oklahoma in the ‘80s, played in the NFL and is now the lead studio analyst for CBS College Foottball Saturday. OU Insider Senior Correspondent Tony Sellars had a chance to visit with Tillman this week about the current Sooners and the overall state of college football.

TS: What are your impressions of Oklahoma's performance so far? Especially with Paul Thompson having to take over at quarterback right before the start of the season.

Tillman: I look at it from two different perspectives. I think in terms of how they handled it from the beginning it was excellent. The swift, quick response in terms of the transition from the Rhett Bomar situation to getting Paul in there, I think everything was handled exceptionally well. I think Bob (Stoops) handled keeping the guys positive as one could be in that circumstance.

First game I was a little bit not necessarily surprised but – and this is my heart talking now – I was a little bit disappointed with the tackling in game one. I think they've done some things to work on technique and tried to improve that since then. That's something I know Bob prides himself on, being fitted up properly on defense in particular, in the right gaps and form tackling and doing all the fundamentals of the game.

I was talking to someone about this the other day and I'm not saying this is exclusive to Oklahoma, but when you lose as much "intellectual property" over the last five years as they have, some of that is expected. You're going to fall off a little bit. But they've done a great job of holding that together in light of all of that.

In the Oregon game, I've always said that you always tend to learn more after a loss than you do after a win, so OU having beaten Oregon in the bowl game last year, Oregon had a score to settle. Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the PAC-10, if you like PAC-10 football, so I knew that was going to be a tough go. But the game was stolen. I think we all know that. It's more than just one or two or three places where that game came up short, in terms of that last call. There were four different infractions that I saw, beginning with the guy (kicker) being offsides.

That having been said, I think overall, they've done the best they possible could. I'm a little bit disappointed in the defense early on but they've subsequently shored it up a little bit. Still not where it probably needs to be to get past Texas, but I think they've done a solid job. Not a great job, but a good job.

TS: Let's talk OU-Texas. Both teams come in with a loss, but as usual, there's a whole lot on the line in this game.

Tillman:
From the beginning of this year, the common theme has been Division I teams getting knocked off by I-AA teams, so anything can happen. We've seen teams come back, whether it's Notre Dame against Michigan State, it's just unbelievable how crazy this year has been so far. So having said that as a backdrop, I think Oklahoma has a chance to beat Texas. They're gonna have to play the game of their lives to do it, but I think they have a shot at doing it.

I think it's going to have to come with a more conservative approach, pushing on the ground more so and then they're going to be patient and pick their chances from a passing standpoint. Be a little bit more strategic in that. I think it's no mystery that they're going to run Adrian (Peterson) but I think you also have to calculate and be more deliberate when you do pass. Because there are opportunities and there are holes in the Texas secondary. It just has to be timed properly and the offensive coordinator is going to have to look for those tendencies and opportunities as the game develops in real time. Everybody's got weaknesses. It's just a matter of exploiting them.

TS: Right now in the Heisman race, you've got Troy Smith ahead of Adrian Peterson. Explain that and give us your thoughts about AD's chances as the season goes on.

Tillman: Well, I always tend to frame things in a historical context. If you look at last year, Texas was who they were primarily because of Vince Young, although I'm not suggesting that the other 10 guys on the offensive side of the ball weren't there. You look at what Penn State has suffered without Michael Robinson. They're an also-ran, they're an average team. So I always look at the quarterback position as a centerpiece position. It's not necessarily higher profile than a running back, but it's more integral to the overall success of an offense and ultimately, to the team. The ball touches, as the cliché goes, the quarterback's hands every single time.

I've got Troy up there because he's a catalyst. He's the guy that's got to get the ball to Ted Ginn Jr. and all the others. And when you consider on defense that they've got so many young guys on that side of the ball, they've got a lot of gap filling to do and they've done a great job with those young five-star linebackers that they've got.

So that's the reason I've got Troy ahead of Adrian. Adrian obviously belongs up there at the top. I've kinda caught some problems by edging Brady Quinn back up there. I know some people don't really like that, but anytime a guy can bring a team back like that, irrespective of whether or not it was just as much Michigan State helping them out, you've got to put him up there. And I think Chris Leak, last week, prior to this week, I had in that top five as well. They've got a little bit of a quarterback controversy there now.

Adrian, you know, he's a stud. The thing I like about him is that you know what you're going to get when you go in from a defensive coordinator's standpoint, but you really can't stop him anyway. You can slow him down but the guy runs with such passion and such reckless abandon. I've not seen anything quite like it in the last 10 to 15 years of college football. He runs with more passion than any running back I've ever seen.

TS: Probably in less than a month, he's going to pass Billy Sims as the all-time rushing leader at Oklahoma and he will have done it in less than three seasons. You're an OU historian, where do you put him among all the great backs that have played there?

Tillman:
It's tough. The game was a different game when I was there. We were playing three freshmen at Oklahoma, alternating three people running a wishbone attack, so we were spreading the wealth between three different people. And actually, it was deeper than that, because we just had a bevy of backs.

Adrian is the guy. He's the guy that's going to get the tote. I mean, my last year at Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, I think I carried the ball seven times, maybe had 109 yards, but that's the kind of offense we had at Oklahoma. So it's a different era.

But make no mistake about it. In my opinion, relative to his time, relative to the context that he's operating in, he's the best back in OU history. And that's saying a lot, coming from me, because I love Billy Sims, but that's a different era and it's a different context. Billy was a unique back in his own right. But for the times and for what they're asking him to do, Adrian has demonstrated, or if he does pass Billy, he will have demonstrated he's the best.

TS: One last thing I want to run by you. When I'm sitting there watching the last couple of minutes of the Oregon game and I could see it coming, it makes me wonder why I should even care about college football. It‘s like WWE or some event where the outcome has been predetermined. You can invest all this time and energy into it – and money, traveling to the games – and in the end you feel cheated. I think a lot of people came out of that game, not just Oklahoma fans, feeling jaded and bitter. It's like all the things we were taught about football building character and such have just been thrown out the window. Since you're a key face in the college football machine on television, give me your best speech on why we should still care about college football.

Tillman:
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said that crisis doesn't make the man or the woman, it merely exposes what is already there. And I think what that ruling did, it exposed some of the aspects of the college game that aren't – at least in appearance – the most forthright.

The notion that only Pac-10 officials can call home games reeks of inconsistency, it reeks of unfairness, and it's just not a good rule. Most people weren't even aware of that rule. I remember writing to Joe Castiglione right after that – and I'm sure he probably knew it after the fact – and outlining that in my E-Mail to him.

But there's so much about the college game. I mean, if you even want to go beyond the field itself, don't get me on my high horse about that. I think there's a lot of an inequity in the college game dealing with athletes themselves in terms of socioeconomic situations that many of them come from. Most people want to turn it into a notion of race and it's not. It's just more along economic lines than it is anything else. College football is a multi-billion dollar business.

And the more the veil is removed, people are understanding that. And that's when you get situations like what happened there in the Pac-10 game with Oklahoma and Oregon.

Again, I'm not suggesting that money was involved in that, I'm not suggesting that there was some impropriety. I'm just saying that there needed to be a context where all of the dressing, all of the people, the players who are in the mission-critical positions, of the replay officials to the officials down on the field, they need to be neutral. They need to be pulled from a pool of neutral people. And if it's a matter of economics, then you've got to at least find enough money to have that one replay official, gotta be somebody that's neutral. He cannot be from the Pac-10.

It's too crucial. Conference USA just last week had another official that obviously, number one, there was not some implication of impropriety but what happened there, he interpreted the rule wrong. You cannot use a forward progression of a player to determine whether or not the play was over. So he was ignorant of what the rule actually stated. So that sort of incompetence when so much is on the line is not right. It's just not right.

All of that being said, I think fans should still care about it because it reflects life. That's what sport does. It is a microcosm of life. There's a lot that happens in life that's not fair or just. That's what we need to be mindful of. That's why fans need to continue to care about football, because it reflects in microcosm what we deal with in life every single day.


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