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Everybody is Flawed (Except for Maybe Alabama)



I took the weekend off. No golf writing. No football writing. All I did was the Bullets for Sunday morning. As a result, I got to just sit and watch a lot of games. I watched the first half of OU-Iowa State with my kids. I watched Kansas State-Texas with my wife. I caught some of Michigan State-Michigan and TCU-West Virginia and Washington State-Oregon.

My conclusion after a weekend immersed in a handful of plays from a variety of teams across the country (basically snapshots of like 10 programs)? Everybody stinks.

Except for Alabama (and maybe Clemson).

Or maybe everybody is good (except for Alabama and maybe Clemson which are great). It doesn’t really matter how you say it, the point is that so many teams are so equivalent that we truly have no idea what’s going to unfold in the next two months.

This is both good and bad for Oklahoma State. It is good because, after Iowa State planted its state flag in Norman, the reset button got punched on the Big 12 title race. It’s bad because, of all years, you would think this would be the one in which Oklahoma State could assert its superiority in a conference full of teams that might be good on any given weekend but none of which are going to be great for the entire year.

My pal Chris McCulloch sent me an email after the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game that I thought was interesting. Here’s what one line of it said:

Go look at last year’s Clemson team (that won it all). They beat Troy by 6 points, had an OT win against NC State, and lost to a Pitt team that OSU actually beat.

I said more or less the same after the Oklahoma State-TCU game — that I still thought Oklahoma State had a great chance at a Big 12 Conference crown — and got eviscerated (because the internet). But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Mike Gundy said this two weeks ago, and I didn’t truly believe him (now I do).

He said the parity in the Big 12 is “great for the fans, great for everybody. Hard on the coaches” and that wins will be based on the healthier team, turnovers and key special teams plays. Said the Cowboys are “right in the middle” of the mix even after the TCU game.

On Monday, he doubled down at his weekly press conference.

“We have good QB play in this league,” said Gundy. “If there is inexperience, we have teams in this league that are running their quarterbacks which can create an issue for defenses. When I sit back and look at the league and maturity and players lost, I felt like there would be more teams this year that can beat each other on any given Saturday based on lack of preparation emotionally by your football team.

“That’s what I struggle with as a coach — trying to get our players ready to play every week, if not you’re vulnerable. If you’re playing teams where athletically, you’re close, a turnover here, a turnover there, an injury here, an injury there — better QB play on one side than the other, then you’re vulnerable to lose the game.”

This is true. Maybe it’s true every year, but it’s definitely true this year. The Big 12 teams I’ve watched are either 1. Not that good (Everybody Stinks Theory) or 2. So closely aligned that they arrive at sluggish stalemates. The Texas Tech-Oklahoma State game, which I saw somebody call an instant classic, was a mediocre game played by a good team and an average team. But an injury here, a turnover there, etc.

All that to say, I think OSU is as good as anybody in the country (except Alabama and Clemson) on any given Saturday, and it has a weapon that few others possess (an elite, veteran QB).

Since 2009 (so the last eight years), only twice has the second-place team in the league finished with only one conference loss (every other runner up has had two or more). It happened in 2012 when Kansas State and OU “split” the Big 12 title, and it happened in 2014 when Baylor and TCU did the same.

What Iowa State’s win on Saturday did for Oklahoma State was that it gave OSU a cushion that it can lose another game and still play for the Big 12 title. Consider: Let’s say Oklahoma State wins its next two games against Baylor and Texas but loses at West Virginia. It will go into Bedlam with two Big 12 losses but a chance to defeat OU. Then let’s say it wins its next four in a row: OU, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas and finishes 7-2. That Iowa State win over OU allows you to lose at WVU (or wherever) and still control your own destiny against the Sooners.

Oklahoma State’s actual problem might be TCU depending on how the top of the league shakes out. It likely would have been more beneficial for WVU to beat the Frogs on Saturday than for ISU to beat OU, but it wouldn’t have been 1/100th as enjoyable. Maybe not even 1/1000th.

The Big 12 leaders after two weeks are TCU and Texas. TCU is going to lose. Probably a few times and maybe this weekend at Kansas State. Texas is going to lose. Probably a few times and probably this weekend against OU.

How the rest of it plays out will largely be determined by, like Gundy said, special teams, turnovers, injuries and QB play. I’m not sure if that’s encouraging for Oklahoma State fans that have watched half their offensive line go down and enough punting mishaps to make a middle school coach raise an eyebrow.

“It’s going to be about whether you can keep them focused and prepared during the week,” said Gundy. “Then get the right ones healthy and get good special teams play and good quarterback play on Saturdays.”

It sounds so easy, and yet it hasn’t looked easy over the first two Big 12 games this season. Nevertheless, OSU is nearly at the halfway point of its season with all of its preseason goals intact (although the CFP is teetering a bit).

Oklahoma State was never going undefeated because nobody is going undefeated (except maybe Alabama … and maybe Clemson) so now your goal is to be the best of the one-loss teams. The Pokes certainly haven’t looked like the dominant force that has a chance to run the rest of the slate, but they didn’t look that way in 2013 or 2016 either and still played for a title in each year.

One of my buddies who covers golf thinks everybody in golf stinks except for Jordan Spieth. That of course doesn’t mean that he thinks everybody is terrible at golf — it simply highlights that among a bunch of flawed contenders, only one guy is consistently elite (Spieth = Alabama). Any one of those flawed contenders can feasibly rise from the pile in a given week or year and take home a trophy (and it happens a lot).

I believe that to be true of college football this season, which should be good news for Oklahoma State fans. In a year in which Gundy thinks parity has never been more ubiquitous and no teams are without flaw, Oklahoma State is still in a position to make a run into December with the presumed eventual destination still in its sights.

The not-so-secret subtext to this year is that if you were going to lose a game (and nearly everybody will) then there wasn’t a better time to do it than when Oklahoma State did. That got some chuckles on September 24. It might not two months from now.

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