Tramel's ScissorTales: Ranking the Big 12 bowl games with future member Cincinnati's playoff game No. 1
The bowl assignments are out, and I’ve got to say, it’s a great post-season list for the Big 12.
Even though the Big 12 didn’t place a team in the College Football Playoff, a future Big 12 member, Cincinnati, made the four-team bracket. And the other Big 12 bowls, and bowls involving future Big 12 members, are mostly intriguing.
The Thursday ScissorTales check OU’s history of hiring defensive-minded coaches and look at Baker Mayfield’s future with the Cleveland Browns, but we start with our Thursday List, which ranks the Big 12 post-season games and includes future Big 12 members.
Tramel's ScissorTales:Facing Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl a nice consolation prize for OSU football
The List: Ranking the Big 12 bowl games
1. Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Alabama, 2:30 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN, in Arlington, Texas. This is a great assignment for mid-majors, with Cincy finally crashing through the ceiling and getting a playoff berth. But it’s also good for the Big 12, with the Bearcats soon to join. And it could be an even greater day. If UC could somehow pull an upset, it would be monumental not just for the underdogs, but for the new-look Big 12.
2. Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame, 11 a.m., Jan. 1, ESPN, in Glendale, Arizona. Tremendous bowl game for the Big 12 and the Cowboys. And Notre Dame cooperated even further by replacing AWOL coach Brian Kelly with Marcus Freeman, elevated from defensive coordinator. So the Cowboys help kick off an era in one of college football’s grandest traditions.
3. Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State, 5:45 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN, in Memphis. Mike Leach vs. the Red Raiders. How could you ask for anything better. Tech fired Leach 12 years ago and frankly has been struggling ever since. Leach has no love lost for the Red Raiders and has fared much better than Tech over those dozen seasons, doing well at outposts like Washington State and Mississippi State. Now Leach will go head-to-head with his former Tech quarterback, Sonny Cumbie, who is the Red Raiders’ interim coach before taking over at Louisiana Tech. The Red Raiders have hired Joey McGuire as head coach; he’s Tech’s fourth full-time head coach since Leach.
'This is a barometer game for us':Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees impressed with OSU defense
4. Sugar Bowl: Baylor vs. Ole Miss, 7:45 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN, in New Orleans. Too bad OU is hiring Mississippi offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Lebby coaching against the Bears would have been rich, since he is Art Briles’ son-in-law and was part of the staff during Baylor’s golden days of 2011-15 before the House of Briles was felled by the sexual assault coverup scandal.
5. Cheez-It Bowl: Iowa State vs. Clemson, 4:45 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN, in Orlando. The last time Dabo Swinney’s Tigers were subjected to Orlando’s No. 2 bowl, they thrashed the Sooners, then began terrorizing the Atlantic Coast Conference and all of college football. Now Swinney is back, but without his defensive coordinator (Brent Venables, gone to OU), probably his offensive coordinator (Tony Elliott, seemingly headed to Virginia) and his athletic director (Dan Radakovich, off to Miami). Seems like ripe pluckings for the Cyclones.
6. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Oregon, 8:15 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN, in San Antonio. Bob Stoops will coach the Sooners, which should be grand fun. How many players either team has is in question, since opt-outs are an epidemic.
7. Gasparilla Bowl: Central Florida vs. Florida, 6 p.m., Dec. 23, ESPN, in Tampa. A year ago, Gus Malzahn was fired a year ago by Auburn and then-Florida coach Dan Mullen was riding high, having taken Alabama to the brink in the SEC title game. Now Malzahn coaches UCF, a really good job that’s about to get better, and Mullen is unemployed. Funny how the world works.
8. Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. Louisiana State, 8 p.m., Jan. 4, ESPN, in Houston. Former OU offensive lineman Brad Davis will be LSU’s interim coach for the bowl, before Brian Kelly takes over.
9. Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota, 9:15 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN, in Phoenix. Long trip for both squads. To Phoenix, it’s 1,682 miles from Minneapolis and 2,080 miles from Morgantown.
10. Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs. Auburn, 11 a.m., Dec. 28, ESPN, in Birmingham, Alabama. Great bowl lineup for the American Conference. Three matchups against Southeastern Conference teams, including this one, plus two games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams – East Carolina vs. Boston College, Southern Methodist vs. Virginia.
11. Independence Bowl: Brigham Young vs. Alabama-Birmingham, 2:30 p.m., Dec. 18, ABC, in Shreveport, Louisiana. BYU came within a whisker of making a New Year’s Six bowl. Ranked 13th, the Cougars were the last team out. But BYU would have had to rise all the way to 10th, past Michigan State, to get a berth in a major bowl, since No. 11 Utah and No. 12 Pittsburgh were automatic qualifiers.
OU: Offensive head coaches vs. defensive head coaches
Thirty years ago, a friend of mine who knew Gary Gibbs and liked him, still wasn’t crazy about Gibbs as OU’s head coach.
He’s a defensive coach, she said, and he coaches like a defensive coach.
Some people will remember when that was a common thought. That head coaches who came up through the defensive ranks were conservative and not prone to innovative offenses or ideas.
Now OU has hired a defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, to be its head coach, and we don’t hear a peep about it.
Credit Bob Stoops. Stoops was a defensive coordinator when hired by OU 23 years ago, and Stoops quickly dispelled any notion of conservatism. He ran trick plays and hired offensive coordinators who ran the Air Raid and generally played maverick football.
But it got me to thinking. We’ve talked a lot about how often (almost always) OU resorts to lifetime assistant coaches when it has sought a head coach, but we’ve never focused from which side of the ball those assistants came.
So here goes.
1946: Jim Tatum. Tatum came from the single-platoon era, so coaches usually coached both sides of the ball. During World War II, Tatum and Bud Wilkinson tutored under Don Faurot and his split-T offense, so both Tatum and Wilkinson were known as -- and can be correctly labeled -- offensive coaches. But they coached both.
1947: Bud Wilkinson. You know, something I don’t know on the college level is how practices were split up during the single-platoon era. Was it offense for half a practice, then defense? Was it all offense one day, all defense another? Did half the team practice offense, half defense, then everybody flips? Doesn’t matter to this discussion. The coaches coached both sides, but if you must designate Wilkinson, you’d have to go with offense.
1964: Gomer Jones. If you make Wilkinson the offensive coach, then his long-time lieutenant, Jones, would have to be labeled defense. But Jones is the reason such designations are squishy. Jones was the line coach, which meant he coached the likes of Billy Krisher and Tom Catlin and Ed Gray and Jim Weatherall on both sides of the ball.
1966: Jim Mackenzie. Mackenzie was considered a defensive coordinator at Arkansas when OU hired him. The concept of offensive and defensive coordinators didn’t really take hold until the late 1960s, but it seems fairly clear that Mackenzie ran Frank Broyles’ defense at Arkansas.
1967: Chuck Fairbanks.Fairbanks was Mackenzie’s defensive backfield coach in 1966, then was promoted when Mackenzie died of a heart attack in April 1967.
1973: Barry Switzer. Switzer was Fairbanks’ offensive coordinator – Switzer installed the wishbone in 1970.
1989: Gibbs was Switzer’s long-time defensive coordinator, and a danged good one. Some day I’ve got rank all the OU defensive coordinators. It’s quite possible that Gary Gibbs will be No. 1.
1995:Howard Schnellenberger. Not an assistant coach. The Colonel was Louisville’s head coach when OU hired him, and he won’t be part of the discussion, but Schnellenberger absolutely was an offensive coach.
1996:John Blake. Never a coordinator, but Blake was a defensive line coach at OU, Tulsa and the Dallas Cowboys before being hired by the Sooners.
1999: Stoops. Defense all the way.
2017: Lincoln Riley. Offense all the way.
2022: Brent Venables. The Stoops story.
So discounting Schnellenberger, that’s seven defensive coaches and four offensive coaches. And of the four offensive coaches, that’s counting both Tatum and Wilkinson, who in theory coached both sides. If you want to discount any hiring before 1966, it’s 5-3 defense.
That is amazing. Offensive coaches for a long time have appeared to get more consideration for head coaching jobs. Fans love offense. Administrators love offense because fans love offense.
But OU, already bucking the trend by almost never going the head-coaching-experience route, bucks the trend even more by going with defense over offense.
Now, if you want to declare OU has had more success with offensive coaches, I can’t disagree.
Of the giants, two were offense (Wilkinson, Switzer) and one was defense (Stoops). Of course, that’s giving the offense Wilkinson, which can be argued.
Of the next-level of success, one was offense (Riley) and one was defense (Fairbanks).
Of the one-time wonders, one was ostensibly offense (Tatum) and one was defense (Mackenzie). What’s interesting is that both hired the men, Wilkinson and Switzer, who would lead Sooner dynasties.
Only one coach is of the solid-but-not-spectacular crowd. That’s Gibbs, on defense.
Of the two busts, Blake and Jones, one was defense and the other coached both but is more aligned with defense.
Now Venables joins the study.
OU’s batting average with offensive coaches is higher. Switzer and Riley were home runs, and if you count Tatum and Wilkinson, that’s four-for-four.
But Gibbs was good, Fairbanks was great and Stoops was grander than great. Blake drags down the defense’s case.
Without Stoops, you might scratch your head about Venables and wonder if the Sooners might should have gone after an offensive genius. Switzer himself politicked in the last week for Mike Leach to replace Riley.
But there is no without Stoops. The Stoops example is strong. His comparison with Venables is strong.
OU history shows there is no reason why Venables can’t be a success, too.
Thunder playing well in close games
The Thunder beat the Raptors 110-109 Wednesday night in a rousing game in Toronto. You almost forgot how much fun the NBA can be.
The Thunder gets blown out so much, close games are difficult to find.
But in Toronto, the Thunder led 103-96 with barely two minutes left, then the Raptors came roaring back. On consecutive possessions, Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred Van Vleet nailed 3-pointers, and the Raptors had a 105-105 tie.
After Josh Giddey missed a driving layup for OKC, Van Vleet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander exchanged two foul shots each. Then the Raptors’ Justin Champagnie made an acrobatic layup, but SGA teamed with Mike Muscala on a great pick-and-pop play. The entire Raptor defense followed Gilgeous-Alexander, who drove the lane, then turned and passed to an open Muscala. He drained a 3-pointer to give OKC a 110-109 lead with eight seconds left.
Finally, Darius Bazley blocked Van Vleet’s desperation shot, Champagnie tipped in the wayward miss and Toronto celebrated, but video review showed the tip-in came after the buzzer.
“It was fun,” said Muscala. “Obviously, it was frustrating when they went on that big run, but with the crowd into it and everything, that’s what you play for. We were on pins and needles there. But shoutout, Shai had a great game. Just happy we won.”
What a game. Seemed like old times.
“The guys made big-time plays tonight,” Mark Daigneault said. “Both teams, really really good games down the stretch. Could have obviously gone either way. But I thought we showed good poise, playing all the way through, giving ourselves the best chance.”
The Thunder has been playing such games since hitting town 13 years ago.
But in the last calendar year, not so much. The rebuilding Thunder gets blown out on a regular basis. Heck, The Athletic’s John Hollinger, one of NBA media’s brighter minds, pointed out that the Thunder now is 2-1 in its last three games, with a minus-61 point differential. The Thunder beat Detroit 114-103 on Monday, but in OKC’s previous game, it lost 152-79 to Memphis, an NBA record for point differential.
The Thunder is 8-16, tied for the NBA’s fourth-worst record, but OKC’s minus-8.7 point differential is the NBA’s third-worst, trailing only Orlando and Detroit.
It got me to thinking. How does this Thunder team fare in tight games? The answer, not bad. Not bad at all.
The Thunder is 4-3 in games decided by five points or less. That means the Thunder is 4-13 in games not decided by five points or less.
The Thunder’s problem clearly is a lack of playoff-level talent. That leads to blowouts. But when the games are tight, SGA and Luguentz Dort and pals hang in there and compete rather well.
A year ago, when OKC was 22-50, the Thunder went 12-7 in games decided by five points or less. That’s right. The Thunder had a .632 winning percentage in tight games but was 10-43 otherwise.
In 2019-20, the Chris Paul season, the Thunder finished 44-28 and was 18-11 in tight games.
In the two Russell Westbrook/Paul George years, when OKC was 49-33 and 48-34, respectively, the Thunder was 11-17 and 12-12 in tight games.
In the Westbrook solo star year of 2016-17, the Thunder finished 47-35 and was 16-9 in tight games.
What does it all mean? It seems as if SGA is promising as a cool-customer quarterback in late-game situations. He’s played well when it matters, both with Chris Paul and without.
That bodes well for the future.
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NFL predictions & Baker Mayfield’s future
Baker Mayfield’s future with the Cleveland Browns is approaching a crisis point. Will the Browns offer a contract extension that makes Mayfield their franchise quarterback?
I don’t know. Mayfield’s performance and health have given pause to a relationship that seemed secure when Cleveland made its rise a year ago and won a playoff game for the first time since 1994.
Mayfield is due to make $18.8 million next season, and after that, the Browns always could place the franchise tag on Mayfield and secure his services for another season or two.
But most franchise tags are the result of an impasse in contract negotiations. The Browns’ reluctance is whether or not Mayfield is the quarterback they want leading a rather talented roster going forward.
Mayfield has thrown for 11 touchdowns and six interceptions this season, while completing 62.2 percent of his passes. In ESPN’s Total QBR (quarterback ratings), Mayfield is 26th among quarterbacks in the National Football League. Just above Sam Darnold, just below Daniel Jones.
That’s not the status Mayfield or the Browns envisioned after Mayfield ranked 10th a year ago. Mayfield, who won the 2017 Heisman Trophy at OU, is 26. His next contract was expected to be the big one, somewhere north of $30 million a year.
But the Browns appear to be hesitant over such a commitment.
Cleveland is 6-6 and in last place in the four-team AFC North Division. The Browns host first-place Baltimore on Sunday, and a loss could send Cleveland to the brink of playoff elimination.
The Browns are tied for 10th in the AFC. Only seven teams make the playoff.
Cleveland has become a team reliant on a big-time defense and a strong running game. If that’s the Browns’ identity going forward, investing heavily in a 62-percent-passer makes no sense.
The rest of this season will go a long way to determining Mayfield’s future in Cleveland. Starting with the Ravens.
Let’s get to the predictions.
Steelers at Vikings: Pittsburgh 23-20. Minnesota is playing for its playoff life. But the Steelers are in no less a dogfight.
Ravens at Browns: Baltimore 19-17. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson has slumped, but his running threat still sends chills through opposing defenses.
Jaguars at Titans: Tennessee 26-6. With a victory, the Titans can restore their two-game lead in the AFC South.
Raiders at Chiefs: Kansas City 22-14. The NFL season is long. The Chiefs looked in trouble back in October. Now they’re a half game out of first place in the AFC and seem as good a pick as any to reach another Super Bowl. Don’t over-react until the weather gets cold.
Saints at Jetropolitans: New Orleans 20-17. From the land of unattended consequences, the expanded NFL season keeps WAY more teams involved in the playoff hunt. New Orleans is 5-7 and only one game out of the playoffs.
Cowboys at Washington: Dallas 21-18. Somehow, the Cowboys haven’t even secured the division title in the woeful NFC East. Dallas leads Washington by two games, but the bitter rivals play twice in a span of 15 days.
Falcons at Panthers: Atlanta 27-20. A battle of 5-7 teams. The loser is not eliminated from playoff contention, but I wouldn’t recommend losing.
Seahawks at Texans: Seattle 24-16. Russell Wilson looked more like himself Sunday in beating the 49ers, so now not even the 4-8 Seahawks are dead in the water.
Lions at Broncos: Denver 22-13. In the last seven seasons, six quarterbacks have led Denver in passing – Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian and Peyton Manning. Only Siemian (2016-17) did it twice. Chances are, come 2022, it will be seven in eight seasons.
Giants at Chargers: Los Angeles 34-13. New York is a mess. The Giants might soon have a new general manager, a new coach and a new quarterback.
49ers at Bengals: San Francisco 26-25. I am committed to picking against Cincinnati the rest of the season. I’m pulling for the Bengals, but they’ve made me look foolish a bunch of weeks.
Bills at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay 31-20. Buffalo is 7-5; lose this one, and the Bills rank among the NFL’s most disappointing teams.
Bears at Packers: Green Bay 26-7. Be nice, Aaron Rodgers. Nobody likes a sore winner.
Rams at Cardinals: Los Angeles 24-23. Could be the Rams’ last stand. With a victory, Arizona takes a three-game lead in the NFC West.
Last week: 8-6. Season: 120-71-1.
Mailbag: How to save the bowls
Bowls are under siege, with coaches leaving teams – or being asked to leave – before bowl games, and players following suit by opting out of the bowl games. Some seek solutions.
Tim: “Idea for paying players and increasing bowl participation by players: 25 percent of a team’s bowl payout is split between the players on the roster for bowl game.”
Tramel: I’ve heard worse ideas. Just like everything else, I’m sure there are unintended consequences. But the bowls are hemorrhaging, with interesting waning. So I’d be willing to try most anything.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.