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Tramel's ScissorTales: OU & OSU 1-2 in Big 12 rankings, and College Football Playoff hopes rise

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

Saturday was a good day for the Big 12’s College Football Playoff hopes. Not a great day. But a good day. 

Alabama lost. Brigham Young lost. But Iowa won. 

And oh yeah, OU won, too

All but the Iowa victory helps the Big 12 cause. The Big 12 has placed a team (OU) in the playoff in four of the seven seasons of the four-team format. 

And the Sooners’ 55-48 victory over Texas helped the most. That win kept OU unbeaten, which is the most important thing of all. 

The 6-0 Sooners and 5-0 OSU are the Big 12’s lone unbeaten teams, and now only Baylor has just one defeat. If Texas had beaten OU, the Longhorns would have remained at least a playoff hopeful, but better for the conference to have an unbeaten among OU and Texas rather than two one-loss squads. 

If either OU or OSU win out, they will be in the playoff. But both are long shots to win out. Even a generous analysis of each team’s victory chances gives the Sooners only about an 18 percent chance of finishing 13-0 and the Cowboys about a 13 percent chance. 

All four years OU made the playoff, the Sooners were selected with a 12-1. So making the playoff with a loss is the most likely path, not just for a Big 12 team, but for most teams. 

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OU's  Kennedy Brooks (26) celebrates after running for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter Saturday against Texas.

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And that’s where Saturday comes in. 

Alabama’s stunning, 41-38 loss to Texas A&M reduces the likelihood of the Southeastern Conference landing two teams in the playoff. Before Saturday, Bama and Georgia looked like the class of college football, on a collision course for the SEC Championship Game. 

Had the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs met as unbeatens in the SEC showcase, there is no doubt they both would have advanced to the playoff. 

But now, even if both win out and reach Atlanta, Georgia could knock out the Crimson Tide with an SEC title-game victory. Of course, if Alabama beats Georgia under such a scenario, both still almost surely would make the playoff. 

Still, any defeat of the SEC heavyweights helps open a slot. 

Brigham Young’s loss to Boise State is not as vital to the Big 12 cause, but every little bit helps. The Cougars were 5-0, with victories over Utah and Arizona State, and upcoming games against Baylor, Washington State and Southern Cal. 

Had BYU finished off a 12-0 season, the Cougars would have at least been in the discussion for a playoff berth and quite possibly would have had a better resume’ than an unbeaten Cincinnati. 

But Iowa’s 23-20 victory over Penn State could increase the possibility that the Big Ten, instead of the SEC, gets two teams into the playoff.  

The formula for two Big Ten teams making it would be two unbeatens meeting in the championship game, or a once-beaten team beating an unbeaten. Iowa, being in the West Division, has a cushy remaining schedule compared to East powers Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.  

The best scenario to prevent two Big Ten teams from making the playoff is with the conference championship game matching two teams with at least one loss. A Penn State victory would have made that more likely. 

Now, Iowa’s remaining opponents are Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. So the Hawkeyes could reach December unbeaten. 

A Penn State victory would have made it much more likely that no unbeaten was in the Big Ten title game. 

Let’s get to the Big 12 rankings: 

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OU freshman quarterback Caleb Williams (13) adjusts his helmet before a play during the Sooners' 55-48 win against Texas on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

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1. Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12)

The Sooners’ victories over Division I-A teams have been by five, seven, three, six and seven points. In two of the last three games, OU has taken the lead on the literal last snap of the game. But hey, the Sooners are winning. They are 6-0 for just the second time since 2011. 

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2. Oklahoma State (5-0, 2-0 Big 12)

The Cowboys have already beaten what appears to be two of the better Big 12 teams, Kansas State and Baylor. Now comes Texas. Beat the Longhorns, and OSU will be in the driver’s seat to meet OU in the Big 12 title game. 

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3. Texas (4-2, 2-1 Big 12)

The Longhorns will be fighting for their Arlington life Saturday against OSU. Lose to the Cowboys, and the Longhorns will be two games behind OSU in the loss column, likely two games behind OU in the loss column, and will lose the tiebreaker with both. 

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4. Kansas State (3-2, 0-2 Big 12)

The Wildcats seemed rejuvenated with the return of quarterback Skylar Thompson. But K-State has the same problem Texas could have – two games behind the Bedlam rivals and losses to them both. 

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5. Baylor (5-1, 3-1 Big 12)

Give the Bears credit. They already have beaten two teams picked ahead of them – Iowa State, West Virginia – and played tough in Stillwater. 

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6. Texas Christian (3-2, 1-1 Big 12)

Wonder what Gary Patterson will find to be mad about after winning at Tech? Patterson was mad at Southern Methodist’s flag-planting and then dubious about Texas running tailback Bijan Robinson so much. 

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7. Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2 Big 12)

The Red Raider defense collapsed for the second time in three games. TCU rushed for 394 yards in a 52-31 victory Saturday night, two weeks after Texas rushed for 336. 

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8. West Virginia (2-4, 0-3 Big 12)

This season is slipping quickly into disaster. The Mountaineers played tough at OU but now have lost to Texas Tech and Baylor. 

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9. Iowa State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12)

I still can’t rank the Cyclones higher than ninth until they beat someone better than Nevada-Las Vegas, Northern Iowa or Kansas. 

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10. Kansas (1-4, 0-2 Big 12)

The Jayhawks this Saturday get their crack at Texas Tech’s run defense. 

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Steve Sarkisian talks OU-Texas 

OU’s rally from a 21-point deficit to beat Texas 55-48 Saturday was the third major comeback in the last 26 years involving a coach making his OU-Texas coaching debut. 

In my column in the Monday Oklahoman, I referenced Bob Stoops’ 1999 debut, in which the Sooners took a 17-0 lead, only to lose 38-28. And in 1995, Texas took a 21-0 lead on Howard Schnellenberger’s only Sooner squad, but that OU team rallied for a 24-24 tie. 

No way of knowing how Steve Sarkisian’s Texas tenure will go. His Longhorns were quite impressive through three quarters – a 41-23 lead after 43 minutes – but then were overwhelmed. 

Here are some of the things Sark had to say after OU-Texas. 

Sarkisian’s initial thoughts: “They kept building on the momentum of it and they capitalizing on the opportunities. And I give our guys a lot of credit for the resolve to go down and score (to tie the game 48-48 with 1:23 left). Unfortunately, they hit us with a couple big plays. They made the plays. I’d love to say that a call was wrong here or there, but the 50-50 balls that went up in the air, they came down with them. 

“The broken plays really hurt us the most today with the quarterback kind of improvising and flinging the ball up down the field, and they caught it. And then ultimately the run game kicked in for them.” 

My reaction: That’s really the difference between Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams, right? Rattler clearly is a better passer, at least right now, but Williams’ ability to move in the pocket and lengthen plays makes a world of difference. Plus the run game element; Williams’ 66-yard run on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter is almost forgotten. 

Sarkisian on the loss: “I wish we could’ve capitalized more offensively in the second half to try to extend the lead a little bit. We didn’t. But picture-wise, this will test our mettle. We’ll find out what we’re made of. We’ve gotta bounce back next week. We’ve got another great football team coming to DKR with an opportunity to get ourselves right before the bye, which I think we will. 

“I love the heart and desire of our team, the mentality of our team. But this one hurts. That’s what sport’s about. When you play a tight game in a rivalry game, it hurts. So we’re gonna have to pick ourselves back up to play a really good opponent next week. And then have the bye and then go into the second half of this season with an opportunity to see what we can do. Ultimately, my mindset is I’d love to get another crack at these guys hopefully in December.” 

My reaction: An OU-Texas rematch in Arlington for the Big 12 championship certainly is feasible – and commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s biggest nightmare – but much of that will be determined Saturday in Austin, where the Longhorns host OSU. If Texas wins, an OU-Texas rematch is No. 1 on the likelihood list of matchups. But if OSU wins, Bedlam is at the top of the list. 

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Sark on OU’s defensive line: “They had a really good defensive front. We knew that going into the game. We felt we had a good plan to do some things. They started to get more penetration up front defensively, which is pretty much what we saw on tape all year long. In the first half I thought we stabilized that, and we didn’t have that penetration. And then it started to get a little bit leaky. When you’re playing a good front over time, the whole key to the drill is winning on first downs so you don’t put yourself in a third-and-long. And that’s what we were struggling to do there in the second half. We were losing first-and-10 and we were playing second-and-long, third-and-long football. That’s a hard way to operate consistently. Looking back, first-and-10 was probably one of the keys offensively where we struggled.” 

My reaction: A key for OU was moving Isaiah Thomas inside full-time in the second half. That got more athletic people across the d-line, and Thomas and Perrion Winfrey constantly penetrated the line and kept Texas tailback Bijan Robinson from getting much going vertically. 

As for first down, Sarkisian is right. Texas was phenomenal in the first half. Robinson carried six times for gains of 14, nine, three, six, three and five yards. Which is good. Forty yards on six carries. But quarterback Casey Thompson was incredible in first-half first downs: nine completions in 11 passes, with one sack, 224 yards, four touchdowns. On other downs in the half, Thompson was 1-of-5 for 20 yards. Incredible difference. In the second half, Texas faced 13 first downs; the Longhorns made more than four yards only three times – pass plays of 17 and 14 yards, and a 33-yard Robinson run. But UT thrice had negative-yardage plays and twice Thompson threw incomplete. Huge turnaround.

Sark on the injury to Texas receiver Jordan Whittington: “It was a clavicle injury, so we’ll assess that. Jordan, I think he provides a lot for us in the middle of the field. But I don’t know if that necessarily hindered us. Marcus Washington went in the game, makes a heck of a catch in the front pylon right there and unfortunately his toe was out of bounds. Where their kid got his toe in bounds, our guy’s toe was out of bounds. Marcus stepped up, but that’s the whole idea. Next man up, and that’s why we practice the way we practice and guys get a lot of reps.” 

My reaction: That’s an important and forgotten play. Texas faced third-and-7 from the OU 23-yard line, late third quarter, leading 38-23. Thompson lofted a fade into the end zone, and the well-covered Washington made the catch but barely was out of bounds. Texas settled for a field goal that made it 41-23, and the OU comeback started. 

Sarkisian on momentum: “Obviously they captured the momentum there kinda late third and then into the fourth quarter. Momentum, when it mounts on you, I think one of the keys for us is to get it back and focus on the positive. That’s something for us that we need to work on. We were kinda on their end of the field with their crowd and you could kinda feel it. Quite frankly, it was like being in a road game. And that’s where you’ve gotta really execute. You’ve got to get a first down, then two, then three to kinda swing that momentum back. And we just weren’t able to do it quick enough. But a good learning lesson on that front of where our mental state needs to go when you’re in a type of game like this.” 

My reaction: Hey, there’s confirmation of Lincoln Riley’s constant praise of the OU crowd, making a difference. I would say that Sooner fans in the Cotton Bowl are more impactful than even when they’re surrounding Owen Field. And yes, the big snaps in the fourth quarter were on OU’s end. 

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Sarkisian on Texas’ lack of a pass rush: “A lot of their plays, to their credit, they made the change at quarterback … a lot of the plays they were creating were on kind of broken plays. It was the quarterback out of the pocket. We lost our rush contain leverage, our rush lanes, and the quarterback was able to extend plays. And I think there might have been three 50-50 balls or so, maybe more, that got kinda flung up in the air and they made the play. Even the one at the end, he gets his toe in bounds for the touchdown. That was a big key to it.” 

My reaction: Texas was credited with two sacks and four quarterback hurries. I don’t really chart QB hurries, but I counted two sacks, 10 scrambles and two passes impacted by the pass rush. And four rollouts in which Riley obviously was trying to negate the Texas pass rush. My impression of the Longhorn pass rush wasn’t all that negative. 

Sark on time of possession: “I think the other side of it is, when you look at the time of possession, they had the ball for 35 minutes. They ran 81 plays. We only ran 61 plays and had the ball for 24 minutes. So that’s a long time having those guys on the field. At the end of the day, when these two teams get together, this is kinda the story, right? The ball’s going up and down the field. You gotta try to find a way to create turnovers, which we did early. Unfortunately the one we had on the kickoff return was a costly one right there in the fourth quarter that gave them the short field for the touchdown.” 

My reaction: Time of possession seems like an antiquated concept. At halftime, OU had 42 plays to UT’s 33; the Sooners had the ball for 17:28 of the first half’s 30 minutes. And trailed 38-20. But here’s where it mattered. It was hot in Dallas. In the 90s by the time the game ended. Texas defense clearly got tired. 

Sark on the effort: “We fought. We fought like crazy. It wasn’t about effort today. We battled. I don’t know how many bang-bang plays. What an amazing effort by D’Shawn Jamison to rip the ball out on the long run, and they review it and say he was down. They fling a couple balls up, three balls up, 50-50 balls, they caught it. It wasn’t for effort. It wasn’t for our guys completely blowing coverages and things. It was they made those plays. In the end, that effort and that resolve and our ability to go down and score is what we have to continue to build this program on. Our style of play, our effort. We’ll get better. But in the short term, our metal is gonna get tested in that can we bounce back and how quickly can we bounce back for a quality opponent next week.” 

My reaction: I was impressed with the Longhorns. I thought they played well and hard. They got a curveball with OU’s quarterback change, and Caleb Williams caught magic in a bottle, and the ‘Horns were swept up in the groundswell. But they’ve got a good team. 

Sarkisian on freshman receiver Xavier Worthy: “That’s totally what he’s capable of. You guys heard me talk about it last week. I thought how we played last week was totally out of character. I think this is what he’s capable of. This guy’s a dynamic playmaker. I think that was a really cool moment for him to bounce back from the fumble and make such a contested catch at a critical moment for the touchdown. But the guy’s a great player now but his future is even brighter. We’re fortunate to have him.” 

My reaction: What a player. Took the first snap 75 yards for a touchdown, nine catches total for 261 yards, but he did have the big fumble on the kickoff return, when fellow Fresno product Caleb Kelly stripped the ball. 

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Poku’s wild misses continue 

Aleksej Pokusevski’s first 3-point shot came from the corner and hit the side of the backboard. His second 3-point shot sailed over the rim for an air ball. 

In other words, in the Thunder’s exhibition game against Milwaukee on Sunday night, Poku looked very much like he did as a rookie. 

Uh-oh. 

Pokusevski, a 7-foot Serbian, remains an intriguing mix of skill. Longer than an extension ladder. A nose for passing. Able to dribble and chew gum at the same time. 

But still, we don't yet know if Poku is an NBA player, which is strange territory for a second-year player who was taken 17th overall in the NBA draft. 

Pokusevski made just 28 percent of his 3-point shots last season, but it wasn’t just the percentage that was alarming. It wasn’t just the misses. It was wild misses. Ineffective shooters routinely hit the rim. I’d estimate poor shooters hit the rim on 98 percent of their misses. 

Poku missed badly all the time last season. Part of that was being 18 and the youngest player in the NBA. Part of that was being in a strange land. Part of that was being such an unorthodox player in a new game. 

But still. Missing badly was not a good sign last season, and it wasn’t a good sign Sunday night.

Through preseason games, Pokusevski has made five of 18 shots, including two of 11 from deep, with four rebounds, two assists and three turnovers. 

Steph Curry can go 2-of-11 from deep, so that’s not a concern. But the WAY Poku is missing is a concern. Missing badly was one of his calling cards a year ago. If he keeps missing badly, that’s not a good indicator that Pokusevski is rounding into an NBA ballplayer. 

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Mailbag: OU quarterback derby 

Nothing like an OU quarterback controversy to stir the masses, and fans definitely have thoughts about Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams. 

Mike: “What a game. Why is Lincoln hesitant to praise Williams? Is it because he senses Rattler’s fragility? I believe that his confidence is hurting right now. He’s not seeing the field well. Riley would not allow Williams to be interviewed after the game? No doubt that given Riley’s knowledge of Rattler, it was a gut-wrenching call to pull Rattler. You are right in that Riley is hiding the truth that we all saw, Williams picked the whole team up, particularly the wideouts who were becoming frustrated with Rattler. Rattler’s fragile ego is going to challenge Riley’s reputation as a QB whisperer.” 

Tramel: I don’t know. I’m not sure it has anything to do with Rattler's ego. Any coach replacing any successful starting QB -- Rattler has a better winning percentage than does Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts -- would handle the situation delicately. He needs both players to stay engaged. 

Classic Flick Pick: Vertigo 

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” received mixed reviews upon its 1958 release. Today, it’s considered one of Hollywood’s greatest films. In 2012, the British Film Institute voted “Vertigo” the greatest movie ever made, replacing “Citizen Kane.” In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked “Vertigo” as the ninth-greatest American movie ever. 

The psychological thriller, beautifully filmed in northern California, stars Jimmy Stewart as a retired police detective and Kim Novak as the mysterious woman he’s hired to follow. 

Among the locations used were San Francisco, Mission San Juan Bautista, Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Cypress Point. The film is worth seeing just for the sights. 

But the story is fantastic, and the acting superb. Hitchcock used a “dolly zoom” to film, a device that distorts perspective to create disorientation, showing Stewart’s character’s fear of heights. 

Perhaps befitting the film’s placid initial reception, “Vertigo” was nominated for only two Academy Awards, both in the technical categories. 

No matter. “Vertigo” has won the day as a Hollywood masterpiece. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. 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.