After a promising start a week ago, the Back Meter is, well, back. So with all the enthusiasm of a Bill Self NCAA infractions denial, let's get to it.
Back: Looking ahead to Red River
OU coach Lincoln Riley swears it wasn't the case, but the scoreboard told a different story. What does a 14-7 lead over Kansas late in the second quarter tell you? It tells me the Sooners spent a decent portion of the week peeking ahead on the calendar to the Cotton Bowl. It seems like Texas was afflicted with a similar ailment, ahead of middling West Virginia 21-17 in the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 42-31 win. At least the teams have something worth looking ahead to. This year's Red River game should be a battle of top 10 teams when the latest AP poll hits. And it will be a playoff elimination game for Texas, which has already lost to LSU this season. One side note: Texas' loss to the Tigers earlier this year proved the Longhorns could hang with the big, bad SEC, so the experts said. A year ago, a similar loss for TCU to a similarly highly-regarded Ohio State proved the Frogs were pretenders. That tells you all you need to know about what's wrong with college football. Anyway, Red River ought to be something special. And now we can all look forward to it without the pesky Kansas' and West Virginias of the world in the way.
Back: Malaise Mike
When your only loss is to nationally-ranked Texas and you're coming off an easy win over Kansas State, you're charming, "Mullet Mike." But when you continue the 2018 trend of laying eggs against unranked, uninspiring opponents, welcome back "Malaise Mike." I've said it before, and I'll say it again. OSU tends to recruit top 40ish level talent, and one big reason the Cowboys aren't a seven-win team most years is because of their quarterback play. Get Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph. You challenge for Big 12 titles. Get less than that. You fall back to the pack. That's why I was so surprised with Saturday's loss at Texas Tech. I think Spencer Sanders has star potential. People I respect who cover college football also think he's a star in the making. So what caused the offense's complete first half come-apart against the Red Raiders? I don't have a good answer. But because I believe in Sanders (and Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace), something tells me this performance will be the exception not the rule for the remainder of 2019. If I'm wrong, we might start welcoming back "Tennessee Mike" or "Arkansas Mike" later in the season.
Not back (non football edition): Kansas basketball
Maybe OU's sluggish performance Saturday wasn't because it was looking ahead to Texas but because the team snuck over to Allen Fieldhouse for the Snoop Dogg concert at the Kansas basketball kickoff event Friday night. Between Snoop's "exotic" dancers on stripper poles, some "adult" lyrics and an air gun that shot fake money into the crowd, it was quite a night. Of course, Kansas officials were appalled and surprised an R-rated performer would give an R-rated performance. They told him to keep it clean, after all. The Snoop controversy would be much of nothing, except it comes at a time when the NCAA is threatening to throw the KU basketball program further under the bus than the school did Snoop. Jayhawks coach Bill Self was in Tulsa this week, and talked to columnist Guerin Emig, still keeping up a defiant face against the NCAA's allegations ( ). you can read that column here Self often gets the benefit of the doubt because he's a nice guy who is readily available to the media. And he'll keep getting the benefit of the doubt up until the time the NCAA drops the hammer on him for being too chummy with shoe company bag men. At least Self didn't get perp-walked out of the building by the Feds like some of the college basketball assistants caught up in the FBI investigation that started all this. I, for one, miss the good ole' days of NCAA scofflaws, who cheated like madmen, threw up their hands when they got caught and hightailed it out of town faster than Snoop could roll one up (for medicinal purposes, of course).
Back (still, but barely): SMU
SMU was ranked this week by the Associated Press for the first time since before it got the NCAA death penalty in the 1980s. Through the first three quarters Saturday night, the Mustangs looked like they had decided to disband the program again to celebrate. Tulsa led 30-9, on its way to its first win over a ranked opponent since 2010. Heck, the Hurricane scored a touchdown when SMU opted against fielding a kickoff. Not a strategy you see every day. According to ESPN, Division I teams leading by 21 points or more in the fourth quarter over the last 15 years had won 99.7% of the time. So lets be kind and call what happened to the Hurricane in the fourth quarter Saturday night a statistical anomaly — one that helped prove our Back Meter is working perfectly. TU fans are always searching for the bright side, so here's one: this Hurricane team is better than the last two. For the better part of the last eight quarters, TU has made two pretty good teams (Wyoming and SMU) look inept. But with games still remaining against Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane and Central Florida, the Hurricane will have to defy the oddsmakers at least once to win more than five times this season.
Not back: Amateurism
It wasn't a good week for the NCAA, as the California governor Monday signed a bill that will allow college athletes to profit from their own name, image and likeness beginning in 2023. Thus again, the debate that has raged the last several years was stoked anew — to pay or not to pay college athletes. I have to preface these types of conversations by pointing out the fact I'm old. As a result, I've always been sympathetic to those who value the cost of a college scholarship and see the non-monetary perks football and basketball players receive as a valuable form of payment. But at the same time, it's hard to justify not at least allowing players the opportunity to profit off their own name when schools are paying $6 million per year for their head football coach (or a $1 million-plus to the strength coach for goodness' sake). Somehow nutrition bars and tutoring sessions pale in comparison to that kind of cash. Although the NCAA seems to relish its role as the big, bad boogeyman, the association sometimes gets a bad rap. The NCAA enforces the rules, but those are the rules the schools (and their administrators and coaches) want. And one of the most contentious issues — football and basketball players not being allowed to go pro straight out of high school — is a mandate from the NFL and NBA, not the NCAA. I would be interested what would happen if the NCAA, NFL and NBA decided to adopt the baseball model for football and basketball — high school players have the option of going straight to the pros, they can spend a year in junior college, then go pro, or they can spend at least three years at a four-year college. Would giving players in the big two sports more options and a viable minor league system change the conversation or are college football and basketball so big and the money so great that a financial remedy is the only solution? At this point, the immediate solution for the NCAA seems obvious — write new rules before the states write them for you.
Thanks to our friends in the Texas state capital, being back has never been more fashionable.