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Berry Tramel

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Close Loss Bob: Stoops cursed by tight losses

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 3:22 pm •  Published: October 14, 2009

I did a video today in which I talked about Bob Stoops’ propensity to lose close games. Close Loss Bob, I called him, after the two one-point defeats. But as the OU-Texas game approaches, Stoops’ record in close games is not the issue.

Mack Brown’s might be.

In games decided by three points or less, Stoops is 6-8, and that includes the two one-point losses this season. Not great. But not terrible. Take away the two losses without Sam Bradford, which I know you can’t do, and Stoops is 6-6. Which is exactly where you’d expect a guy to be.

Here’s a quick review of those games. Wins: 2000 K-State 27-24; 2001 K-State 38-37; 2004 OSU 38-35; 2005 Baylor 37-30 in overtime; 2005 Oregon 17-14; 2006 A&M 17-16. Losses: 1999 Ole Miss 27-25; 2001 OSU 16-13; 2005 Tech 23-21; 2006 Oregon 34-33; 2006 Boise State 43-42 in overtime; 2007 Colorado 27-24; 2009 BYU 14-013; 2009 Miami 21-20.

That’s not a bad record, considering two of the defeats were dubious (Tech and Oregon) and two were with Bradford sidelined. If you expand the close-games criteria to at least five points, Stoops records changes to 8-10, with these additions: 2000 wins over A&M, 35-31, and OSU, 12-7, and losses of 34-30 to Notre Dame (1999) and 30-26 to A&M (2002).

Expand the criteria to seven points, which certainly still qualifies as a close game, and Stoops’ record suddenly goes to 17-13. Again, not great, but certainly acceptable. Close games are the essence of sport. You win some, you lose some.

For grins, I ran the records of some of Stoops’ peers. It’s always good to compare Stoops not just to Brown, but to Pete Carroll, who took over at USC two years after Stoops arrived at OU, and Jim Tressel, who has been at Ohio State roughly the same time period. All have had great success; all have had their share of troubled times.

First, Ohio State. Tressel is 9-5 in games decided by less than four points, 15-5 in games decided by less than six points and 22-13 in games decided by less than eight points. Very good records. But what’s most striking is the total of close games the Buckeyes have played under Tressel: 35 of 108 games, 32 percent, have been decided by seven points or less. That’s a huge percentage. Compare that to Stoops, who has had 30 of 138, 22 percent.

OK, on to Southern Cal. Carroll is more aligned with Stoops. Carroll is 6-8 in games decided by three points or less, 7-12 in games decided by five points or less and 16-15 in games decided by seven points or less.

I agree with everyone who says that for whatever reason, Stoops’ teams fall short of Sooner magic, that they don’t compare to Barry Switzer’s remarkable record in close games (we’ll get to that more specifically in a minute). But before we label Stoops some kind of choke artist, whatever you say about Close Loss Bob applies to Carroll, too. Compare those records again, with Stoops’ first: 6-8 vs. 6-8 in three-point games, 8-10 vs. 7-12 in five-point games and 17-13 vs. 16-15 in seven-point games. Very, very close.

All of that data seems to even out. Guys who lose more than their share of 3-point games tend to win more than their share of 7-point games and vice versa.

But that doesn’t explain the remarkable Mack Brown. In Mack’s 12 years at Texas, the Longhorns are 19-4 in games decided by three points or less. 19-4! Two of those losses were a decade ago, to North Carolina State and Stanford. He also lost to Colorado 39-37 in the 2001 Big 12 title game. The only other 3-point loss was to Kansas State 45-42 in 2006, when Colt McCoy was injured.

Absolutely unbelievable. Among those 19 victories, Mack has beaten Ohio State twice, Southern Cal once and Nebraska thrice. That’s right, Brown is 3-0 vs. the Huskers in games decided by three points or less (and 4-0 in games decided by four points or less).

That’s just remarkable, and very close to his old boss’ record. Switzer was 18-1-4 in games decided by three points or less. His only loss was that 1978 heartbreaker, 17-14 at Nebraska. His teams’ propensity to come through in close games begat Sooner Magic, often against Nebraska but not always. Ohio State, Florida State, Miami (in the ’70s), Colorado, OSU. Many were victimized by Sooner Magic.

How do you explain such success? Confidence, of course. And a coach’s bravado surely led to that. And playing ties didn’t hurt. Switzer probably would have dropped a couple more games had he had overtime.

In games a little less close, Switzer, like Brown, turned human. Switzer was 4-4 in games decided by four or five points and 8-6 in games decided by six or seven points. But still, like Brown, that made for a gaudy overall record of 30-11-4. Just silly good.

Brown, too, returned to Earth when the standard is raised a few points. In games decided by four or five points, Brown is 6-5. In games decided by six or seven points, Brown is 0-2. So his overall record in games decided by seven points or less is 25-11, which still is outstanding but isn’t 19-4.

What does it all mean for Saturday? Who knows? But this much is certain. Texas has a strong track record of coming through in tight games under Brown. In similar situations, OU under Stoops is strictly a crapshoot.

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by Berry Tramel
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Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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