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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma football: Playing the Northern Illinois what-if game

by Berry Tramel Published: January 7, 2013

When the bowl assignments came out on Dec. 2, the Sooners felt maligned. Northern Illinois’ ascension into the BCS’ top 16 gave the Huskies a spot in the Orange Bowl and knocked OU out of the Sugar Bowl.

The Sooners didn’t know the half of it.

Look how different the world would look if Northern Illinois had checked in at No. 17 in the BCS.

OU would have played Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Texas would have played Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, unless DeLoss Dodds had pulled enough strings to avoid the Aggies.

We have no idea what would have happened with such matchups. But we have a pretty good idea.

The Sooners likely would have thumped offensively-challenged Florida. Louisville did pop the Gators, 33-23 in a Sugar Bowl that wasn’t near that close.

A&M would have routed the Longhorns except no mercy would have been shown. The Ags let up on the Sooners in a Cotton Bowl that was 41-13 early in the fourth quarter and stayed that way.

Instead, Texas went to the Alamo Bowl and beat a good Oregon State team 31-27, and the Longhorns feel pretty good about themselves.

Meanwhile, the Sooners are licking their wounds while their fans take to the streets in sackcloth and ashes.

But perhaps OU owes Northern Illinois a big thank you. If the Sooners had beaten Florida in the Sugar Bowl, OU would be 11-2, with losses to two top-10 teams, a victory over the No. 3 team in the nation and everyone would be decking the halls with boughs of holly.

Yet the Sooners would not be any better team, or the program in any better shape, just because they got a better bowl draw. The Cotton Bowl exposed some serious flaws in Soonerville – and that’s a good thing. Can’t go pretending everything is fine after losing 41-13. Bob Stoops now must address some serious issues that might get swept aside after an 11-2 season.

And while we’re rearranging the schedule, here’s one for you.

A&M’s season opener against Louisiana Tech was wiped out by Hurricane Isaac. That means the Aggies’ season opener came Sept. 8 at home against Florida. Johnny Manziel’s college debut came against a tough SEC defense. Florida beat A&M 20-17, and while Manziel played a solid game, he was nothing like he would be later in the season. Against Florida, Manziel completed 23 of 30 passes for 173 yards, with no interceptions and no touchdowns. Manziel also rushed 17 times for 60 yards.

That’s nothing compared to the terror he was against Alabama and OU.

What if Manziel had played Florida with a game under his belt? What if A&M is like most teams, and Manziel like most players, in that they improve greatly from Game 1 to Game 2?

If Johnny Football had had a game under his belt, think he could have found four more points to get the Aggies past Florida? Maybe. And if so, look how everything changes.

The SEC West winner would not be Alabama, it would be A&M, which would have finished 7-1 and tied with Bama for first place. The Aggies would have played Georgia for the SEC title. The Georgia-A&M winner would be in New Orleans, playing Notre Dame on Monday night for the national championship.

Alabama would have been in the Sugar Bowl (OU would have fared no better than it did in the Cotton Bowl), but if the Sooners were in the Cotton Bowl, probably LSU awaited. That would have been a tough one to win, too, but no Johnny Football at least.

So Northern Illinois and Hurricane Ike conspired to hurt, or maybe help, the Sooners, depending on how you look at it.

 

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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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