OU head football coach Brent Venables talks to referees during a game against the University of Central Florida on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (NonDoc)

I once went nearly two months without washing my underwear.

Now, before my wife disavows me and my mom disowns me, let me explain. These were my gameday tighty whities when I was a high school football player for the Hartshorne Miners. I only wore them once a week, and only a few hours at a time. Plus, I didn’t play all that much, so I didn’t exactly sweat a lot under the Friday night lights.

Still, I guess it was a gnarly situation in which to literally be. I also didn’t wash my undershirt or my socks, by the way.

Why would I? We were on a seven-game winning streak to open the season. Surely I wasn’t expected to wash the good luck out of my clothes?! As “Crash” Davis said, you have to respect the streak.

(At this moment, dozens of former athletes are reading these words and either nodding in understanding or shaking their heads and muttering, “There, but for the grace of God, go I ….”)

What does this have to do with this week’s College Football Hangover Highlights? Well, with my alma mater off last week, I realized how insidiously my athletics-based superstitions have penetrated my current life, and I was relieved to be free of them for at least seven days.

When the University of Oklahoma Sooners returned to action and finalized a nail-biting 31-29 win over UCF on Saturday afternoon, I looked back in relief at all the obsessive-compulsive dalliances I undertook in the past few days to ensure the victory … things I do every game week on the same days at roughly the same times:

  • Monday: Watch highlights of the most recent OU victory;
  • Monday: Walk exercise lap around the South Oval on OU’s campus;
  • Wednesday: Read OU’s official game notes for the upcoming game;
  • Wednesday: Walk laps at OU’s Sarkeys Energy Center for exercise;
  • Friday: Wear OU golf shirt and OU socks to work. (Yes, I wash these.)
  • Friday: Walk mile-plus circle near my office for exercise;
  • Friday: Listen to Old 97’s alt-country band on my drive home from work;
  • Saturday: Get in morning exercise walk in my neighborhood, followed by a shower;
  • Saturday: Don gameday gear, including an OU t-shirt and socks, which haven’t been washed since previous OU loss. (Ahem: Six-game winning streak to open the season … I do wear clean underwear, though.)
  • Saturday: Roll TV onto patio, sit in my usual chair and crack open beer right before or at kickoff. (The 11 a.m. starts suck.)
  • Forever until the heat death of the universe: Never, ever drink Sam Adams beer. Decades ago, I rather randomly deduced the Boston-brewed beer was a Jonah, and, since, only a singular time has the brewery’s family of beers crossed my lips. It was during an OU softball game this past spring against Clemson. Goaded by my friends who scoffed at my superstitious nature, I took my first drink when OU led 4-3. Before I was halfway through, the Sooners trailed 7-4. I threw the half-finished bottle away in disgust, and OU almost instantly transformed the deficit into a tie. When even OU’s mighty softball squad proved not to be impervious to a jinx, well, you don’t poke that particular gremlin ever again. You don’t even look at or mention it. In fact, forget everything I just wrote in this paragraph and move along. My word, the weather’s nice!

Why do I do all this? Easy: It’s so OU head football coach Brent Venables doesn’t call me out in a press conference after what would be a guaranteed loss if I changed my habits.

“The team was ready, prepared, as were the coaches,” I can see Venables saying. “It just wasn’t enough to overcome Jeremy Cowen’s lack of dedication this week to his superstitious routine. We simply must lay the loss directly at his feet, which should have been clad in his stinky socks to help us stop the run.”

At times this weekend, I was worried I had done something wrong — taken a wrong turn on a walk; washed my shirt without realizing it. When the OU game was coming down to the wire, with UCF attempting a two-point conversion to tie with less than a two minutes remaining, I thought about the past seven days and quickly ran through my compulsions.

Yup, I did my part.

Then, the Sooners did theirs. Time for observations:

  • About Saturday’s OU game … every team has that “letdown” game. At one point, when I was convinced the Sooners would lose, I blatantly rooted for UCF to dominate the rest of the game. Why? OU needed the wake-up call. If OU was going to make the conference title game, the Sooners had to realize they weren’t talented enough to sleepwalk through games;
  • In the end, it was the best of both worlds: OU won, and also learned it’s not good enough to simply show up and win. With just five games left, the Sooners have a clear path to making the Big 12 Conference title game;
  • One might notice I keep saying “conference title game” and nothing about the College Football Playoffs. I remain rooted in the reality of where OU was after last season. A berth in the conference championship game remains the goal. It was the goal before the season, and it remains the goal now. Whatever happens along the way, or even after the Sooners get there, is extracurricular — be it national title hopes, or even losing to a major rival such as Oklahoma State or Texas. I refuse to lose sight of the original goals of the season for the Sooners;
  • Speaking of Oklahoma State, nothing less than a doffing of the cap should be given in the direction of Stillwater. Behind the best offensive player in the Big 12 Conference — Ollie Gordon — the Cowboys ran West Virginia off its home field in the second half of a 48-34 win Saturday. Gordon nearly averaged 10 yards a carry on 29 totes, finishing with 282 yards, four touchdowns and long scoring runs that put the game away. As Bedlam approaches, OU would seem to have a slight advantage over OSU at quarterback, but Gordon will be the best offensive player on the field Nov. 4;
Oklahoma State University running back Ollie Gordon blows past defenders to score a touchdown against West Virginia University on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (NonDoc)
  • I will admit, I don’t know how “good” Oklahoma State is right now. I think the Cowboys are “good” enough in the mediocrity of the new-look Big 12 Conference to make noise and finish no lower than third place. Still, beyond that, wins the next two weeks, including over the Sooners, would actually mark them as “good” enough to play for, and even win, the conference title;
  • I don’t like harping on stupid things … actually I do, so I apologize for the unnecessary preamble. Mike Gundy should be kicking himself for mismanaging the first month of his team’s season. I really think Gundy is one of the better coaches in the country. I also think he wanted to demonstrate he was the smartest guy in the room with his unwieldy three-man quarterback rotation in the opening weeks this year. We shouldn’t let the current success make us forget the earlier struggles seemed pretty avoidable, and the wretched start kept OSU from being a serious player on the national scene this season;
  • The upset of the weekend — what’s going to end up being the upset of the year — happened in the Research Triangle on Saturday. An absolutely pathetic Virginia team waltzed into Chapel Hill and stunned undefeated North Carolina 31-27. There’s simply zero logic on how it could have happened. The Cavaliers came into the game 1-5 with losses to the likes of James Madison and Boston College. Their only win was against William & Mary two weekends ago when the Cavs managed to beat the duo by a less-than-impressive 27-13 score;
  • Ohio State and Penn State did nothing to disprove the old joke about Big 10 teams being slow and stodgy. In Saturday’s big matchup, the quarterback play on both squads was pretty poor, and it really felt Ohio State prevailed by a 20-12 margin largely because they were playing at home. Neither team should be a serious player for the national championship, except for the fact someone has to win the Big 10 and get an all-but-automatic berth into the playoffs … where these teams would lose, likely embarrassingly;
  • USC lost again this week, 34-32 to Utah, as the Trojans’ defense simply gave up the ghost in the final minutes. OU fans have lived through it, but an Alex Grinch-coached defense is the absolute definition of boom or bust. This season, the Trojans are in the top 10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. Yet, there’s not a sentient creature on Earth who would charitably describe USC’s defense as even “mediocre.” Four years ago, OU tied its single-game record with NINE sacks in a game against Texas. Does anyone remember it? Not really, because the defense also gave up 27 points to an incredibly mediocre Longhorns team that finished with five losses;
  • Kansas State absolutely annihilated TCU by a score of 41-3 on Saturday. It was eye-opening, in that we can all now realize and understand TCU’s run to the national championship last year was an absolute fluke that can be contributed to the number of fifth- and sixth-year seniors the Horned Frogs sported courtesy of the free COVID year NCAA rules allowed;
  • Texas escaped Houston by a touchdown, 31-24, although I’m sure some U of H backers would love to argue the spot on a last-minute play that denied their offense a first down in the red zone. Regardless, the Cougars are widely considered the weakest team in the Big 12, so the Longhorns can’t feel much better than their rival Sooners after the game. With an injury to starting quarterback Quinn Ewers, however, I have a feeling Texas fans are not bubbly this morning;
  • Alabama continued its quest to go 11-1 with a division title in what is supposed to be a “down year” for the Crimson Tide. Bama beat Tennessee 34-20 on Saturday after trailing 10-0 early. I don’t really think the Tide are THAT good, yet they’re simply better than most of what has turned out to be a incredibly average Southeastern Conference. Meanwhile, do Tennessee fans still feel Josh Heupel is the savior?
  • Iowa lost to Minnesota on Saturday, 12-10, achieving the under in the lowest over/under total Las Vegas has handed out in almost 30 years. The Hawkeyes had two total yards offense in the second half, and quarterback Deacon Hill completed just 10 of 28 passes. I only bring this all up because everyone loves to see and hear about a dumpster fire;
  • Finally, because here in the Hangover Highlights, we don’t forget about the lower levels of college football, I want to give a shoutout to New Mexico State. The Aggies won the I-10 rivalry against UTEP on Thursday by a score of 28-7. If a true college football fan wants to be entertained, look no further than NMSU quarterback Diego Pavia. A junior college transfer from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, he led his Aggies in rushing and passing on Thursday. In other words, he’s EXACTLY the type of player who makes college football fun. Don’t wash your socks, kid.

(Correction: This article was updated at 4:55 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, to correct reference to the location of New Mexico Military Institute.)