As a pre-teen, Saturday mornings were awesome.
Bouncing out of bed, raiding the refrigerator as my parents slept, and heading straight to the living room to watch the Saturday morning cartoon blocks totally ruled.
Whether it was Scooby-Doo (hopefully sans Scrappy-Doo), Bugs Bunny or the odd-marketing tie-in shows — such as Rubik The Amazing Cube, Pac-Man and the tonally-dark-but-still-cool Thundarr the Barbarian — Saturday mornings were a time of wonderful anticipation.
But more than 30 years later, do you know what’s not awesome anymore? Saturday mornings — at least during college football season.
After this weekend’s 31-24 win at BYU, the University of Oklahoma football team has kicked off six of its 11 games this season at 11 a.m., with another scheduled this upcoming week, albeit even worse on a FRIDAY morning.
These morning kickoffs mean less time to analyze the upcoming game with friends, to enjoy the anticipation of getting ready to watch the alma mater play, to tailgate outside the stadium or, as my dad has aptly said in the past, to drink a few beers because our nerves are jangling something fierce as the awaited kickoff time approaches.
There are only 12 scheduled college football games a year. These 12 Saturdays — less than a paltry one-fourth of the year’s 52 — should be a time of excitement, revelry, anticipation, hope, expectation and, importantly, pre-game festivities. They should not, however, be a time of stress putting the watch party/tailgate together in the wee hours of the morning, while slugging an orange juice and/or a bloody mary to seek the right frame of mind for kickoff.
It’s one of the reasons I am most excited about OU heading to the Southeastern Conference next season. Sure, the SEC has its own 11 a.m. kickoff window, but has anyone seen the games in it? Here’s an incomplete list of 11 a.m. contests in the SEC this season: Virginia vs. Tennessee; Vanderbilt vs. Wake Forest; LSU vs. Mississippi State; Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt; Texas A&M vs. Arkansas; Western Michigan vs. Mississippi State; Georgia vs. Vanderbilt; Mississippi State vs. Arkansas.
Not a single one of those contests could charitably be described as a “BIG game.” In other words, they are exactly the type of game that SHOULD be in an 11 a.m. window — not the best games on a team’s schedule. I can forgive Arkansas State vs. OU being at 11 a.m., but OU vs. Texas should be played in the afternoon, and other games with a major impact on the Big 12 title race should be played either in the afternoon or night to foster the highest sense of exhilaration and anticipation.
The Big 12 Conference, though, sold its soul in its TV contract, and Fox Sports sure does like its Big Noon Kickoff window, which falls at 11 a.m. for us in the flyover states. Even with ESPN carrying Saturday’s game, the same TV window created an unsightly 10 a.m. start for OU at BYU this weekend. Heaven forbid anything could get in the way of the Big 12’s 11 a.m. window. They wouldn’t budge in 2021 ahead of the highly anticipated OU/Nebraska showdown, you may recall.
Therefore, with OU and Texas being far and away the most valuable football properties in the Big 12 media package, the Sooners end up bearing the brunt of most of the 11 a.m. “showcase” kickoff times.
So, slug that orange juice and grill those pancakes for morning kickoffs this season. I guess we can all wait until the evenings to work on our Sunday hangovers, all while watching other conferences’ big games.
Speaking of hangovers, it’s time for the highlights from the weekend that was:
- Boy, the Sooners ended up a dogfight not many foresaw in the aforementioned win at BYU. The Cougars had shown little life at all, on either side of the ball, in previous weeks, but they suddenly sprouted fangs when Oklahoma came to town. Funny how that works. Is it a case of OU being everyone’s Super Bowl, or the Sooners playing down to the level of their opponents?
- OU persevered, despite a suddenly motivated opponent and the fact BYU managed to knock out OU starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, something that gave many Sooner fans flashbacks. BYU injured OU quarterback Sam Bradford in the 2009 season-opener as well as. And if you were paying attention in 1994, you might remember another admittedly tenuous connection when OU starter Garrick McGee came down with spinal meningitis before a bowl game against BYU. Did the Cougars place a hex on him? We will never know, but I think I can say with the support of all OU followers: BYU should stay the hell away from Sooner quarterbacks.
- Put me down as voting for the Sooners to use the Gabriel injury as an excuse to hasten the start of the Jackson Arnold era. After wins by both Texas and Oklahoma State on Saturday, the conference title chances look slim for the Sooners. So, why not get a head start on 2024 with your all-world recruit at quarterback in the final game and bowl game? It’s not Gabriel’s first concussion, and head injuries are scary business, so there should be no fan pressure for him to rush back.
- Finally, if BYU — and the Big 12 — want to be taken seriously in the future, having the type of field conditions the Cougars presented Saturday isn’t the way to get there. The grass was as high as an elephant’s eye … and slicker than owl shit. I firmly believe the OU defense was hampered by the conditions, forced into a passive read-and-react game plan because its typical aggressiveness only left defenders skidding across the field. Apparently BYU is replacing the turf before next season, which will be welcome news for their players and their opponents.
- At first, Oklahoma State seemed to carry an Orlando hangover into Houston on Saturday. Deficits of 14-3 and 23-9 in the first half blew ill winds toward Cowboy faithful. Still, OSU steadied itself and pretty much dominated the second half en route to a 43-30 win.
- The Cowboys are absolutely maxing out the skill of their players at this point. Putting the ball as much as possible in the hands of Ollie Gordon and Brennan Presley is a winning formula. It lets an average quarterback like quarterback Alan Bowman manage the offense, and covers up the fact that OSU’s skill-position depth is lacking.
- At the risk of jinxing the Pokes, I think OSU will likely walk over BYU at home next weekend and waltz into a wholly unexpected — but well-deserved — Big 12 title game berth just two years after the Cowboys fell one yard short of winning one.
- It looks like Texas will be the team the Cowboys face this time around. The Longhorns pushed back an obvious trap game at Iowa State, for a 26-16 win, despite their head coach looking like an extra from Ice Station Zebra. It wasn’t pretty at times — it rarely is against the Iowa State defense — but Texas is on path to be big favorites in its final regular season game. If they prevail against Texas Tech and then win the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will have a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
- Washington slogged past Oregon State in a monsoon for a 22-20 win. Considering the conditions, and the locale — Oregon State is an incredibly tough out at home in Corvallis — Washington’s victory had to raise the eyebrows of any College Football Playoff committee members.
- Ouch, and damn, is all that can be said for Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis. Travis’ leg bent in a way human limbs should never bend in Saturday’s 58-13 win over North Alabama. He’s obviously out the rest of the season, and it’s going to be a big question mark for one of the nation’s undefeated teams, with rival Florida and the ACC championship game against Louisville looming.
- Kansas State beat a spunky Kansas team, 31-27, in the Sunflower State showdown. Kansas was paying with third-string quarterback Cole Ballard, a walk-on player. Still, the Jayhawks gave the favored Kansas State squad all it could want, finally succumbing on a fourth-quarter touchdown by the Wildcats.
- At this point, the joke is on USC and its fans. After the Trojans looked miserable in a regular-season-ending 38-20 loss to UCLA, all the chest pounding and trash talking by those clad in USC colors the last two years are now receipts for surly Sooner fans. It sounded like sour grapes at the time, but OU backers tried to tell USC it wasn’t getting the second coming of Knute Rockne when Lincoln Riley bolted from Norman to Los Angeles. It turned out to be true, and OU fans are happy to let Riley know about it.
- Speaking of the Pac 12’s final year of relevance, my vote for coach of the year, thus far, goes to Jedd Fisch of Arizona. After taking over a woebegone program two years ago, he’s transformed it into a tough and fun squad that has won five straight games, four of which came against ranked teams. The Wildcats crushed 22nd-ranked Utah, 42-18, on Saturday, and they appear set for a nice bowl game as a reward — maybe against the Sooners?
- My final thought: I’ve been pumping New Mexico State football in this column all season long, starting as a bit of a lark in week one during my visit to the Aggies’ hometown of Las Cruces. If you haven’t noticed, however, NMSU actually became contenders for their conference title. After the Aggies’ 31-10 destruction of Auburn on Saturday, nothing is a “lark” any longer: The Aggies are for real, and my man-crush on quarterback Diego Pavia continues unabated.
- As a result, do yourself a favor: Take a break from the Big 10’s and SEC’s of the world, and save some eyeball-time for Pavia and his Aggies in two weeks when they face Liberty for the Conference USA championship. If you love football, you won’t be disappointed.