When walking into a three-and-a-half hour fist fight, punch first
This week's Top Ten Coaching Matchups of the Weekend leads off with some advice for Mack Brown heading into a critical Oklahoma game.
1. Mack Brown vs. Bob and Mike Stoops - Normally we don't include a matchup of a head coach versus a head coach and a defensive coordinator in this space, but Mack Brown's history against the Stoops brothers over the past decade and a half demands it. Here's why:
Mack Brown vs. Bob Stoops without Mike on staff: 4-4
Mack Brown vs. Bob Stoops with Mike on staff: 1-5
This year, Mike Stoops heads a Big 12 defense that leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and pass efficiency defense. (For what it's worth, Brown's one win over Mike Stoops came in the first year of Oklahoma's new staff, in 1999.)
Listen to former players on both sides of the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry talk about this game, and they all say it's just different than any other game on the schedule. It's not even really a football game, they'll say. It's a three-and-a-half hour fist fight. With that in mind, I present the following evidence:
2012 - Texas wins the toss. Texas defers. Oklahoma scores on the opening drive. 6-0 OU.
2011 - Texas wins the toss. Texas defers. Oklahoma scores on the opening drive. 3-0 OU.
2010 - Texas wins the toss. Texas defers. Oklahoma scores on the opening drive. 7-0 OU.
2009 - Texas wins the toss. Texas defers. Oklahoma scores on the opening drive. 3-0 OU.
2008 - Texas wins the toss. Texas defers. Oklahoma scores on the opening drive. 7-0 OU.
I don't know how the story of Mack Brown in 2013 ends, but I do know that a win over Oklahoma, coupled with a 2-0 start to conference play, would put Texas back near the front of the Big 12 race and give Brown a much better shot at writing his own ending. A loss - especially if it comes a similar fashion to the last two - would not.
In fact, a loss on Saturday would mean Brown becomes the first coach in either Texas or Oklahoma history to lose the Red River Rivalry 10 times, and the first coach to own both a five and four-game losing streak in the series.
Buzzards are circling around Austin. Whether Brown wants to acknowledge them or not, they're there. He didn't ask, but I'm going to give Brown one piece of advice. When walking into a three-and-a-half hour fist fight: punch first.
2. Mark Helfrich vs. Steve Sarkisian - Most of the talk will center on Steve Sarkisian after coming a fingernail length from a good shot at beating Stanford, and how his team rebounds entering a second straight game against a top five opponent. But this is an equally big game for Mark Helfrich. Five games into his head coaching career, he's yet to make a decision of consequence after the third quarter. That could change on Saturday.
3. Charlie Strong vs. Kyle Flood - If you're Charlie Strong, you might be hoping your team makes a couple mistakes and pulls away from Rutgers in the fourth quarter rather than the demolition derby that their first five games have been. Anything that adds credibility to a suspect schedule is a prospect that should be celebrated, especially on a night when Louisville will have probably its biggest spotlight of the season. And for Kyle Flood, a win tonight matches the goodwill his first 13 wins have built by itself.
4. Rich Rodriguez vs. Ed Orgeron - It's the first time we get to see Orgeron strap on the head coach's headset since November 2007. That alone makes this game appointment television. But it's also a key game between teams hoping to stay within an arm's length of UCLA and Arizona State in the Pac-12 South. Which USC defense shows up: the one that allowed 44 points in its first 16 quarters, or the one that allowed 42 points in the final two quarters against Arizona State? And can Arizona (10th nationally in rushing offense, 120th in passing offense) find any semblance of balance?
5. Cam Cameron vs. the Florida defensive staff - The Florida defense hasn't allowed an SEC offense to score more than 20 points since the 2011 season, while the longest streak of the other 13 SEC teams combined is.... one game. Cam Cameron has been worth every penny of his $900,000 salary thus far, jumping the Bayou Bengals' offensive ratings from 87th to 23rd, but this will be his first real test.
6. Gary Pinkel vs. Mark Richt - A battle-weary Georgia team returns home to face a 5-0 Missouri team hoping to become the official dark horse of the 2013 SEC season. A win here vaults Pinkel's team back inside the top 15 for the first time since 2010, while a win for Georgia would be another hard-fought SEC victory in a season that's become full of them. Can Richt get Georgia to give its best effort while playing with one arm tied behind its back?
7. Pat Fitzgerald vs. Gary Andersen - Both Northwestern and Wisconsin gave Ohio State their best shot and came up short. Now they'll face each other in what is essentially an elimination game in the Big Ten title race. Two early losses would be a death sentence for a club chasing undefeated division leaders.
8. Mike Riley vs. Mike Leach - One week after facing college football's fourth-best passing offense, Mike Leach's bunch moves up two spots in the rankings with No. 2 Oregon State coming to Pullman. Washington State and Cal combined to throw 126 passes for 1,042 yards in last week's 44-22 Cougars win, let's hope the Cougars and Beavers can top those numbers.
9. Art Briles vs. Bill Snyder - For all the success Briles has brought to Waco, winning in the other team's stadium is still a monument yet to be built. The Bears are 1-7 in their last eight Big 12 road games, with the win coming by one point over Kansas in overtime. Baylor's last Big 12 road win in regulation came in 2010. For Snyder's team, can you get a punch or three in on Baylor before they get you in the spin cycle?
10. Kevin Wilson vs. Mark Dantonio - Indiana visits Michigan State for a big game, and we're not talking about basketball. A pair of teams atop their respective Big Ten divisions battle to keep the Rose Bowl dream alive, if even for another week. Indiana has the Big Ten's best passing offense by nearly 65 yards per game, and Michigan State has the Big Ten's best pass efficiency defense by nearly 20 ratings points.