Oklahoma's Future Odds Inflated Thanks to Sugar Bowl Victory

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 5:56 AM UTC

Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 5:56 AM UTC

Because of an extraordinary convergence of brilliance, circumstance, and fortune, the 2014 Sugar Bowl has left the Oklahoma Sooners overvalued for the 2014-2015 college football betting season.

The Oklahoma Sooners’ Sweet and Sour 2014 Sugar Bowl
Expectations for the 2014-2015 Oklahoma Sooners have only grown during this off-season. When the MGM sportsbook (one of Las Vegas’ largest, based on betting “handle”) first posted their 2015 College Football National Championship odds in January of 2014, Oklahoma was 10-to-1, the seventh-shortest odds on the board. By June of 2014, OU’s odds dropped to 6-to-1, tied for the second-shortest odds on the board. In 2013, Oklahoma did not win the Big 12, they did not win the Red River Rivalry, and they were blown-out by Baylor. Texas and Baylor EACH ran for 255 yards on the Sooners. Why then has Oklahoma become the trendy pick for the 2014-2015 College Football National Championship title? It was that super-sweet Sugar Bowl, the aftertaste of which looks to be quite sour for Sooners’ bettors. Our thesis, as you will learn, is that the Sugar Bowl was an anomaly that has passed as prelude to Oklahoma’s 2014 season. Skeptical? Read on.

“Big Game Bob” earned that nickname early in his head-coaching career. After all, he won a National Championship in just his second year with the Sooners. That nickname, however, began to fade as Oklahoma became the only team in the BCS era to lose three National Championship games. In fact, Stoops presided over the worst BCS National Championship loss in history: USC’s clobbering of OU, 55-19, in 2005. From our betting vantage, after that 2000 season, Stoops and his Sooners amassed a terrible 4-8 ATS record in Bowl games ... until the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Big Game Bob went big-game hunting as OU was (tied for being) the biggest underdog of the 2013-2014 Bowl Season. The Sooners had to face Nick Saban and the two-time defending National Champion Crimson Tide. The result was the second largest margin-of-victory against the spread for the Bowl Season, in favor of Oklahoma. Big Game Bob is back ... at least that is what many currently believe. He was back for that Sugar Bowl; that much we concede.


That Sweet Sugar Bowl
We began by noting Oklahoma’s rising expectations this off-season. Perhaps the greatest reason for OU’s off-season optimism is their performance in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Risking the ire of Sooners everywhere, we submit that the Sugar Bowl victory was an extraordinary singular event- an outlier- not an introduction to the Sooners of 2014-2015. In support of our thesis, examine the following table:



OU averaged 44.08 rushing attempts per game.

OU made 30 rushing attempts.

OU averaged 28.25 passing attempts per game.

OU attempted 44 passes.

OU quarterback Trevor Knight completed an average of 52.22% of his passes.

OU quarterback Trevor Knight completed 72.7% of his passes.

OU quarterback Trevor Knight threw five TD passes and four interceptions.

OU quarterback Trevor Knight threw four TD passes and one interception.

Alabama’s defense allowed an average of four passing TD’s to just one interception against ranked teams (like Oklahoma) in 2013.

Alabama’s defense allowed four passing TD’s to just one interception.

OU’s turnover margin averaged +0.42 (i.e. less than half a turnover advantage per game).

OU’s turnover margin was +4.

Alabama’s turnover margin averaged +0.5 (i.e. half a turnover advantage per game).

Alabama’s turnover margin was -4.


Sugar Bowl Conclusions
Bob Stoops and his offensive coaching staff devised a BRILLIANT offensive coaching strategy for the Sugar Bowl that REVERSED their play-calling tendencies from the rest of the 2013 season. Nick Saban’s defensive staff schemed and practiced to stop Trevor Knight from running (and they did). They did not expect him to beat them by passing, and the Tide did not adjust quickly enough to OU passing more than 62% of the time in the first half. Three of OU’s four passing touchdowns were scored in that first half.

Not only was Oklahoma’s reversal of play-calling tendencies masterful, but it exploited an inconspicuous weakness of Alabama’s defense: Their passing defense finished the season ranked 11th. That seemed somewhat consistent with Saban’s average passing defense ranking (in fact, that is his median average) since he has been in Tuscaloosa. What was hidden from the naked eye was Bama’s 69th-ranked passing defense versus ranked teams. Using that standard, Alabama of 2013-2014 was Nick Saban’s worst-ever passing defense with the Tide. Stoops exploited that concealed weakness.

What is more, until that Sugar Bowl, every time the Crimson Tide suited up for a game, they believed they would play for a third consecutive BCS National Championship. In Saban’s own words, the Sugar Bowl was a “consolation game” for his players. Their motivation was simply not equal to that of the Sooners.

If you are still thinking that the Sugar Bowl revealed how Trevor Knight can and will play for the rest of 2014, then we point to a few more facts: Three months after the Sugar Bowl, Knight played in OU’s 2014 spring game. He completed 35.71% of his passes while throwing one interception and no touchdowns. Well, it was just a spring game and plenty of starters were missing, right? Tell that to Texas Tech transfer, QB Baker Mayfield. He completed 100% of his passes along with two touchdown tosses and no INT’s. (Delay that excitement, as Mayfield is not eligible to play this season.) What was so telling about Trevor Knight’s performance in the spring game? QB’s could not be tackled; they just needed to get touched by the defense to be considered tackled. That rule compelled Knight to play the part of the drop back passer- you know, the one we saw in the Sugar Bowl. Trevor Knight is not a proven drop-back passer. We maintain that Knight plays the QB position better when he is running, and running makes him more susceptible to injury. He started five games last season and he was injured in two of them! So these are your choices, Sooners: Either 1) Trevor Knight plays it safe(r) as a pocket passer- a style in which he has not proven to be successful beyond one great game, or 2) Knight plays his game, which includes enough running that he likely succumbs to injury. Either way, Oklahoma will not see a dozen Sugar Bowl performances from Trevor Knight in 2014.


The Ultimate Conclusion
Hopefully, you have not misread this article and concluded that we think Trevor Knight a bad quarterback. He is a very good running QB, but he and his style-of-play are prone to injury. Had OU played “their” 2013 offensive game in the Sugar Bowl, instead of turning it on its head, then their 2.7 yards per rushing attempt (their third-worst rushing performance in over three seasons) would have led them to the defeat most expected. If you wanted to continue to argue that the Sugar Bowl was not an anomaly, then we would begin by telling you that OU’s +4 turnover margin was a feat only equaled by the Sooners once in the past five seasons, while Alabama’s -4 turnover margin equaled their worst performance since Nick Saban has been their coach. Not only that, but no FBS team in over a decade averaged a +2 turnover margin, much less a +4. Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl performance was truly something unique.

In the end, our entire point is that the general and those placing college football picks have taken that Sugar Bowl to be indicative of the upcoming 2014-2015 season; we believe it was an aberration- a glorious, but fleeting confluence of brilliant coaching and inspired play. Unrealistic expectations for this upcoming season seem to be flowing from that confluence, and that has already affected college football betting lines and odds. Of course, we could be wrong about all this, but 63.04% of the time we are right.


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