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November 19, 2008

Oklahoma rarely falls at home under Stoops

Matchups can be analyzed. Position-by-position superiority can be debated. The significance of experience in big games can be argued. All kinds of factors can be pored over and discussed in an attempt to find who has the advantage when Oklahoma and Texas Tech clash on Saturday.

Is Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford better than Texas Tech's Graham Harrell? Can Texas Tech's defensive front hold up against the Sooners' massive offensive line? Will OU's secondary be able to contain Michael Crabtree? Will Oklahoma's vast experience in big games make a difference?

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops doesn't seem to think so.

"I don't know if any of that matters," he said. "We've been in big games and they have, too. This year they've already been in some. Last year we won the [Big 12] championship and some big games leading up to that. I don't see that as a huge deal. The bottom line is how you go out and play."

No doubt, some perceived advantages depend on one's point of view. But there is little doubt that Oklahoma has a decided advantage because the game is in Norman. In 10 seasons under Stoops, the Sooners are 59-2 in Norman. No team in the nation has been better at home in that span.

Only Boise State can even come close to matching OU's home-field success. During that span, the Broncos also have lost only twice at home. But Oklahoma has played stronger opponents. OU's home-field success is helped in that the Sooners play Texas in Dallas every year, but the Sooners still have beaten 11 nationally ranked opponents in Norman during Stoops' tenure. That includes a victory over No. 1 Nebraska in 2000.

The Sooners hope to make it 12 against the second-ranked Red Raiders.

Predictably, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach isn't too concerned about OU's home-field advantage. "I think most of the conference is kind of like that as far as playing at home," he said. "Everything is more comfortable at home and the noise is more of a distraction for the other guy.

"I don't worry it a whole lot. You just go in and play the best you can. (OU's) record on the road is pretty good, too. Mostly, I just worry about us and how we can play the best we can."

In recent seasons, Leach has had many reasons to worry on road trips. Before this season, the Red Raiders often struggled away from home. They were 13-15 on the road from 2003-07, including losses to 2-10 Colorado in '05 and to New Mexico in '04.

But this season has been different. Texas Tech hasn't lost on the road, and a 63-21 rout of No. 23 Kansas on Oct. 25 was the Red Raiders' first road win over a ranked opponent since they topped No. 23 Texas A&M in 2002.

Home cookin'
During Bob Stoops' 10 seasons, Oklahoma has 11 home-field victories over ranked opponents:
Oct. 18, 2008 No. 16 Kansas 45-31
Sept. 27, 2008 No. 24 TCU 35-10
Oct. 13, 2007 No. 11 Missouri 41-31
Nov. 1, 2003 No. 14 Oklahoma State 52-9
Oct. 18, 2003 No. 24 Missouri 34-13
Nov. 23, 2002 No. 24 Texas Tech 60-15
Nov. 2, 2002 No. 13 Colorado 27-11
Oct. 19, 2002 No. 9 Iowa State 49-3
Sept. 29, 2001 No. 11 Kansas State 38-37
Oct. 28, 2000 No. 1 Nebraska 31-14
Oct. 23, 1999 No. 13 Texas A&M 51-6

So does home field really give OU a significant advantage?

That's just one more issue to analyze and debate.

Random thoughts and observations

Blown out by Florida and Alabama, losing to Wyoming and failing to qualify for a bowl. Could this season possibly get worse for Tennessee? Well, yes. The Volunteers still have to play Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Losing to both for the Vols would be like filing for bankruptcy, then learning the derelict neighbor you always looked down on won the lottery.

A faction of Auburn fans want Tommy Tuberville replaced if the Tigers lose to Alabama. That's crazy. Auburn has celebrated 85 wins in 10 seasons under Tuberville. Who would they hire who's better than Tuberville?

OK, I know it's been a hard season for Michigan. But Wolverines fans need to keep repeating this: "West Virginia only won three games in its first season under Rich Rodriguez." That should provide some comfort through a cold winter.

Saturday could be a tremendous day for Northwestern. A victory would ensure their first nine-win season since 1996 and prevent Illinois from becoming bowl eligible. In Evanston, that would be like hitting the daily double.

Speaking of daily doubles, Stanford needs to win its final game to become eligible to make its first bowl appearance since 2001. The Cardinal plays archrival California in "The Big Game" on Saturday.

Baylor picked the wrong season to play a good non-conference schedule. The Bears have four victories and obviously have improved in their first season under coach Art Briles. They played Wake Forest and Connecticut in the first month of the season. Had they instead faced teams such as Army, UAB or North Texas schools they've faced in recent seasons the Bears likely would be headed for a bowl game.

Funny, but it seems that Missouri has become a forgotten team. Most BCS Championship Game projections have the SEC champion (either Alabama or Florida) and a Big 12 South team playing for the national title. But that's assuming Missouri, which is 9-2, won't win the Big 12 championship. That's assuming a lot. The Tigers lost by five points to Oklahoma State and were blown out by Texas, but they're still capable of beating anybody.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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