Oklahoma's Josh Heupel engineered a stunning rout of the Longhorns
You had to admire their restraint. Oklahoma fans waited until four minutes remained in the Sooners' 63-14 slaughter of 11th-ranked Texas in Dallas before filling the Cotton Bowl with the chant, "Over-rated! Over-rated!!" That much had been obvious since the first half, when Oklahoma scored touchdowns on its first six possessions en route to the second-most lopsided victory in the 95-game history of the Red River Shootout. The result dropped the Long-horns to No. 25 and boosted 5-0 Oklahoma two places to No. 8. It also raised the question, When is a shootout not a shootout?
When one side isn't armed. Texas entered the game with an embarrassment of riches at quarterback—junior Major Applewhite, the 1999 Big 12 co-offensive player of the year, and sophomore prodigy Chris Simms, son of former New York Giants star Phil—and left with just embarrassment. Applewhite and Simms took turns directing an offense that gained 161 yards in the air.
The best quarterback in the stadium was Oklahoma senior Josh Heupel (pronounced HYPE-uhl), who came into the game with a slacker's stubble and a savant's grasp of a wide-open Sooners attack that had more thrills than most of the rides at the Texas State Fair going on outside the stadium. "He's smart, he's savvy, he's the perfect triggerman for this offense," says Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. Heupel's numbers—17 completions in 27 attempts for 275 yards and a touchdown—only hint at the extent to which he toyed with the Texas defense.
Ask him how he ended up in Norman, and Heupel will respond, "Got a minute?" After starring at Aberdeen (S. Dak.) Central High, he was the backup at Weber State in 1997 When a new coaching staff brought with it a conservative offense the next season, Heupel transferred to Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah, where he was an All-America. Meanwhile, Bob Stoops had taken over as coach at Oklahoma, and his offensive coordinator, Mike Leach (now the coach at Texas Tech), wanted to install a wide-open spread offense. The problem was, no one on campus was capable of running it. Leach watched 15 minutes of Heupel on tape, called the kid and left a message that he had a scholarship at Oklahoma if he wanted it.
A week later Heupel made an official visit to Norman, and the son of a football coach spent most of the time holed up in Leach 's office, watching video of Tim Couch, whom Leach had coached at Kentucky in 1998. Heupel became the Sooners' starter the moment he signed his letter of intent, and the Oklahoma staff scrambled to land other important recruits as well. Stoops hired former Longhorns assistant Bobby Jack Wright to work the state of Texas, but Wright got a late start. By the time he came on the job, in December 1998, most of the state's blue-chip talent was spoken for. When Wright asked Burnis Simon, the coach at Houston's Aldine-Nimitz High, if he had anyone worth pursuing, Simon told him about Quentin Griffin, a 5'6" running back who had been overlooked because of his size. Simon assured Wright that Griffin could play, and Oklahoma took a chance on him.
Last Saturday there was Griffin in his home state's most storied stadium, playing against a team that did not recruit him and rushing for a Sooners-record six touchdowns. "I didn't expect to score this many times," said Griffin, a sophomore, after finishing with 87 yards on 23 carries, "but I won't argue about it." After racking his brain, he thought he recalled once getting five touchdowns in a Pop Warner game. His small-fry opponent that day probably provided sterner resistance than the Longhorns did. That, at least, was the harsh judgment of the mortified Brown, who said that facing his defense on this sad day was like "playing against air."
Brown devoted much of his postgame remarks to apologizing to the Texas fans, alumni, students, players and assistant coaches. (He's believed to have left out two custodians and a secretary in the registrar's office.) He was so intent on offering mea culpas that he failed to give Oklahoma enough credit. The Sooners are a fast, young team on the rise. Might they take out second-ranked Kansas State this weekend? Our advice to the Wildcats: Believe the Hype.
Wildcats Thrive As Underdogs
We should have known Arizona would be around the top of the Pac-10, if only because the Wildcats were a consensus preseason pick to finish in the bottom half of the league. Two years ago hard-to-figure Arizona came out of nowhere to finish 12-1. hi 1999 the Wildcats were favored to win the Pac-10 and started the season as the fourth-ranked team in the nation, but ended up 6-6.