Should Switzer be concerned? Well, the poor quality of conference play means that the Sooners won't make it onto national television as often as they would with better competition. ABC's director of college sports, Donn Bernstein, says that beyond the Big Two, "it's just not an attractive conference because there is no success out there." Says Jim Walden, "Can you imagine CBS [which now has rights to CFA games] trying to figure out a team to put Oklahoma and Nebraska against in a TV game?"
In fact, between 1984 and '86, the Little Six have appeared on network telecasts a grand total of eight times. A team needs to be on TV to enhance its recruiting, but if it loses, or worse, gets drilled, recruiting suffers. So the winners get the best players and the losers get the leftovers. And away we go.
A perfect example of reverse recruiting occurred in Lincoln on Saturday as Iowa State played Nebraska—sort of. The highlight of the day for the Cyclones came when the wind blew the ball off the tee just before their opening kickoff. That at least delayed the carnage, which ultimately read 42-3. Said Walden afterward, "I think we played pretty good or we would have gotten beat 75-0."
Consider the depth of the disparity. The undefeated Huskers scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions. The first time the Cyclones had the ball they drove surprisingly well, then fumbled on the Husker one. On their second possession they fumbled a kickoff and Nebraska recovered. On the third possession quarterback Brett Sadek threw an interception, and on the fourth Judge Johnston got off a punt that went five sad yards. After that it was all hit and giggle.
Said Sadek: "I think our defense played very well." Let's check it out. The winners rushed for 604 yards and averaged a whopping 8.1 yards a play; Keith (End Zone) Jones rushed for 240 yards (the fifth-best single-game total in Husker history) and two touchdowns on only 15 carries; 18 different players carried the ball for the winners; 94 Huskers saw action. Madness.
Elsewhere, however, parity seems to be the rage, even in the Big Ten. Since 1983 it has had four different champs, and it is likely to have a fifth this year. Since 1973 seven different teams have won the Southeastern Conference title and five different Pac-10 schools have gone to the Rose Bowl. The ACC has had four different champions during that same period. But the last time a team other than Oklahoma or Nebraska won the Big Eight outright was in 1961, when Colorado did it—long before any current player was born.
Historically it hasn't always been just Oklahoma and Nebraska in the Big Eight. Missouri had some starry moments under Dan Devine and went to the Orange Bowl in 1970, following the 1969 appearance by Kansas. In 1971 Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado finished 1-2-3 in the final AP Top 20 poll. The Other Six have provided, albeit infrequently, some thrills of their own: e.g., Gale Sayers carrying the ball for Kansas, Lynn Dickey passing for Kansas State in the '60s. Then there was Missouri defensive back Roger Wehrli, an All-America in 1968, and Iowa State's wonderful Dirty 30 in 1959, short on numbers but long on want-to.
Certainly Oklahoma State, the last to join the conference, making the Big Seven the Big Eight in 1958, is getting superior performance from running back Thurman Thomas, who rushed for 173 yards against Oklahoma on Saturday. Indeed, the Cowboys gave the Sooners a scare, holding Oklahoma to a slim 10-3 halftime lead before finally losing 29-10 and knocking out quarterback Jamelle Holieway and fullback Lydell Carr for the rest of the season. The full effect of those injuries probably won't be felt until the Sooners' Nov. 21 showdown with Nebraska, but the fact is, Oklahoma State couldn't take advantage of Oklahoma's sudden vulnerability. Says Cowboy coach Pat Jones, "Since I've been here, our winning percentage is .704. At some locales that's really good. But we've got Barry down there, following up on what Alonzo Stagg started."
So what caused the crisis in the Big Eight? First, Osborne and Switzer inherited solid programs from Bob Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks. Then both proceeded to make them even better. Nebraska's win over Iowa State and the Sooners' triumph over Oklahoma State gave each coach his 146th win, surpassing the league record of 145 by Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, since the Tom and Barry Show hit the road to rave reviews, the other six schools have had 23 coaches. Kansas has had five, and with grumbling getting louder about second-year man Bob Valesente, the Jayhawks could be heading for six.