Iowa State Coach Jim Walden was flailing his arms one day last week in Ames and fuming that it was "totally embarrassing" for Oklahoma and Nebraska to dominate the Big Eight the way they have—especially this year. Walden was indeed wound up. "I look at Barry Switzer, and he knows he's a good coach," said Walden. "But does he know if his team can cover an onside kick or play prevent defense? Oklahoma's players don't know yet if they can play with a chill down their spines. That's a terrible thing because the level of competition in our conference is so bad."
Down the road, in Manhattan, Kans., K-State coach Stan Parrish, whose team lost 59-10 to Oklahoma and 56-3 to Nebraska on successive weekends last month, agreed with Walden. "It's ugly," he said. "It's embarrassing to stand on the sidelines and watch. We played the best half of football possible against Oklahoma, no mistakes, just terrific. And we were behind 31-10."
It's not just that the Sooners and the Huskers are dominating. It's more than their eight national championships, five Heisman winners, nine Outland winners and five Lombardi winners—the only such honors the league can claim. We're way beyond that. We're talking humiliation, demoralization and ruination in what once had been a proud conference.
Proof: Two weeks ago Oklahoma beat Kansas 71-10, after which Switzer implied the margin should have been a lot more. "I'm disappointed in the field conditions," he said afterward.
Proof: During a recent four-week span, Nebraska beat Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Missouri by a combined score of 187-12. Missouri was the most potent offensively; the Tigers scored seven.
Last year Oklahoma destroyed Missouri 77-0. Not long ago, Mizzou coach Woody Widenhofer ran into Switzer and said, "Barry, I'm going to get you one of these years." Chortled Switzer, "Well, hell, Woody, last year you got within 77." Indeed, a favorite Switzer exhortation to his team over the years has been, "Let's quick hang half a hundred on 'em and go home." Too often, way too often, the Sooners oblige. And then some.
Since before the season began, Oklahoma has been No. 1 in virtually every poll—including SI's—while romping through its conference schedule and wiping out a lackluster slate of non-Big Eight foes. North Texas State, Tulsa, North Carolina and Texas fell to the Sooners by the combined score of 206-23. Polls tend to reward consistent winners, no matter whom they beat. But if a team is judged also by the quality of its opponents, can it truly be said that Oklahoma is, in fact, the No. 1 team in the country?
The computerized rankings of
The New York Times
, which give substantial weight to the strength of a team's schedule, placed the Sooners No. 7 last week. That, in turn, may be too low; but as Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are led to slaughter, it is interesting to contemplate whether Oklahoma or Nebraska would be undefeated this late in the season if they had to play in, say, the powerful Southeastern Conference. Outstanding teams by any other standard, they are tainted by the mediocrity of the rest of the Big Eight. So Oklahoma is No. 1, but with an asterisk.
Since Switzer and Nebraska's Tom Osborne took over their teams in 1973, the only other Big Eight school to go to the Orange Bowl as conference champion has been Colorado, way back in 1977.
"There's a greater disparity and separation in the conference right now than there's ever been," Switzer told SI's Duncan Brantley last week. "There are two reasons for that. Oklahoma and Nebraska are better. We're at a peak right now. Secondly, the other teams are low. So now, because both of us are good and they're in the worst shape they've been in, there is a tremendous gap."