Tramel's ScissorTales: Bedlam ranks No. 1 among ESPN's best Big 12 football games of 2021

·18 min read

Big 12 football in 2021 was quite exciting. Heck, just the Cowboys and Sooners produced thriller after thriller most weeks.

And ESPN agrees. ESPN recently produced a list of its top 100 games of 2021. And 14 of the top 50 selections featured Big 12 teams, including six of the top 15.

Of those 14 games, 12 were conference games.

That put the Big 12 above the other conferences on the best-games list. The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences each had nine games in the top 50, and two off each list were non-conference games. The Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast conferences each had five of the top 50, and each had just two conference games among those five.

So the Big 12’s thrill-a-thon was not topped in 2021.

The Wednesday ScissorTales look at how Bob Hoffman has turned Central Oklahoma into a Division II basketball contender and how maybe we’ve been reading OU quarterbacks wrong in the NFL. But we start with the best Big 12 football games of 2021.

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The List: Big 12 football’s best games of 2021

Here are ESPN’s 14 best Big 12 games of 2021, each with how ESPN ranked them among the 50 best games from any conference:

1. OSU 37, OU 33, Nov. 27: Bedlam was a beaut, and it ranked fourth on ESPN’s top-50 list. I might not have ranked it No. 1, but it was a thriller. By the way, ESPN’s top three for the entire season were, in order, Ole Miss 52-51 over Arkansas, Ohio State’s 48-45 survival of Utah in the Rose Bowl and Texas A&M’s 41-38 upset of Alabama.

2. Baylor 21, OSU 16, Dec. 4: It wasn’t always well-played, and it wasn’t an explosion of points, but any championship game that ends with an open-field tackle inches from the goal line will stand the test of time. ESPN ranked if fifth.

3. OSU 37, Notre Dame 35, Jan. 1: Stunning comeback, late-game drama, even a one-handed recovery of a last-minute onside kick. The Fiesta Bowl had it all. ESPN ranked it sixth overall.

4. OU 55, Texas 48, Oct. 9: A game for the ages, with the Sooners’ remarkable comeback and quarterback switch that still reverberates throughout college football. ESPN ranked it No. 9.

5. Kansas 57, Texas 56, Nov. 13: Still hard to believe, two months later. The lowly Jayhawks went to Austin and won, with a rag-tag team. Amazing. ESPN ranked it 11th.

6. Texas Tech 41, Iowa State 38, Nov. 13: Nothing to see here, unless you like huge comebacks and a walk-off, 62-yard field goal. ESPN ranked it 15th on the top-50 list.

7. OU 23, Nebraska 16, Sept. 18: Seems a little high. D.J. Graham’s one-handed interception was spectacular. But the game seemed more like two teams stuck in second gear. And that’s exactly what those teams were. ESPN ranked it 43rd.

8. TCU 30, Baylor 28, Nov. 6: Playing their first game without Gary Patterson (fired a few days earlier) since the 1900s, backup quarterback Chandler Morris threw for 461 yards and ran for 70 more, and Shadrach Banks intercepted a Gerry Bohanon pass with 1:03 left to preserve the upset. ESPN ranked it 44th.

9. Iowa State 24, OSU 21, Oct. 23: The Cyclones knocked the Cowboys from the unbeaten ranks, not without controversy over a ball spot that came up inches short of an OSU first down, ending the Cowboys’ comeback hopes. ESPN ranked it 45th.

10. Baylor 31, Iowa State 29, Sept. 25: A game that changed the trajectory of two seasons. Baylor replaced ISU as a Big 12 (and national) contender by stopping a 2-point conversion attempt in the final seconds. The Cyclones outgained Baylor by almost 200 yards but settled for four field goals. ESPN ranked it 46th.

11. West Virginia 38, Iowa State 31, Oct. 30: The Mountaineers rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take the lead, then Cyclone star Breece Hall lost a fumble in the end zone, and in the final minute, WVU turned back ISU again. The Cyclones had a frustrating season. ESPN ranked it 47th.

12. OU 28, Iowa State 21, Nov. 20: Told you the Cyclones had a frustrating season. The Sooners had the game in hand, but the Cyclones scored in the fourth quarter, forced a punt and mounted a late drive that ended with Pat Fields’ interception at the OU 15-yard line in the closing seconds. ESPN ranked it 48th on the top-50 list.

13. Baylor 27, Texas Tech 24, Nov. 27: The Bears needed the win to make the Big 12 title game. And Baylor held a healthy lead. But Tech quarterback Donovan Smith threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, then the Red Raiders scrambled into field-goal range in the final seconds. But Jonathan Garibay, hero of the Iowa State game, missed a 53-yard kick at the buzzer. ESPN ranked it 49th.

14. Baylor 31, Texas 24, Oct. 30: The Longhorns led 21-10, but the Bears scored three touchdowns in a 12-minute span, then held off a late drive to further the Texas misery. ESPN ranked it 50th.

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Do expanded playoffs produce more good games?

On January 9, 2021, the Indianapolis Colts played at the Buffalo Bills, and we were treated to one of the best events in sports. A down-to-the-wire National Football League playoff game.

You know, the kind we saw last weekend with Bengals-Raiders and 49ers-Cowboys.

Colts-Bills a year ago was a first-round game in Buffalo. Philip Rivers drove Indy to a fourth-quarter touchdown to get within 27-24, the Colts got a stop, so with 2½ minutes left, Rivers and Co. took the field. Indianapolis reached the Buffalo 47-yard line with 14 seconds left, but Rivers threw three straight incompletions, and the Bills had their first playoff win in 25 years.

That was a 2-seed (Buffalo) vs. a 7-seed in the American Conference.

The NFL Playoffs expanded to 14 teams in the 2020 season, so we’ve now had four 2-seed vs. 7-seed matchups. And that Colts-Bills game was the only thriller among the four.

Over in the NFC last year, the Saints routed the Bears 21-9. Chicago scored a touchdown on the last play of the game to make the final a little more presentable. New Orleans totally dominated.

Sunday, the two 2-7 matchups resulted in Tampa Bay’s 31-15 rout of Philadelphia (the Buccaneers led 31-0), and Kansas City’s 42-21 pasting of Pittsburgh (the Chiefs led 42-14 midway through the fourth quarter).

Four games is a small sample size. But a .250 batting average is rather meager for a league deservedly known for its parity.

Does the NFL offer a lesson on what an expanded College Football Playoff could bring?

The CFP debate centers on raising the number of teams from four to 12 (or, less likely, eight). A 12-team format would create four first-round games (seeds 5-12, 6-11, 7-10 and 8-9). That’s not easily comparable to anything NFL.

But the 12-team format’s quarterfinals would be quite analogous to the NFL’s wild-card round: 2-7 (or 10), 3-6 (or 11), 4-5 (or 12).

The early returns from NFL matchups show the colleges (which have less parity all around) might be hard-pressed to produce quality games.

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This past season, those quarterfinal matchups would have been 1-Alabama vs. 8-Ole Miss or 9-Oklahoma State; 2-Michigan vs. 7-Baylor or 10-Michigan State; 3-Georgia vs. 6-Ohio State or 11-Utah; 4-Cincinnati vs. 5-Notre Dame or 12-Pittsburgh.

Sounds exciting. I mean, I wouldn’t have been overly optimistic about the Cowboys hanging with Alabama, but it would have been fun to see. No reason Michigan-Baylor wouldn’t have been a good game. Georgia-Ohio State seems like a wonderful matchup. A Cincinnati-Notre Dame rematch would have dripped with intrigue.

But on the college level, interesting matchups don’t always turn into good games.

Heck, we don’t have to limit ourselves to two years worth of data comparing the NFL and college playoffs. We have eight years on the semifinal level.

The CFP began in 2014, so we’ve had 16 national semifinals.

Only three of those 16 could be called really competitive games: Ohio State beat Alabama 42-35 in 2014, Georgia outlasted OU 54-48 in double overtime in 2017 and Clemson edged Ohio State 29-23 in 2019. The rest have been either one-sided or blowouts.

Seven of the NFL’s last 16 Super Bowl semifinals have been great games.

The Buccaneers beat the Packers 31-26 in the 2020 playoffs; the Patriots bested the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime (2018); the Rams beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime (2018); the Patriots survived the Jaguars 24-20 (2017); the Broncos edged the Patriots 20-18 (2015); the Seahawks beat the Packers 28-22 in overtime (2014); and the Seahawks survived the 49ers 23-17 (2013).

We also could use the title games. In the College Football Playoff, four of the eight championships have been quite competitive: Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 (2015), Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 (2016), Alabama beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime (2017) and Georgia beat Alabama 33-18 (2021). The other four have been relative blowouts.

In the last eight Super Bowls, we’ve had three thrillers (Eagles over Patriots 41-33; Patriots over Falcons 34-28 in overtime; Patriots over Seahawks 28-24), plus three really competitive games (Chiefs over 49ers 31-20; Patriots over Rams 13-3; Broncos over Panthers 24-10). That leaves only two blowouts (Buccaneers over Chiefs 31-9; Seahawks over Broncos 43-8).

So the NFL is much more likely to produce quality playoff games. But even the NFL is hard-pressed to deliver as the playoffs expand.

The results seem obvious. Expanding the College Football Playoff will give us more good games. And even more bad games.

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UCO basketball riding high with stability

All basketball is transient these days. NBA, college on every level, high school, youth. Doesn’t matter.

But Central Oklahoma is bucking the trend. Bob Hoffman, in his third year back in his home state, returned all five Broncho starters from last season, and that stability is paying off in a big-time way.

UCO has won 11 straight games for the first time in 11 years, and all 11 wins have been by double digits. The 15-2 Bronchos are 10-1 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association and have risen to No. 18 in the NCAA Division II rankings.Now comes a showdown game – UCO hosts second-ranked Northwest Missouri State at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The 16-1 Bearcats are defending Division II national champions and are 10-0 in the MIAA, which is D-II's toughest league.

“I like my team,” Hoffman said. “I like ‘em a lot.”

Hoffman knows good teams. He has a career record of 646-367. Hoffman came to UCO from Mercer University, where he led the Macon, Georgia, school to 209 wins in 11 years, including a memorable NCAA Tournament upset of Duke in 2014.

Hoffman, 64, graduated from Putnam City High School and Oklahoma Baptist University. He earned a master’s degree at UCO. Hoffman coached the Southern Nazarene women to the NAIA national championship in 1989, then coached OBU’s men for 10 years, winning 243 games. He also was a Kelvin Sampson assistant coach at OU, head coach at Division I Texas-Pan American and a minor-league head coach.

Hoffman’s first two Broncho teams went a combined 24-28, but UCO finished strong last season. And all his prime players returned.

UCO men's basketball coach Bob Hoffman has the Bronchos off to a 15-2 start this season and to No. 18 in the NCAA Division II rankings.
UCO men's basketball coach Bob Hoffman has the Bronchos off to a 15-2 start this season and to No. 18 in the NCAA Division II rankings.

“I knew we had the potential to be good, because the group of guys that we had and how we ended last year put us in position to understand what we could accomplish,” Hoffman said. “And we have all those guys back. They’ve really grown together.”

Isaiah Wade, a 6-foot-7 forward from Waterloo, Iowa, transferred to UCO from Washington State by way of Coastal Carolina. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

Camryn Givens, a 6-6 forward from McKinney, Texas, is a junior-college transfer averaging 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in his second UCO season.

Jaden Wells, a 6-1 guard from L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, Texas, is averaging 15.2 points and shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range.

Callen Haydon, a 5-11 point guard from El Reno and Connors State Junior College, is averaging 12.8 points a game.

Jalyn Turner, a 6-6 forward from Houston, cracked the lineup in the middle of last season.

That’s remarkable stability for college basketball. Or any basketball.

The notorious transfer portal is in overdrive all across America. And Hoffman knows he’ll eventually need to use it to sustain UCO’s success. But this team mostly was built the old-fashioned way.

“Our assistants have done a tremendous job,” Hoffman said of Daniel Wheeler and Matt Mossman. “Jaden (Wells) was one of the first guys I saw on a recruiting trip the very first week I took the job. Daniel Wheeler already identified him as a guy we should think about.”

The MIAA is a tough basketball league. Northwest Missouri State has won three of the last four D-II national titles, and three other MIAA schools (Fort Hays State, Northeastern Oklahoma State and Central Missouri) have won D-II national titles in the last 26 years.

Hoffman said the level of play in the MIAA is not much different than the D-I Atlantic Sun Conference in which he coached.

“There’s a few teams year in and year out when we were at Mercer that would be a little bit better than our (MIAA) league, but they still could lose to guys in our league,” Hoffman said. “Our best teams would compete every night in that league and every league that’s on that level.

“Back in the day, there wasn’t a whole lot of separation” between D-II and lower D-I conferences. “There’s more separation now. But certain leagues and certain programs in Division II are still right there.”

These are exciting times in UCO athletics. Benefactor Chad Richison has invested heavily in facilities and resources. The Bronchos are long-time national powers in wrestling, they’ve won national titles in rowing and softball in recent years, and football just hired head coach Adam Dorrel, who led Northwest Missouri State to three Division II national titles.

Now basketball, under Hoffman, has entered the spotlight.

“I don’t know what the highest level we can get with this team,” Hoffman said. “But on certain nights, we’re hard to guard, and if we continue to grow on the defensive side of the ball ... we can play for a national championship. But there’s lots of roads ahead.”

Starting with Northwest Missouri State on Thursday night.

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Mailbag: Lincoln Riley quarterbacks

My Kyler Murray piece from Tuesday brought a detailed response from long-time Kansas City television sportscaster Neal Jones, who grew up in Oklahoma and has excellent perspective.

Neal: “Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil told me that ‘No position in professional sports is more reliant on the people around him than quarterback. He is almost completely a product of the coaching he receives and the play of his teammates.’ I had asked him about Patrick Mahomes taking over the Chiefs starting position. His take was that Mahomes had walked into a fabulous situation, playing for the NFL's version of Lincoln Riley, with a talented, experienced team around him on offense. An NFL scout told me that ‘Mayfield’s done really well, considering he's played for three head coaches and three offensive coordinators in his time at Cleveland.’ Has he lived up to the hype? No. But he played well enough to upset KC in the playoffs last season. A fumble at the goal line by a Browns receiver cost Cleveland a TD in what ended up being a one-score game. The Cleveland staff was also outcoached in that game. (It was Stefanksi's first playoff game.) Hurts has played for two head coaches and two OCs in his first two seasons in Philly. Kyler Murray is playing for a first-time NFL head coach. Ask yourself: how would Mayfield, Hurts and Murray be playing if they were in Andy Reid's offense? All three OU guys have led their teams to the playoffs. Considering how badly the Browns and Cardinals have been over the past decade or so, that's quite an accomplishment.”

Tramel: Excellent points. I have written about Mayfield’s lack of continuity in the NFL.

But I do think we can all agree that Mahomes is a special talent, independent of landing in Kansas City. In a KC-Cleveland game, Mahomes has all the advantages. In an OU-Texas Tech game, circa 2016, Mayfield had all the advantages, and Mahomes still managed to wow America.

But what really struck me about Neal’s note was the Vermeil line. Do we over-value quarterbacks? Are quarterbacks really that dependent on coaches and teammates?

Think about it. We’ve mostly operated under the alternative theory. That quarterbacks make coaches (and I guess teammates; the Tom Brady example is profound).

But I don’t claim to know. Vermeil is a heck of a football man. What if we’ve been under-valuing environment and over-valuing quarterbacks? The NFL in general doesn’t agree with Vermeil. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

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KU’s Cam Martin redshirting

Kansas came into Norman and beat the Sooners with a veteran basketball team. The Jayhawks won 67-64 Tuesday night, and most of the relevant victors were quite familiar.

Ochai Agbaji, whose back-to-back 3-pointers down the stretch tied the game, is in his fourth season as a KU starter.

Christian Braun, who nailed the game-winning with 10.9 seconds left, is a third-year Jayhawk and a two-year starter.

Jalen Wilson, who scored a game-high 16 points, is a third-year Jayhawk who also started last season.

David McCormack, who helped neutralize OU center Tanner Groves, is a four-year Jayhawk who made his 73rd career start.

Super-sub Mitch Lightfoot has been playing at KU since 2016.

Even little-known point guard Dajuan Harris played 30 games a year ago and averaged 16 minutes a game.

And now you know why Oklahoman Cam Martin is redshirting.

Martin is the all-time leading scorer at Division II Missouri Southern – another member of the MIAA. Martin played three seasons in Joplin, after transferring from Division I Jacksonville State. Martin played in high school at Norman North and Yukon.

The 6-foot-9 forward — and every other NCAA athlete — was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the Covid season of 2020-21. Martin chose to use it by transferring to Kansas.

But when Martin got to KU, he encountered that long line of veterans who had been ultra-successful under Bill Self. So Martin is sitting out this season.

“I talked with coach Self the day before we went to New York City (for the season opener), the day we flew out, and we sat down and talked about the pros and cons of the situation for myself,” Martin told Kansas reporters. “And after just talking with him, I agreed and I thought it was the best situation for me. He didn’t force me to do anything. It was my decision.”

Kansas rarely plays big – Self prefers four perimeter players, so Martin found himself behind McCormack and Lightfoot in the rotation.

Of course, there are no assurances about next season. The same transfer portal that brought Martin to Lawrence could bring other talented ballplayers. Probably will.

But Martin said he figures he’ll be more prepared next season to contribute to the Jayhawks. Martin said he had lost 20 pounds by November, getting down to the 223 range.

It’s a big jump from Missouri Southern to the Big 12. It’s an even bigger jump when you land at Kansas, and the Jayhawks have a bunch of veterans.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Bedlam football ranks No. 1 among ESPN's best Big 12 games of 2021