A couple of days before tonight’s College Football Playoff Championship Game pitting Alabama against Clemson, Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables took a walk down memory lane that was more like Nightmare on Elm Street.
At media day ahead of Monday night’s title showdown, Venables was asked about a game during his career as Oklahoma’s co-defensive coordinator: the Sooners’ 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The outcome was shocking. Oklahoma, a 14-point favorite, and took a 7-0 lead. After that it was all Wildcats in a 35-7 triumph.
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“First of all, Kansas State flat whipped us,” Venables said. “They flat whipped us. They hit us in the mouth and didn’t cower down to us. They didn’t give us the ‘W’ before we ever started.”
That happened a few times that season with a team some were calling the greatest in college football history. OU entered the game 12-0 and led the nation in scoring (48.3) and scoring defense (13.1).
Oklahoma players won the Heisman (quarterback Jason White), Butkus and Bednarik (linebacker Teddy Lehman) and Thorpe (cornerback Derrick Strait) awards. Five consensus All-Americas in all.
But the Sooners got stung by KSU running back Darren Sproles (235 yards and a 10.7-yard rushing average), quarterback Ell Roberson and a stout defense.
“I felt like talent-wise we were a superior team,” Venables said. “Unfortunately, we went into the game having this feeling of superiority where it was promoted quite frequently during the course of the week that, even if we lose this week, we’re still going to go play for the national championship. That’s where the BCS numbers, computer rankings, had it. It was like a guarantee.”
Entering the game, the Sooners were all but guaranteed a spot in the national championship game with a loss, and that proved true. But Venables believed it might have had an emotional impact.
“So can you lose an edge, the edge that maybe got you there?” he said. “Absolutely. But I think a lot of it had to do with Kansas State and the way they played and the fearlessness and the aggressiveness. Man, they came out like Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and just-they hit us in the face quick and kind of really shocked us.”
Alabama’s historical greatness has been a topic this season. The Crimson Tide have been a dominant, top-ranked team throughout the season.
But Clemson enters this game in a stronger position than Kansas State did then. These Tigers, like ‘Bama, are 14-0 and ranked second. K-State entered the 2003 title game 10-3 and ranked No. 13.
Venables was in disbelief after the loss at Arrowhead.
“I didn’t see that coming,” he said. “That’s one of the three most talented teams I’ve been (a part of). The matchups favored us going into that game substantially. But that’s why you play the game. It wasn’t like this miraculous way they beat us. It was 35-7.”
The game also came up recently as one of the high points of the Bill Snyder era at Kansas State. Snyder stepped down after the 2018 season following 27 years with the Wildcats.
For the Sooners, 2003 got even worse. Oklahoma lost the BCS title game to LSU, 21-14. That was Nick Saban’s first national championship. He goes for his seventh — sixth at Alabama — Monday night.