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Barry Switzer couldn't solve Miami's defense, and it cost Oklahoma a national title in 1986

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Barry Switzer went 23-12-1 from 1981 to 1983. We'll discuss those years soon enough, but it's fascinating to me how bogged down he got in shifting offensive principles and just not quite having the right pieces in place.

OU was still good in these years, but other good teams had gotten a read on the Sooners -- against teams with at least eight wins in a given year, they were just 5-10 in this span.

In 1984, Switzer's Sooners began to figure things out again. ANd in 1985, they began to roll. And they pulled off one of the most impressive streaks, with one of the most impressive asterisks, ever. From 1985-87, OU went an incredible 33-3: 0-3 against Miami and 33-0 against everybody else. They took down Nebraska three times, twice in Lincoln. They swept Texas, and only one of the three games was close. Colorado was improving but couldn't get close yet. In this three-year span, they beat seven top-10 teams and all but owned the college football universe.

But while Miami had its own issues here and there, the Hurricanes owned the Sooners.

In 1986, Miami had a spectacular team, just as the narrative tells us. The Hurricanes began the season by pounding South Carolina (No. 30 in Est. S&P+) on the road, then surviving Florida (No. 14) in Gainesville. They handled Florida State (No. 13) with ease and took down OU by a score of 28-16. They beat the other seven (mostly bad) opponents on the schedule by an average of 42-10. They were a wrecking machine, and if you get rid of bowl results, they finish No. 1 here. But the famous fatigues-and-interceptions Fiesta Bowl (highlights above, full game here) knocked them to No. 2 because, if not for the Miami result, this OU team was just about perfect.

OU beat Est. S&P+ No. 5 UCLA, 38-3. The Sooners beat No. 20 Arkansas, 42-8. They beat No. 33 Colorado, No. 42 Minnesota, and No. 46 Texas by a combined 138-12. Basically the only non-Miami missteps were a mere 19-0 win over Oklahoma State (the other four teams they faced that were ranked worse than 60th fell by a combined 235-13) and a 20-17 win over Nebraska. Granted, Nebraska is eighth in Est. S&P+, and the game was in Lincoln. Bt that was the only close game all year. For this team, that basically qualified as a misstep.

The OU-Miami series at this time reminds us that matchups still matter. The point of these rankings posts is to put our teams or different eras into perspective a bit, but beneath the full-season rating are millions of individual stories and matchups that created those ratings. Among those matchups: Jimmy Johnson's Miami defense owned -- wrecked -- Switzer's wishbone. In 33 games against teams other than Miami, the Sooners averaged 40.2 points per game. In three games against Miami: 14.7.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Oklahoma 11-1 24.2 99.08% 36.7 1 12.5 7
2 Miami-FL 11-1 24.0 99.03% 36.2 2 12.2 5
3 Penn State 12-0 20.8 97.87% 30.1 10 9.3 1
4 Alabama 10-3 18.8 96.68% 29.1 16 10.3 2
5 UCLA 8-3-1 17.8 95.93% 34.3 3 16.4 18
6 Auburn 10-2 16.7 94.84% 28.3 19 11.6 4
7 Washington 8-3-1 16.4 94.56% 32.2 5 15.8 16
8 Nebraska 10-2 16.4 94.48% 33.7 4 17.3 22
9 LSU 9-3 16.1 94.20% 28.5 18 12.4 6
10 Arizona State 10-1-1 15.5 93.52% 30.5 7 15.0 12
11 Michigan 11-2 15.4 93.32% 30.1 9 14.7 10
12 Ohio State 10-3 13.5 90.62% 26.9 23 13.4 8
13 Florida State 7-4-1 12.6 89.04% 31.8 6 19.2 33
14 Florida 6-5 12.2 88.39% 23.2 49 11.0 3
15 Notre Dame 5-6 12.0 87.89% 29.6 14 17.6 23
16 Arizona 9-3 11.9 87.81% 29.1 15 17.2 20
17 Stanford 8-4 11.2 86.18% 25.1 37 14.0 9
18 Georgia 8-4 11.0 85.92% 28.3 20 17.3 21
19 USC 7-5 10.7 85.21% 26.3 26 15.6 14
20 Arkansas 9-3 9.7 82.89% 25.5 35 15.7 15
21 Clemson 8-2-2 9.3 81.89% 25.5 33 16.2 17
22 Texas A&M 9-3 8.9 80.80% 27.7 22 18.8 28
23 Michigan State 6-5 7.7 77.43% 25.8 29 18.0 25
24 Baylor 9-3 7.6 77.11% 25.9 27 18.3 26
25 Iowa 9-3 7.5 76.86% 29.0 17 21.5 46
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 San Jose State 10-2 7.5 76.78% 30.0 11 22.5 54
27 Temple 6-5 7.2 75.77% 29.8 12 22.7 57
28 Boston College 9-3 6.9 75.02% 25.7 30 18.8 27
29 Pittsburgh 5-5-1 6.5 73.72% 24.2 40 17.7 24
30 South Carolina 3-6-2 6.5 73.57% 29.8 13 23.3 62
31 Ole Miss 8-3-1 5.6 70.63% 20.3 67 14.7 11
32 Georgia Tech 5-5-1 5.5 70.41% 25.0 38 19.5 36
33 Colorado 6-6 5.1 68.99% 20.6 65 15.5 13
34 Maryland 5-5-1 5.0 68.72% 24.0 43 19.0 30
35 Tulsa 7-4 4.2 65.87% 23.7 46 19.5 35
36 Miami-OH 8-4 3.8 64.49% 25.8 28 22.0 50
37 BYU 8-5 3.8 64.33% 22.9 52 19.1 31
38 San Diego State 8-4 3.4 63.16% 25.5 32 22.1 51
39 Rutgers 5-5-1 3.2 62.15% 20.2 70 17.0 19
40 NC State 8-3-1 3.1 61.89% 26.7 24 23.6 64
41 North Carolina 7-4-1 3.1 61.83% 25.4 36 22.3 52
42 Minnesota 6-6 2.8 60.84% 25.5 34 22.7 56
43 Tennessee 7-5 2.5 59.51% 23.8 44 21.4 42
44 Texas Tech 7-5 1.5 55.72% 23.2 51 21.7 47
45 SMU 6-5 1.5 55.67% 24.7 39 23.2 61
46 Texas 5-6 1.3 55.12% 22.2 54 20.9 40
47 Kentucky 5-5-1 1.1 54.26% 20.3 68 19.2 32
48 Oregon 5-6 1.0 53.83% 26.6 25 25.6 77
49 Indiana 6-6 0.6 52.47% 21.1 59 20.5 38
50 Colorado State 6-5 0.5 51.83% 22.4 53 21.9 49
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Fresno State 9-2 0.4 51.55% 19.7 71 19.3 34
52 Virginia Tech 9-2-1 0.3 51.17% 21.1 58 20.8 39
53 Washington State 3-7-1 -0.1 49.64% 24.2 42 24.3 71
54 Wyoming 6-6 -0.3 49.02% 23.7 47 23.9 67
55 Hawaii 7-5 -0.8 46.86% 19.3 74 20.1 37
56 Long Beach State 6-5 -1.5 43.99% 21.3 57 22.8 58
57 Wake Forest 5-6 -1.6 43.67% 30.1 8 31.8 96
58 Mississippi State 6-5 -2.0 42.40% 20.9 61 22.8 59
59 Syracuse 5-6 -2.7 39.75% 21.7 56 24.4 72
60 Illinois 4-7 -3.1 38.21% 20.6 64 23.7 65
61 Wisconsin 3-9 -3.1 37.96% 17.8 82 21.0 41
62 Air Force 6-5 -3.3 37.52% 18.5 80 21.8 48
63 West Virginia 4-7 -3.3 37.19% 20.9 60 24.2 70
64 Iowa State 6-5 -3.5 36.60% 19.6 72 23.1 60
65 Oklahoma State 6-5 -3.7 35.84% 15.2 97 18.9 29
66 UNLV 6-5 -3.8 35.58% 20.8 62 24.6 74
67 Cincinnati 5-6 -4.1 34.59% 25.6 31 29.7 91
68 Pacific 4-7 -4.9 31.46% 20.6 63 25.6 76
69 California 2-9 -5.2 30.48% 18.7 79 24.0 68
70 Toledo 7-4 -5.3 30.18% 16.1 92 21.4 44
71 UL-Lafayette 6-5 -5.4 30.03% 17.1 87 22.4 53
72 Oregon State 3-8 -5.4 29.85% 16.0 93 21.5 45
73 New Mexico 4-8 -6.3 26.94% 24.2 41 30.5 94
74 Army 6-5 -7.2 24.18% 19.4 73 26.6 79
75 Fullerton State 3-9 -7.3 23.77% 22.0 55 29.3 89
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Central Michigan 5-5 -7.7 22.51% 23.3 48 31.0 95
77 East Carolina 2-9 -7.9 21.92% 20.2 69 28.1 88
78 Southern Miss 6-5 -8.0 21.66% 16.1 91 24.1 69
79 Missouri 3-8 -8.5 20.23% 18.9 75 27.5 84
80 Purdue 3-8 -8.5 20.21% 18.2 81 26.8 81
81 Northwestern 4-7 -8.7 19.81% 17.2 86 25.9 78
82 UTEP 4-8 -8.9 19.20% 23.2 50 32.1 99
83 Ball State 6-5 -9.0 19.01% 14.5 98 23.5 63
84 Western Michigan 3-8 -9.2 18.47% 15.4 96 24.6 73
85 Bowling Green 5-6 -9.3 18.28% 12.1 102 21.4 43
86 Duke 4-7 -9.4 17.82% 17.3 84 26.7 80
87 Eastern Michigan 6-5 -9.5 17.57% 15.8 95 25.3 75
88 Utah 2-9 -9.6 17.38% 28.2 21 37.8 104
89 Houston 1-10 -9.6 17.32% 12.9 101 22.6 55
90 Virginia 3-8 -10.5 15.37% 16.5 89 27.0 82
91 Rice 4-7 -10.8 14.68% 18.9 77 29.6 90
92 Northern Illinois 2-9 -11.2 13.80% 16.5 88 27.7 86
93 Vanderbilt 1-10 -11.3 13.46% 18.9 76 30.2 93
94 TCU 3-8 -11.7 12.58% 23.8 45 35.5 103
95 Kent 5-6 -11.9 12.33% 16.2 90 28.1 87
96 Utah State 3-8 -13.5 9.40% 10.3 104 23.8 66
97 Tulane 4-7 -13.9 8.82% 20.4 66 34.2 101
98 Wichita State 3-8 -14.6 7.73% 17.4 83 32.0 97
99 Kansas 3-8 -15.9 6.02% 11.7 103 27.6 85
100 Louisville 3-8 -16.7 5.16% 13.2 100 29.9 92
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Navy 3-8 -17.1 4.73% 17.3 85 34.4 102
102 Kansas State 2-9 -17.8 4.14% 14.3 99 32.1 98
103 Ohio 1-10 -18.1 3.86% 15.8 94 33.9 100
104 Memphis 1-10 -19.0 3.15% 8.2 105 27.3 83
105 New Mexico State 1-10 -19.7 2.71% 18.8 78 38.5 105

Your best team doesn't always win the title

One of the ongoing themes of this series, too, is that your best squads don't always match your best results. SPOILERS, but Penn State ranked first in Est. S&P+ in both 1981 and 1982 and second in 1977. They lost a combined four games in those years, and while they did win the 1982 national title, they came up short in the other two years, even losing twice in 1981.

In 1986, meanwhile, they won the national title despite being a rather distant third in these ratings. I mean, third isn't 23rd or anything -- clearly PSU was excellent. But tight wins over teams like Cincinnati (67th) and Maryland (34th) tamped down their ratings a bit, and understandably so. The PSU defense was outstanding (yes, I remember who the defensive coordinator was, and no, I'm not going to talk about that here), and wins over what ended up being the No. 2 and No. 4 teams in the country on this list certainly made the Nittany Lions a deserving champion.

It would have been interesting to see what might have happened had OU and Miami not scheduled a home-and-home series for 1985-86. If OU had scheduled someone else and finished unbeaten, we'd have had three 11-0 teams (OU, Miami, PSU) at the end of the regular season, and I'm thinking an OU-Miami Orange Bowl (which we got the next season) might have been too much for Miami to pass up. That home-and-home might have saved PSU from another "undefeated but not No. 1" season that the Nittany Lions had to endure in 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1994.

A hypothetical Playoff

Three of the four spots in a hypothetical Playoff are pretty easy here. You've got 11-0 Miami and Penn State and a 10-1 OU team that lost only at Miami. Those were the top three in both the AP and Est. S&P+, and they're in for sure.

After that, the only candidates for the fourth spot are probably 11-1 Michigan (fourth in the AP poll at the time) and 9-1-1 Arizona State (seventh). Arizona State actually had more wins over ranked teams (five to UM's three), but while both had bad blemishes (Michigan lost at home to Minnesota, Arizona State by 17 at Arizona), ASU also had a home tie against Washington State. I'm assuming Michigan gets the nod here, even though in real life, ASU went on to beat the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl.

So you've got 1 Miami vs. 4 Michigan and 2 Oklahoma vs. 3 Penn State. And unless the PSU turnover machine is just as finely tuned as it was against Miami, you probably end up with a Miami-OU rematch in the finals ... and another Miami win.

Next up: 1985, the year Michigan came so very, very, very close.