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OSU-Tulsa football series a 'game-changer' for TU

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OSU's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs during a 2017 game in Stillwater. (Photo by Sarah Phipps)
OSU's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs during a 2017 game in Stillwater. (Photo by Sarah Phipps)


OSU football is in the Big 12. So the Cowboys consider themselves to be part of a Power 5 conference.

Tulsa is in the American Athletic Conference. The Golden Hurricane considers itself to be part of a Power 6 conference.

Nobody much talks about the Power 6. But that doesn’t mean Tulsa is wrong.

I learned a little about the attitude of American Conference schools last week when I chatted with TU athletic director Derrick Gragg about the new OSU-Tulsa football contract recently announced. The Cowboys and Hurricane will play an eight-game, home-and-home series from 2024-2031.

The series is good for OSU, which I wrote about for the Monday Oklahoman and which you can read here. It’s also quite a coup for Tulsa and the American.

“It always is a challenge,” Gragg said of scheduling Power 5 schools. “It’s hard to get teams like Oklahoma State to play.”

It’s not been easy for Tulsa to get home-and-home series with any Power 5 opponent. In fact, TU has fewer such contracts, either recently completed or upcoming, than any American Conference school except Navy, which plays Notre Dame, Army and Air Force every year non-conference and doesn’t attempt to schedule opponents from the Power 5.

The Golden Hurricane has played OU and OSU frequently in the last couple of decades, but always as part of 2-for-1 (or 3-for-1) contracts. The Tulsa-OSU series that starts in 2024 will be Tulsa’s first home-and-home series with a Power 5 opponent since Iowa State in 2012-13. TU’s other Power 5 home-and-homes this century were with Minnesota and Kansas.

Gragg said it’s “almost a mandate” from the American Conference that each school plays at least two Power 5 opponents. So Tulsa has played a litany of road games against often-traditional powers who do not return the game. Michigan State this season. Ohio State next season. Ole Miss and Washington in coming years. Texas and Arkansas last season. Plus the trips to Norman and Stillwater.

Tulsa is in the middle of the bidding war that has become college football scheduling. To bring in lower-level opponents that don’t require a return trip, the price tag is skyrocketing. So the Golden Hurricane has to counter that by playing a road game for the same reason.

“Schools like ours, we have only so many dollars,” Gragg said. “We have to balance it. Almost robbing Peter to Paul. It becomes tricky.” Of course, Tulsa makes a lot more money going to Michigan State or Ohio State than it does bringing in a Central Arkansas.

Here are the other American Conference teams and their recent or upcoming home-and-home series with Power 5 opponents:

Central Florida: Stanford, Pitt, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland.

South Florida: Georgia Tech, North Carolina state, Illinois, Syracuse, Florida State.

Connecticut: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Virginia, Boston College.

Temple: Georgia Tech, Miami, Rutgers, Duke, Boston College, Maryland.

Cincinnati: UCLA, Nebraska, Indiana, Pitt.

SMU: TCU, Baylor.

Houston: Arizona, Louisville, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Washington State, Kansas, Colorado, Utah.

Memphis: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Kansas, UCLA.

Tulane: Northwestern, Mississippi State, Duke, Iowa State, Georgia Tech.

Navy: None (the Midshipmen play Notre Dame every season, but designated Navy home games almost always are at a neutral site).

So Tulsa is quite a bit behind. And thankful that the OSU series has blossomed.

“We wanted to start with teams that are in our own backyard,” Gragg said. “It’s something Mike (Holder, OSU’s athletic director) and I have been discussing for several years.”

Gragg said the arrangement came together rather quickly. Holder made two trips to Tulsa to settle the contract. The latter, Gragg said, was to finalize dates, a mission that was accomplished in 30 minutes. Took longer to drive over.

Gragg said getting teams to Tulsa is not easy, and not just for financial reasons (Chapman Stadium seats 30,000, so big paydays are feasible). Many of the other American Conference locales are either recruiting hotbeds (Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Tampa) or destination cities that appeal to visiting fans.

“This is a game-changer for us,” Gragg said. “I had a trustee call after we announced this. He says he feels it’s the most significant thing that’s happened to us in years.”

The OSU series guarantees Tulsa a sellout for those dates and increases the value of a TU season ticket. And the expenses associated with an OSU series are minor compared to the expenses of a road trip to Florida Atlantic or Fresno State, other teams the Golden Hurricane has recently played.

Gragg said he’s in continued talks with OU and would like to play the Sooners as often as possible. Nothing is scheduled for the future between OU and Tulsa, but the Hurricane played in Norman in 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2005 and 2001, and the Sooners played in Tulsa in 2014, 2007 and 2002.

Gragg said American Conference commissioner Michael Aresco was “very excited” about Tulsa’s series with OSU series. “Enhances our brand.”

Gragg knows that the College Football Playoff is a distant hope for American Conference teams. But that doesn’t mean strength of scheduling doesn’t matter. The American has made a name for itself by often placing its champion in a New Year’s Six Bowl and doing well once it gets there.

In the 2015 season, Houston beat Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl. Two years later, Central Florida beat Auburn 34-27 in the Peach. Last season, Central Florida fell 40-32 to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl.

Even playing well in the regular season matters. “Look at how we played Texas this past year,” Gragg said of a 28-21 defeat in Austin. “It’s helpful across the board. Strength of schedule is very, very important and critical to teams trying to win the national championship. It’s more difficult for our teams to get into that mix, but we’re shooting for the New Year’s Six bowls. When Power 6 schools look at each other, when they look at the American Athletic Conference across the board, people know they’re getting a great opponent that helps with their strength of schedule.”

Related Photos
Oklahoma State's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs (29) in the second quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (TU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma State's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs (29) in the second quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (TU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017....

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-73d62c94b05a24b230b62e47cb4d3e64.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs (29) in the second quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (TU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman " title="Oklahoma State's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs (29) in the second quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (TU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman "><figcaption>Oklahoma State's Madre Harper (25) breaks up a pass intended for Tulsa's Justin Hobbs (29) in the second quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (TU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman </figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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