Is the Oklahoma Dynasty Over?
Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions
|Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor||Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst|
The mighty have fallen. Goliath is no longer. We all should have seen this coming really. Looking at the scores, the statistics, the faces of the players in recent years. For however great the Oklahoma Sooners have been since the dawn of the millennium, they are no more.
I had the chance to stand on the field during the 2003 Sugar Bowl for the BCS national title when LSU beat Oklahoma, 21-14. The margin wasn’t great, but the defeat was, coming just weeks after the Sooners lost an undefeated season and the Big 12 title game to Kansas State, 35-7. Not by a field goal, but by 28 points. It didn’t seem that the two end-of-season losses would be crippling, and the Sooners went undefeated in 2004 until the Orange Bowl—which I’ll get to in a second. But look at the scores against ranked teams in 2004 and the margin is slim.
Which brings us to the first week in January ‘05 in Miami. It was a clear, undisputed whupping put on by USC. The Trojans made the Sooners look like a J.V. team. They couldn’t do anything - stop USC or score on them. Once again, in a major game, the Sooners failed to show up.
Which brings us to the present. Oklahoma is 1-2 in 2005 and knocked out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1999. The Sooners lost to TCU and UCLA, sandwiched around a win over Tulsa. Now UCLA is a pretty good football team but Oklahoma losing, 41-24? The Sooner offense is averaging 297.3 yards per game and their leading receiver has just 165 yards. Get this: in three games, roughly a quarter of the season, Oklahoma has yet to throw for a touchdown. That’s right. None.
Oklahoma is still a good and proud football program, but it is no longer one of the giants. USC, LSU and perhaps, Texas, have supplanted them on top. Yes, they keep beating the Longhorns, and may do so again this year, but they no longer cause fear in their opponents—and that’s the true sign of greatness. Maybe Bob Stoops and his staff got complacent; maybe other schools have narrowed the gap; maybe I am reading too much into all of this. Maybe. Maybe not.
I could pretty much end my argument right there and it would be enough.
In college football, possibly more than any other sport, coaching is everything. How many times have you seen a coach come into a losing program and turn out a winning season immediately with generally the same kids as the year before? Not too often. It takes a special coach. Bear Bryant, Ara Parseghian, Bob Devaney, Darrell Royal and LaVell Edwards are some of the few that have done that.
Add Bob Stoops to this list. He turned the John Blake mistake of 12 wins in three years and molded his first team into a seven-win outfit in his first year. Since then, his charges have never won fewer than 11 games in a single season.
His preparation, in-game adjustments, knack for hiring effective coaches and keeping his players at a high confidence level are nearly second to none. See, there’s a reason the NFL and other high-profile college programs make a run at him each off-season. He’s hot property and rightly so.
A 1-2 start? That’s not going to derail this team, this program or this head honcho. This is a temporary blip on the radar. As long as Stoops is king, the Sooners won’t fall off the national map.
So they’ve lost two games after three straight years of playing in BCS bowls. That happens in college football. You can’t win every game, every week of every year. Not in this day and age. But there’s one thing that can’t be denied – Stoops can recruit and his recruits can win.
It would be different if the Sooners were like the aforementioned Huskers of the Frank Solich era with middle-of-the-road recruiting classes, and losing a handful of games here and there. OU has had Top 10 recruiting classes in the last four years. The talent level remains high in Norman. Sure, the rough edges need some ironing out, but do these kinds of recruiting results signify a program on the decline? I’d say that’s a certain “no” answer to that question.
In fact, one of OU’s more celebrated recent recruits showed a lot of promise in the Rose Bowl vs. UCLA. Quarterback Rhett Bomar’s improvement from start No. 1 to start No. 2 was significant. He ran effectively on several options, didn’t freak out after taking some tough hits and went 20-for-29 on the day with no interceptions. In time, I think he is certainly a star in the making.
And finally, that funny green stuff. Yep, money. Oklahoma is one of those top-flight programs that never has to worry about going into the red. The luxury boxes, the training facilities, the Legends Lobby. This place has some deep-pocketed alumni. I can’t imagine a first class joint like this is ever going to run out of ways to wow recruits. Success breeds success, and Stoops & Co. have all the resources to keep the Sooners in that kind of cycle.
If they DO go something like 7-4 this year, don’t hassle it. They’ll merely show all those five-star recruits the national championship banners, the over-stuffed trophy case, all that bling-bling and voila, the place once again sells itself. In the words of Jake the Snake Roberts, “cruel but fair.”
Done? Over? El Fin? Good night people! Don’t be so jumpy.