If you still have a team alive in the NFL playoffs, you’re one of the lucky few. For the rest of us, mid-January leaves an empty feeling. College football season is officially over. Just reading that last sentence out loud is almost enough to make my eyes wet.
So now we can turn our full attention to basketball. Or can we? I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. I feel no buzz, no excitement, and no anticipation for hoops right now. I don’t think I’m the only one. In this state, no one is talking basketball. Sure, the newspapers and local media will cover the games because they have to, but trust me, the fan bases of our state schools are not fired up. There is far more interest in the next football season than there is in the current basketball season.
Part of that is simply the climate in our state. Oklahoma is a football state, always has been, always will be. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of basketball tradition here. Henry Iba, Eddie Sutton, Wayman Tisdale, Billy Tubbs, the Griffin brothers, Nolan Richardson, and countless others have contributed to the hoops history of Oklahoma. But the truth is, no matter how many Final Fours the colleges rack up, and no matter how many dunks Kevin Durant throws down, basketball is never going to overtake football in the hearts and minds of Oklahomans.
Part of the basketball apathy is due to the unbelievable success of football in 2010 and what could transpire in 2011. OU is already one of the favorites to win a national championship, while OSU is getting its stars back and should start the season in the Top 10. Tulsa finished in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly 20 years, and the search for a new head coach is dominating the headlines in this part of the state. If there’s one constant in Oklahoma sports, it’s that it’s never too early to start talking football.
For the Oklahoma schools, the 2010 college football season came to a close last week. No need to stop talking football, however. It’s never too early to look ahead to 2011 and see what next season might have in store for the Sooners, Cowboys, and Golden Hurricane.
2010 was another banner year for Bob Stoops and the Sooners. OU will likely finish in the Top 10 when the final polls come out next week. With a 7th Big 12 title and those BCS demons finally exorcised, the Sooners will start 2011 as a favorite to play for the national championship.
UPSIDE – Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis gave Sooner fans belated Christmas presents this week when both announced they will return to Norman for their senior seasons. Broyles is OU’s most reliable offensive weapon. This season he hauled in 131 passes for over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns. About his decision, Broyles said, “We’ve got a chance to be a very good team next season and I really want to be a part of that.
Lewis is the heart and soul of the Sooner defense. Although he’s rated as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country, Lewis is far from satisfied. “I’m coming back to win a national championship point blank,” Lewis said in an OU press release. “Anything else would be a disappointment.”
Along with Lewis, the Sooner secondary is young and cornerback could be an especially strong position for Brent Venables’ defense. Freshman Tony Jefferson and Sophomore Demontre Hurst more than proved themselves this season. The DB duo combined for 115 tackles, five interceptions, 18 pass break-ups, and three forced fumbles.
With a gullet full of turkey and the anticipation of tomorrow’s Bedlam showdown, this weekend is simply the most wonderful time of the year.
Houses will be divided, trash will be talked, and twelve months of bragging rights will be on the line.
It’s tough to find an Oklahoman who doesn’t care about this game. But tomorrow, Bedlam will be foremost in the mind of a football crazed nation. The game has the prime time slot on ABC and ESPN’s College Gameday is setting up shop in Stillwater. I might make the journey to the land of orange if for no other reason than to give Erin Andrews my phone number. No doubt, I’m exactly what she’s looking for.
OSU is in unfamiliar territory because there has never been this much at stake for the Pokes. The program has never played for a Big 12 championship. Beat the Sooners, and the Cowboys will do just that. Not to mention OSU can secure the first 11-win season in school history and snap that pesky seven game losing streak to its in-state rival.
Pressure can do funny things to a football team, but the Cowboys have proven themselves in crunch time all year long. The Sooners? Well, not so much. OU still hasn’t figured out how to solve the equation of a road game on prime time TV against a highly ranked opponent. The win over Baylor was nice, but routing an overrated Bears team doesn’t mean the Sooners’ road issues have suddenly disappeared.
While the Sooners may have been victimized by expectations, the Cowboys came into this season without any. They’ve been a looser bunch because of it. When asked on a local sports radio show which of his players were playing over their heads, Mike Gundy named nearly every starter on both sides of the ball. Can Bob Stoops make that statement about any OU players outside of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles? I’m not so sure.
Here we are, nine games into this college football season and Mike Gundy has a better record than Bob Stoops. Raise your hand if you predicted this before the season. Anyone? If you do have your hand up, I’m calling you a liar or a massive OSU homer.
I guess I still find it funny that a coach with one loss can be considered brilliant and “having a great year,” but a coach with two losses has suddenly lost his way. Fans are fickle creatures, and the media only seems to add fuel to the fire.
Maybe we’re all in need of a little perspective, and as they say in politics, a move to the middle. A move away from the fringes of the fan bases who either view their coach as the second coming of Vince Lombardi or a no good bum who is slowly ruining their beloved football program all because a national title is out of reach.
What some fans simply cannot grasp is the impact of players on coaches. When a team loses or plays poorly, the coach takes the brunt of the criticism. Does he deserve blame? Absolutely. But a coach’s job is to put his players in a position to succeed. Then, it’s up to those players to execute as they’ve been taught.
Take the Sooners for example. Is it Bob Stoops’ fault when Landry Jones can’t catch a snap that hits him in the hands? Is Stoops on the hook for Jones’ overthrow of Kenny Stills on what could have been an easy six for Oklahoma? Didn’t Stoops dial up the perfect fake field goal call? Should James Hanna’s inability to catch a perfectly thrown football come back to Stoops? Of the course the answer is no on all accounts. I think sometimes we shy away from criticizing college athletes because they aren’t paid and these coaches are making millions. I know these kids are playing their hearts out and I would never question their will to win. But let’s remember, most of the coach’s job takes place Sunday through Friday, and when Saturday rolls around, it’s time for the players to do their job.
Two years ago Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was the man behind one of the greatest offensive juggernauts in school history. The Sooners put up 50 or more points in nine games and led the country in scoring offense. Sam Bradford was number one in the nation in passing efficiency and OU scored touchdowns on 85-percent of its trips to the red zone.
Was Kevin Wilson a genius two years ago who suddenly forgot how to coach? It sounds that way if you listen to the Sooner Nation. To some clad in crimson, Wilson is predictable, unimaginative, and washed up. Yes, I agree Wilson could have shown some creativity down near the goal line in OU’s loss to Texas A&M. But is it a bad play call to hand the ball to Demarco Murray inside the one yard line? How many times has that play resulted in a touchdown for the Sooners? It just so happens that this time around, the offensive line got no push and got blown off the ball by the Aggies defensive front. Is that Wilson’s fault?
I’m pleading for some perspective here, please. When are fans going to wake up and realize, “You know what, maybe this team just isn’t as talented as we thought before the season started.” DING! DING! DING! Congratulations on entering the world of sanity!
Now that we’re all feeling liberated, maybe we can also admit that Oklahoma State has far more talent than anyone realized. Mike Gundy is a very good football coach and he’s doing a fantastic job in Stillwater, but guess what? His players are making plays at crucial moments of every ballgame. Gundy and his staff have recruited well, and they’ve put their players in a position to win. Right now, the Cowboys are executing better than the Sooners. Brandon Weeden is already mature because he’s 83 years old (actually 27), but with every game, he’s growing up as a quarterback. No Dez Bryant? No big deal. Justin Blackmon is filling his shoes rather nicely. Kendall Hunter is the back he’s always been, and the unsung heroes of this OSU season are the big boys on the offensive line. They’re creating space for Hunter and time for Weeden. So is Gundy all of a sudden some kind of genius? No, but his players are making him look like one.
Justin Gent forced a fumble in the last minute against Troy to preserve a 41-38 OSU victory. With Texas A&M driving for the winning score, Shaun Lewis intercepted a pass to set up Dan Bailey’s game winning field goal. Johnny Thomas returned a pick for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at K-State, a play that blew the game wide open and allowed the Pokes to earn another road win. The right plays at the right time. OSU is getting them, OU isn’t.
For a heavier dose of perspective, consider the fact that the Sooners and Cowboys can still play for a conference championship. Both teams have the chance to end up in a BCS bowl. No, it’s not a national title, but it’s still better than 95-percent of the programs in the country.
Stoops and Gundy will accept the criticism and they will also deflect blame away from the players because that’s just the kind of men they are. Both will admit they don’t do everything right. Stoops desperately needs to find someone who can kick a 30-yard field goal, and he needs to find a way to inspire passion in his team when it leaves the confines of Memorial Stadium. Gundy must find a way to keep his team improving on the defensive side of the ball, and turn this recent success into lasting success. Both men are outstanding football coaches even if their stock seems to be heading in different directions. So before we go thinking that a loss makes a coach an idiot and win makes a coach infallible, let’s realize that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.