(Bumped From The FanPosts)
We need to take a step back and make so real assessments about this team. I know at the beginning of the year that many people including our fearless leader suggested that this year would be our year and number 8 was on the way back to Norman. We as fans wanted and needed to believe it was our year. BUT we should have been cautious in the eye test of this team knowing what we knew to start the year.
Before I get into what this team lacked this year, which athletic talent and coaching won't be my targets, we must address what most teams who win BIG (national championship) do have. The tangible things such as good coaching, great talent and a strong fan base can be had across the board by about 20 teams a year. Remember back to our last special season when we began at 19th in the polls and would be later crowned national champions for the 7th time. It is the intangibles that separate the good from the great. Theses intangibles include player leadership, injuries/depth and history of playmaking in crucial spots. You may say that these three feed off one another and you are correct.
Let's examine what these intangibles look like and then compare them to our beloved Sooners in 2011. This, I hope will help to give us a better understanding of what our expectations should be and should have been for this season which at this moment feels like a wasted opportunity and failure.
#1- Player Leadership
This is defined as players that take the onus on themselves to lead vocally and in performance. I believe that every championship team needs a vocal leader that when times get tough they infuse the confidence verbally that gets the players refocused on the goal (see Ray Lewis, Tim Tebow, Josh Heupel, Cam Newton). I caution you though when looking at this, the player that is the vocal leader CAN NOT be a "hype man" lacking performance even if he has been great before but is only average to below average now. I'll address who I believe fits that role on this year's Sooners team.
- Here are the facts about this year's Sooner team, we have a lack and a lost of leadership on this team. Please let me explain....Of our three potential leaders coming into the season, (Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis) one was injured prior to the season starting (Travis Lewis) and has never recovered which has bred a sense of discontent in his performance which has seeped into the rest of the team cuppled with the refusal of the Venables to take him off the field even though he two steps too slow to get to the plays he has been known to make (see Ryan Reynolds) and has seemingly stop being the voice of the team publicly due to his average performances. The second (Ryan Broyles) who is a non verbal leader with great production (see Barry Sanders, Andre Johnson, Mark Clayton) is injured and because he leads with action and not words he becomes a non-factor when he’s not on the field. Lastly, the QB who has never demonstrated a persona of leadership so when times get tough he tends to try and find someone else that will make the big play. It is not whether I feel that he has the ability but whether when the big moment comes does he believe he has the ability. Just to illustrate my reasoning, please do me a favor that will take great pains on many of you but rewind the Baylor game to the timeout when OU is preparing to go for two and take a look at the huddle on the sideline and an image was burned in my head, it was Blake Bell not Landry Jones, Travis Lewis or Ryan Broyles imploring his teammates to victory. I just hate we didn't see it play out but a leader was uncovered that night in Waco.
-I put these two things together because if you don't have injuries then depth is not as important but if you have depth then injuries can be worked through. If you are truly a Sooner fan then you are aware of the multitude of injuries that this year's team has experienced. Truly, starting with Austin Box, Travis Lewis, Dom Whaley, Ryan Broyles, Jamell Fleming, Tom Wort and the many other nicks and bumps that this season has thrown at us. Most championship teams (save Green Bay last year) experience few injuries of this nature. LSU and Alabama have not seen this type of carnage even after their slugfest in Tuscaloosa. Injuries at this level to these major players on your teams generally will cripple a team unless you have great depth. The fact is most teams don't have great depth unless the coaching staffs have prepared players that are not the starters to see time when games are still in doubt, to some degree.
-The facts are if we as Sooner fans were told to start the year that we would lose our starting running backs who is on his way to 1000 yards, Travis Lewis and 2 MLBs, the school's best wide receiver ever and a host of other players to injuries that cost them entire games and the compromise was that we would only win the Big 12 championship, I believe that we would all take it in a heartbeat. Many would probably state that we have one of the best coaching staffs in the country to make this magic happen but it is only the fact that our goal was a National Championship was our goal that Big 12 championships seem hollow. I will not let the coaching staff off the hook in this situation though, understanding that injuries happen, they have done a poor job in preparing the other athletes on the roster full of 3, 4 and 5 star recruits to be ready to play. There is no way to prepare for what appeared to be your two vocal leaders on defense to be essentially lost for the season. (Austin Box tragically and Travis Lewis to an injury that has rendered him a shell of himself all season). Although Corey Nelson has received much acclaim, he has yet to live up to the hype, Kenny Stills is not Ryan Broyles and the transfers of J. Miller and J. Calhoun have come back to bite this team. The coaches need to put this season in the memory bank and begin to get these young recruits real game action because when injuries strike depth can be the cure.
#3 Playmaking in crucial spots
When a team wins a championship they will be required to have least one player that fall into one of two categories. The first is players who have been playmakers in the past (Mark Ingram, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Josh Heupel) and players that come onto the scene making plays (Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Maurice Clarett, Torrance Marshall). These guys are the ones that pull games out of the fire when they appear lost and keep special seasons possible.
-Our Sooner team this season had some guys that you thought would fit these categories unfortunately they have all fallen to injuries. Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles are those guys that have been there and done that so you expect that when a play needed to be made they would come through and Dom Whaley appeared to be that guy that would make that "splash" on the football scene and be that savior in a game that needed to be pulled out of the fire. Rarely is there a guy that is not a play maker when he arrives and the "light goes on" in college and he becomes that playmaker you need to win a championship. So, for those of you that were thinking that maybe Landry Jones was that guy it is just not in his DNA to be a playmaker. He is a distributor and game manager, yes but a primetime playmaker, "no".
Based on this reasoning, whether you agree or not with all of my points, the facts are we won't be winning the crystal ball this year and it is because we don't have the intangibles to be a championship team aside from any issues you have with the coaching strategy and game plan. Had we know what we know now and truly pondered it with an objective eye rather than our hearts we would have accepted that without a play-making Travis Lewis on defense, no Ryan Broyles on offense or the immersion of an unknown playmaker/leader on either unit, a national championship was only a pipe dream.
P.S. There is a bit of good news though; I believe that we have found some positives headed into next season for a sense of optimism. You have a leader in Blake Bell assuming he wins the QB derby after Landry Jones leaves for the NFL. We can pray that injuries work in cycles, so next year we will have a much shorter injury report and that all the injuries that we have experienced this year have provided experience for many players on the roster and encouraged the coaches to get players into the game in case of injury. Lastly many guys have shown themselves to be playmakers and upon their return next season and the inevitable incoming recruiting class that someone becomes the needed playmaker on the defense side of the ball we sorely need (Tom Wort and an incoming safety hopefully). I believe we have to hitch our wagons to Blake Bell (just think Tebow at Florida) and pray for a similar result. Next year, I feel that #8 is more realistic then it was this year, all things considered.