Let’s be clear, the start of the 2016 season was not the best for our beloved Sooners. We lost two early out of conference games and it seems like the season is lost before it really even got started. I was sitting in the stands for both of the losses, and I admit that I had fleeting moments of shame and a sneaking feeling of doom. In the days following the loss to Ohio State, I started to hear rumblings from the fan base that the time to fire Bob Stoops had finally arrived. This is not the first time a big loss has spurred on this conversation, and again I am dumbfounded.
We did lose two out-of-conference games to Houston and Ohio State, and essentially ends our chances of making the playoffs. However, let’s take an objective look at the two losses of the season thus far. Houston has a talented veteran football team captained by Tom Herman, who is one of the front-runners for Coach of the Year. I think when the season ends Houston will end up ranked in the top 15, if not higher depending on the outcome of their matchup with Louisville in November. If they were in a Power 5 conference, would we still feel as shocked as we do about the loss?
Then there’s Ohio State, one of the perennial powerhouses. Even though they had some important losses from last year’s squad, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Urban Myer is a lock for the Hall of Fame, J.T. Barrett is a beast, and their defense has several players who will be playing on Sundays in the future. The simple truth is that there are really no weak spots on their team and they are aligned to make a deep run in the playoffs, if not to win the championship outright. Let’s be honest, it’s not like we lost to Kansas or a FCS school. When you have the gumption to schedule strong out of conference teams, you risk losing some of those games. I’d rather go down against a ranked team than arrange a series of cupcake games as is popular in the SEC. We are not afraid to play any team in the country, and that is a championship mindset that I hope we never lose.
Ever since the loss to Ohio State, things have been getting better for the Sooners. The offense seems to be finding its groove, and the defense is showing improvements as well. The win at TCU was probably closer than it should have it been, as OU controlled most of the game. It was a prototypical Big 12 game where high-flying spread offenses outpaced the defenses. Mistakes were made on defense, and a few blown coverage assignments led to explosive plays that allowed an outmatched TCU to sneak back into the game. In the end, OU started to pull everything together and walked away with a victory. The Texas game was also closer than it should have been. On paper, OU should have smoked a struggling Texas squad that lost to Cal and OSU. However, we all know that rankings and statistics go out the window for the Red River Shootout. Texas is notorious for showing up for the game every year (with the exception of 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2012) no matter how bad their team is, and that’s what makes the rivalry so special. Any win in the rivalry is a win to be proud of. The offense found its stride putting up 390 yards through the air and 282 yards on the ground. Dede Westbrook finally emerged as the No. 1 receiving threat, putting up a phenomenal 232 yards and 3 TDs. Long story short, the Sooners found their groove on offense. The defense also seemed to get their act together, and while it was not a perfect showing, it was an improvement. They were able to hold Texas to 245 passing yards and 180 yards rushing. Turnovers were the only thing that kept Texas in the game. The 38-17 win last weekend over Kansas State again showed signs of improvement on both sides of the ball. While K-State is not the best team the Sooners will play, they are captained by Bill “The Silver Fox” Snyder who has perfected the art of doing more with less. Remember that K-State entered the game with the Big 12’s top defense, and the Sooners didn’t even seem to notice. If the trend of showing improvement from game to game continues, I can see the Sooners winning out the season, putting another Big 12 championship on the mantel and grabbing a decent bowl game invite.
So what happened this year? How did we go from ranked as the No. 3 team in the nation to where we are now? It’s simple - pre-season polls are absolutely worthless. These polls use the previous year’s performance to predict this season’s outcome, despite the fact that teams lose about ¼ of their team each year and replace them with untested players. Yeah, we returned Baker Mayfield and two NFL-bound running backs in Mixon and Perine. Yet, if anyone had bothered to look, we lost our only real receiving threat in Sterling Sheppard, who dug us out of many pickles last year with clutch plays. Our offensive line is a patchwork sprinkled with youth, and we lost most of our star power on defense. In essence, this is a re-building year for the Sooners. The team has talent all over the field, but that talent is young and vastly inexperienced compared to last year’s squad. When you look at the team this year, it really is no surprise that we are sitting at 4-2 with our only losses to ranked teams.
It seems that no matter how well the Sooners do year in and year out, there is always a contingent of fans that call for Bob Stoops’ head any year we don’t walk away with a national championship. We as fans have gotten too accustomed to the taste of victory. We have won so many Big 12 championships that we take them for granted. How spoiled are we? Yeah, we have no hope of winning a national championship this year. However, we are sitting at 3-0 in the Big 12 and things are looking up. It is very conceivable that we win out the rest of the season and find ourselves sitting pretty at 10-2 with another one of those pesky Big 12 championship trophies collecting dust in our trophy case. In the end, we need to find some perspective and some humility.
Bob Stoops is not perfect, and there are always improvements that can be made. However, look at what he has done for OU football. Do we so easily forget the 1990’s? Bob pulled us out of a decade-long funk, turned a scrappy team of overlooked players into national champions his second year, took us to four national championship games, and has won 10 conference titles in 16 seasons. There are only a handful of coaches out there that can match that resume. Stoops is a victim of his own success and is dealing with unrealistic expectations that no coach could ever live up to.
Beyond pure football stats, Stoops is the kind of coach that you want to captain the Sooners. He does not put up with shady activities on or off the field. He is not a scandal waiting to happen. He is loyal, consistent, and the type of mentor that 18 to 22 year old kids need. We should consider ourselves lucky to have him. To those naysayers, I ask you this: who would you replace him with? Nick Saban is not going to leave his empire at Alabama, and neither is Urban Myer. Art Briles was fired in shame for covering up sexual assaults; is that the type of character we want to promote at OU? I can’t see any realistic scenario where replacing Stoops improves our odds of winning a national championship, if anything it risks throwing the program into disarray. In summary, 2016 is a rebuilding year and all is not lost. We can still put together a great season. Stoops has put together a top ranked recruiting class for the future. The Sooners play is improving each week and we are on track for another Big 12 championship. We need to quit acting like spoiled fans and recognize that we are a national power house because of Bob Stoops, not in spite of him. Please, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.