Let’s take a trip back to the year 2005.
The Oklahoma Sooners had won one national championship in the previous five years and played for two more in that span. They won the Big 12 in three of those five years. Jason White, a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, had just graduated. In April, 11 Sooners were selected in the NFL draft, including two in the first round and three in the second.
Despite all the roster churn, OU entered the season ranked No. 7 in the nation. The Sooners promptly lost their first game of the season at home to TCU, a Mountain West Conference team that finished the previous year 5-6 overall.
After switching quarterbacks to touted freshman Rhett Bomar, OU escaped an upset bid in Norman by the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 31-16, in a game in which generational talent Adrian Peterson ran the ball 32 times for 220 yards. The Sooners got smacked a week later at the Rose Bowl by the UCLA Bruins, handled Kansas State in their next game, and then took a 45-12 beating from the Texas Longhorns that wasn’t even as close as the score would suggest.
Through five games, OU had a 2-3 record.
If you squint, you can see some similarities between the ‘05 OU team and the 2022 squad – beyond just the lackluster starts to their seasons. Seven OU players went in this year’s NFL draft, and they were joined in their exodus by a slew of transfers following former head coach Lincoln Riley’s departure. The ‘22 Sooners also lost one of the best QBs in college football from the previous year’s team, Caleb Williams, and they’ve struggled with inconsistency at the position to start the year.
Both squads also saw the one player they couldn’t live without get injured. Back then it was Peterson, who was in and out of the lineup most of the season with an ankle injury. This year, a concussion suffered by Dillon Gabriel left a perilously thin QB room severely undermanned last week as Texas stomped a 49-0 hole in OU’s backside in the Cotton Bowl.
(Coincidentally, in 2005, OU played Kansas immediately after getting waxed by UT, and the Jayhawks didn’t completely suck. That KU team finished the season 7-5, a mark that seems to be within reach for the Sooners’ opponent on Saturday.)
It turned out in ‘05 that OU played some pretty good teams in the first five games:
- TCU went 11-1 and won the Mountain West Conference;
- UCLA finished the season 10-2;
- Texas won the freaking national championship.
Even Tulsa went 9-4 that year. It was a rough slate of games to start the season for a team that had so much to replace.
The Sooners closed the ‘05 regular season on a 5-1 tear in their final six games, leading into a Holiday Bowl win over the No. 6 Oregon Ducks. (The only loss in that stretch? This one.) Peterson got healthy and rushed for 700 yards in the final five games. Bomar stopped fumbling snaps. Freshmen Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias emerged as OU’s top receiving threats. Underclassmen like linebacker Rufus Alexander and defensive backs Reggie Smith and Nic Harris started showing promise as a core for the future on defense.
Was that considered a success in Norman? By most standards against which OU measures its program, not really. It did, however, set the stage for a run of three consecutive Big 12 championships from 2006 to 2008 – a first in the league’s history – and one appearance in the national championship game. And once the season was over, OU landed a recruiting class that Rivals ranked No. 9 in the country. A few names from that group: Gerald McCoy, Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Demarco Murray and Trent Williams.
The parallels to now aren’t perfect. This year’s squad is undergoing an overhaul on both sides of the ball under a new coaching staff. First-year head coach Brent Venables has to repair a defense that hasn’t come close in a long time to performing at the level of what the Sooners were doing when he was OU’s defensive coordinator in the 2000s. Not to mention, reforms to the transfer system in college football have added another variable in roster management for Venables that Bob Stoops didn’t face back in the day.
OU’s horrific play in its three-game losing streak, particularly in the last two weeks, has jarred everyone. But it really wasn’t that long ago that an OU team was in a similar spot as it is now. The start of the ‘05 season was ugly. After all the cracks in its foundation were exposed, the team improved as the season wore on.
As part of that coaching staff, Venables should recognize now what the goal for this team should be through the end of the season. It doesn’t take a grand plan for the future. Just get better. Do that, and the rest will work itself out.