Before last season, Bob Stoops proclaimed that it was about time for the Sooners to win another national championship. When it was all done, the Sooners didn’t even wind up with bragging rights in their own state.
It’s been more than a decade since Stoops won his only crystal ball, back in 2000 in his second season. Last year, he returned a talented group touted as the country’s No. 1 team in the preseason and then watched them lose three games, including a 44-10 rout by an Oklahoma State team that finished the season ranked No. 3.
The Sooners? They capped another 10-win season with an Insight Bowl victory and a distinct feeling of “not good enough.”
Stoops said his Sooners have not consistently lived up to high expectations on defense.
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“For a lot of years, we did have a strong defensive reputation and felt like a lot of years that’s what we hung our hat on,” he said. “To not be that way in a few games was bothersome.”
The Sooners are stacked with talent again this year and were picked by Big 12 media to win an unprecedented eighth title in the conference’s 17th year in existence. This time, it’s with their pride smarting.
Stoops brought his brother, Mike, back to coordinate a defense that has at times struggled to keep up with the Big 12’s juggernaut offenses. When the Stoopses were together before, they produced a defense that was consistently among the five best in the nation and was the reason Oklahoma won the 2000 national title game.
“I think our players are excited. They want redemption. They don’t feel good about what happened, they’re tired about hearing about what happened a year ago,” Mike Stoops said. “We understand what happened and that’s gone forever. I’ll be surprised if they don’t come back with vengeance in those games and take it personal. I hope they do. We’re tired of hearing about it and now it’s time to do something about it.”
The Sooners’ supremacy in the state had been waning for years. Mike Gundy has built a strong program in Stillwater on a foundation created by Les Miles’ back-to-back Bedlam wins the years after Oklahoma won it all.
Two seasons ago, Gundy’s Cowboys had to settle for a share of the Big 12 South crown when Oklahoma pulled off a 47-41 win on the road and snatched away the berth in the league title game that the Sooners would also win.
Last season, Oklahoma State finally kicked down the door after eight straight Bedlam losses and got its first conference title since 1984 and first BCS bowl trip.
The spoils turned up in recruiting when safety Kevin Peterson reversed a recent trend, breaking his commitment to Oklahoma and signing with the Cowboys instead. All-American receiver Ryan Broyles and starting cornerback Demontre Hurst made celebrated switches in the opposite direction in recent years.
The way Gundy sees it, Oklahoma State has moved up into the second tier of programs across the nation, joining about a dozen others that are well-known but still don’t have the clout of the sport’s historic powerhouses.
“We’re not in that top five or six schools yet because there’s still times we’re trying to get in on players and we don’t have the same name as some school that’s been out there and doing well for 40 or 50 years,” Gundy said. “But I think people see Oklahoma State differently, not only in this state but I think in the regional area. You can wear a shirt or a hat with our logo on the East Coast or West Coast now and people recognize who that is, and it’s based on the success that we have had as a team over the last two or three years.”
As Oklahoma State breaks in a freshman starting quarterback and deals with the loss of NFL first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, four-year starter Landry Jones and Oklahoma have a chance to try and stomp out the Stillwater uprising.
That means eliminating the kind of embarrassments that took place last season – a 41-38 loss to unranked Texas Tech that snapped a 39-game home winning streak, a school-record 616 yards allowed in a 45-38 loss to Baylor that helped propel Robert Griffin III to the Heisman Trophy and that Bedlam thrashing.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily vengeance. We’re not mad at Texas Tech. We’re not mad at OSU. We’re not mad at anybody. We’re mad at ourselves,” defensive end R.J. Washington said. “We let that happen. We let them embarrass us. We let that home streak get messed up because we wanted to lollygag in the locker room because the game got delayed. We controlled that.”
Washington said the Sooners are already late fixing what went wrong, so now they need to “double-time” to make up for it.
“You come off a three-loss season where you felt you should have been undefeated,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “That hurts you inside and gives you a different perspective on what you need to change in the upcoming season.”