The momentum from the win is paying dividends in terms of buzz. After running his mouth for months, Bob Stoops hit the talk show circuit with abandon Friday. Once again, OU’s head coach saw his name pop up in NFL coaching searches. Meanwhile, quarterback Trevor Knight is showing up on ridiculously early 2014 Heisman Trophy lists.
The victory is helping on the recruiting trail as well with the Sooners getting a commitment Saturday from coveted prep running back Joe Mixon. Mixon, ranked as the No. 9 recruit in the country by Rivals.com, said during his announcement Saturday that the Sugar Bowl sealed the deal for him.
Whereas OU ended last season looking listless and stale, beating “the big bad wolf” has given the program some juice heading into 2014.
If there’s one takeaway from this season for me, it’s that the Sooners are, in fact, back. To me, though, that probably means something a little different than most.
When Bob Stoops arrived in Norman in 1999, he was taking over a proud program that had turned into a national laughingstock. John Blake, arguably the worst head coach at a major college football program in the modern era, bequeathed Stoops some talented players with absolutely no direction. With the Big 12 gathering strength after three years in existence, OU had to get creative if it wanted to compete.
Hence, Stoops blended his aggressive, blitz-friendly defensive philosophy with Mike Leach’s anomalous Air Raid to form a high-octane brand of football. (At the time, it was actually unconventional for the Big 12.) He moved players to different positions. He didn’t hesitate to do the unexpected and he piled up a ton of wins in the process.
Of course, creativity only gets you so far. When the unconventional is successful, it pretty quickly becomes convention. The rest of the college football world caught up to Stoops, and it’s fair to say he took on a more conservative mindset as OU morphed from upstart to established power. The Sooners shifted in ways that forced opponents to adapt, such as the installation of a hurry-up, no-huddle offense in 2007. On the whole, though, OU’s attitude felt more “we do what we do” than “no one knows what the hell we’re going to do.”
The 2013 Sooners evoked memories of Stoops’ early teams that shocked the world. Between floundering recruiting and a rash of player attrition in the last few years, the talent level on this team fell well below its predecessors. Furthermore, a number of the squad’s key contributors were lost to injury. The scrutiny on Stoops and his staff following the previous year’s disappointing finish only added a degree of difficulty.
Ironically, all of those obstacles forced the program out of its comfort zone and into some necessity-driven invention. It started with installing a hybrid 3-4/3-3-5 defense on the fly in August. It culminated in an offensive sea change against the Crimson Tide that had OU’s redshirt freshman QB channeling Drew Brees. In between, there were a bevy of gadget plays and gambles that paid off more often that not.
Even though OU struggled through some rough patches, the overall body of work suggests this was the best coaching job of Stoops’ career.
The expectations for Oklahoma in 2014 just skyrocketed. The Sooners should start the year near the top of the polls and have a manageable schedule. They’re also bringing back a number of key pieces on both sides of the ball, including what looks to be a budding star at QB.
But, best of all, the program appears to have recaptured the edge and ingenuity that made Bob Stoops Big Game Bob.