The first three weeks of the 2016 season confirmed one of my main preseason suspicions about the Sooners. Although I certainly didn’t predict that OU would start the season 1-2, I figured that odds were stacked against another trip to the College Football Playoff, let alone actually competing for a national championship.
The fourth week – while the Sooners were sitting at home – confirmed to me that a very good season is still within OU’s reach.
OU’s start hasn’t exactly been impressive, but few teams have seen the same level of competition. To this point, the only team in the country that looks like it can stay on the field with Ohio State is Alabama. Houston, meanwhile, has dispatched of its overmatched foes fairly efficiently – the Cougars have won their other three games by an average of of about 40 points and outgained those three opponents by 2.5 yards per play.
The other squads that were supposed to challenge OU for the Big 12 crown? Not exactly setting the world on fire:
- Mistake-prone TCU has muddled through its first four games, including a shootout with what was expected to be an FCS patsy in South Dakota State.
- Oklahoma State still can’t run the ball, and the Cowboys got physically whipped by a Central Michigan team that lost to Virginia over the weekend.
- Texas’ program-rejuvenating win over Notre Dame feels less meaningful every time the Fighting Irish take the field, and California doesn’t exactly qualify as a good loss.
- Texas Tech continues to field an abomination of a defense.
You could argue that Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia have all surprised on the pleasant side. On the other hand, the best performance of the bunch so far this year might be a double-digit loss (KSU versus Stanford).
Long story short: I feel confident in saying that the Sooners have already played the two best teams on their schedule this season. It might not mean much in a year where the Big 12 is markedly down, but OU still looks like the conference’s top team to me.
That actually turns up the pressure on Bob Stoops and his staff from here on out – expectations being a bitch and whatnot.
Whether or not the Playoff or a national championship were reasonable hopes for this season, they were clearly team goals nonetheless. It hasn’t been hard to pick up on the disappointment conveyed by the players and coaches following the two September losses.
Teams check out mentally all the time when their dreams get crushed so early in the year. It's a situation that is begging for a limp to the finish line. Yet, raise your hand if you think Sooner Nation will want to hear that in December should Stoops and Co. fail to get their players up off the deck.
Still, the issues facing the team on the field seem fixable. The offense needs more Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and less Baker Mayfield. The defense could primarily use more consistency from the right cornerback position, along with a little more heat from the pass rush.
A strong finish should continue to propel the Sooners to their best recruiting class in years and build some deserved buzz for 2017. If OU folds down the stretch, though, the hot seat chatter in Norman this offseason will undoubtedly hit a level never before heard in Stoops' tenure.
Either way, Stoops won't be going anywhere after this season. Incessant speculation about your job, however, sounds like a miserable way to spend your offseason.