At the end of the 1999 season, the fact that the Oklahoma Sooners were even heading to the Independence Bowl seemed like a miracle.
Sooner Nation had suffered through four long years since its last bowl invitation in Gary Gibbs' final season as head coach. During the co-reign of terror of Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake, OU had sunk to the depths of college football.
In his first year, new head coach Bob Stoops had infused a little life back into the program. A winning season and the reward of a trip to Shreveport seemed like the best things to happen to OU football in a while.
A decade later, OU fans are looking forward to an invite to the Sun Bowl with about as much disdain as Mack Brown treats a recruiting trip outside of Texas.
Plenty of top-notch football players passed through Norman in the 2000s and contributed to OU's return to glory. Putting together just one team of the Sooners' best of the decade seems like an exercise in futility, not to mention a big-time cliché. Yet, what self-respecting college football blogger wouldn't take advantage of this kind of opportunity to shoot some fish in a barrel?
Hell, for good measure, I'll even hand out some awards.
Oklahoma Sooners All-Decade Team
Assistant Coach of the Decade: Mike Stoops
Bob's little brother deserves this award just for the defensive game plan that he drew up for the 2001 Orange Bowl. Truth is, there's a faction of Sooner fans who believe OU's chances to win another national championship left town with Mike when he took over at Arizona in late 2003. Either way, in the earlier half of the decade, the Stoops brothers made OU the country's pre-eminent defense in college football.
Offensive Player of the Decade: Sam Bradford
Running back Quentin Griffin has a stronger case for this award than you'd imagine. However, in 2007 and 2008, Bradford put together the best back-to-back seasons for a quarterback in OU history. The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner finished his career with the highest passer efficiency rating in college football history. His final season in Norman didn't go as planned, but as OU has struggled mightily in his absence, his true value to the program has only been magnified.
Defensive Player of the Decade: Roy Williams
Williams was a lock for this distinction the moment he left his feet to break up a Chris Simms pass in the waning moments of the 2001 Red River Shootout, securing a victory in one of the most exciting plays in the history of Sooner football. In reality, it was just one of hundreds of big plays made by one of college football's most dominant defenders in the 2000s. A hellacious hitter, Williams left his mark on countless opponents, defining the new breed of run-stuffing safeties.
Most Valuable Player: Josh Heupel
Bradford may have been the "best" quarterback to come through Norman in the 2000s, but no player was more valuable to OU's success this decade than Heupel. After leading the Sooners on one of the more impressive regular season runs in recent college football history in 2000, the runner-up bested Heisman winner Chris Weinke and the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl to bring home the crystal in Bob Stoops' second year as OU's head coach. That title sparked a decade of Big 12 conference dominance by the Sooners and helped return OU to college football's elite. Heupel's role in the program's success didn't end there, though, as he has proven himself to be one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country since joining the OU staff.