Just 15 months ago, naysayers aplenty were ready to write the obituary for Bob Stoops and Oklahoma football.
Coming off an appearance in the national championship game, the Sooners had just dropped their season opener in surprisingly inept fashion to Brigham Freakin' Young. OU had already lost stud tight end Jermaine Gresham in the preseason to what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury. The Cougars had just ruined Sam Bradford's Heisman Trophy defense by knocking the Sooners' star QB out of the game with a separated shoulder.
It was more than just the injuries, though. The offensive line looked tough as tissue paper. The receivers played like double agents. Stopping play-action was like asking the defense to take a quantum physics test.
Forget "Big Game Bob." The bigger issue was whether or not Stoops had the Sooners careening towards the abyss.
Orangebloods.com publisher Geoff Ketchum gladly grabbed a shovel and started throwing dirt on the Crimson and Cream's casket. In a magnum opus of aggrandizement entitled "The worm turns for the Longhorns and Sooners," Ketchum painstakingly chronicled the foibles of Sooner football, which he presented in stark relief to the juggernaut Mack Brown had built down in Austin.
The reality, according to Ketchum, was that Stoops had lost his way and become the Mack of old. Instead of tracking down the kind of gutty gamers who had brought him such early success, Stoops was out chasing eye-popping talent from Tulsa to Timbuktu. (Just like the Nazis!)
At the same time, the Longhorns head coach had seen the error of his ways and opted to forgo the flash in favor of "players that will bleed for the honor of the Texas football program." Forget the bad eggs and prima donnas, Mack "always knew that he'd have enough talent, but he wanted guys that would come out of a street fight alive and he needed them to be honor roll students at the same time."
Bottom line, per Ketchum: "Mack Brown's program is tough, scrappy and never quits... Meanwhile, the Sooners have become the Glass Joe of college football."
Texas was only beginning to tighten a vice grip on the Big 12 that would probably last "several more years at minimum."
We all saw how 2009 turned out: UT won its second Big 12 title in the Brown era and made it to the national championship game. OU continued to muddle along and finished the season 8-5, the team's worst record since Stoops' first season.
Fast forward to December 2010, and you'd be amazed at just how quickly that worm can turn.
The Sooners have been crowned kings of the Big 12 for the seventh time in Stoops' 12-year tenure in Norman. Even as an Okie, I can tell you that's a pretty good percentage.
The kids who took all those lumps for OU in '09 comprised the core of a conference championship team a year later. They won blowouts, dogfights and everything in between on the way to 11 victories against a schedule ranked by Jeff Sagarin as the eighth-toughest in the country. They're favored to notch their 12th win of the season on New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut.
Oh, and of the 47 players listed on OU's official two-deep, eight are seniors.
South of the Red River, someone must have missed the memo about the Big 12's balance of power swinging Austin's way.
There will be no bowl game – BCS or otherwise – for Texas' team of tough guys this year. Bullies like Iowa State and Kansas State took their lunch money one too many times. As the season wore on, it was more like the Longhorns forked their dough over without a fuss. In their own house.
Monday's announcement that three longtime Texas assistants had all "decided" to move on indicates that even Mack knows its time to retool.
Of course, as much as outsiders may enjoy wallowing in the burnt orange misery of it all, a program with UT's resources and access to talent won't stay down for long. It would be shocking to see the 'Horns finish outside the bowl picture again any time soon. They'll be back competing for conference and national championships faster than the haters think.
Still, this season offered up yet another reminder that in the bigger picture, Stoops and his Sooners have run rings around Mack and Co. Somehow, someway, OU keeps coming out on top.