(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing Oklahoma's upcoming football season.)
About a year ago, Bob Stoops set tongues wagging around the Sooner State and the college football world at large when he said that the time had come for Oklahoma to win another national championship.
It was a bold proclamation along the lines of what you'd expect from Steve Spurrier, one of Stoops' mentors, but out of character for Stoops himself. OU's coach may be cocky, but he normally plays up the "one game at time" spiel in the offseason. It naturally caught longtime OU fans off-guard when he embraced the expectations for a team that entered 2011 as the nation's consensus No. 1 team.
Don't count on hearing Stoops break character with that kind of tough talk much more in the future. He was back to his old self this week at Big 12 Media Days, playing up the "that means nothing" angle when asked about OU's status as league favorite.
The Sooners started the '11 season like the baddest dudes on the block, but they began playing like they were putting a ton of stock in their press clippings somewhere around Oct. 9. That was the day after OU slaughtered blood rival Texas in a 55-17 blowout in the Cotton Bowl.
The next week, OU slept walk through a victory over a putrid Kansas team. It was easy to write it off as a letdown game following the big win in the Red River Shootout... Until the Sooners laid an all-time egg a week later.
I've witnessed some odd OU performances in my day, but last year's defeat at the hands of Texas Tech takes the cake. You could chalk it up to any number of factors – injuries, Seth Doege playing the game of his life, a weather delay before the game that sent Owen Field's denizens scrambling. Whatever the case may be, the Red Raiders made the Sooners pay for one of their most lethargic performances in recent memory. OU played that night with an attitude; the problem was that it was something along the lines of "who gives a fuck?"
Afterwards, the loss led to plenty of finger-pointing in the press among the players. Despite flashes of the powerhouse witnessed in the early portion of the season, the season descended into a psychic unraveling the rest of the way. The final product was nice enough – a 10-3 record and an Insight Bowl win. That dog won't hunt at a program like OU, though. Especially when your Bedlam rival gets its rocks off on you. Especially when you start the season with talk of a national championship.
Of course, plenty has happened in the last seven months. Turnover on the roster has been extreme, including the indefinite suspensions of three players expected to contribute at wide receiver. For the first time in his career, Stoops fired a position coach, Willie Martinez. The move made way for Mike Stoops to return in what was envisioned as a co-defensive coordinator role with Brent Venables. Venables promptly high-tailed it out east to Clemson, making way for Tim Kish, Mike's right-hand man at Arizona, to take over the linebackers.
If the play on the field didn't tip you off, it's hard to ignore the message behind Bob's moves: OU had some serious chemistry issues in '11. In that respect, Sooner fans have to at least consider the prospect that the Crimson and Cream showed the early warning signs of an empire in decline last year.
We've now reached the eve of two-a-days, and from the outside looking in, it certainly feels as though OU's system underwent a purification process that would put Master Cleanse to shame. It makes for a nice story and all, but a reboot doesn't work if what you've really got is a virus.
Mike has a well-earned reputation as a defensive mastermind. Bob remains one of the sport's elite coaches. The thought of them roaming the sidelines together again – with massive chips on their shoulders – conjures up memories of dominance and championships gone by.
But the idea that everything is back under control? Right now, that's worth about as much Stoops' bravado last summer.