Ever since Oklahoma's final game against TCU wrapped up, I've been trying to decide if this season should be considered a success for the Sooners.
It was fun. OU overcame plenty of adversity to win 10 games and managed to pull out some nail-biters. The only losses came against teams that went a combined 23-1. And the Big 12 claims the Sooners won another conference championship.
I guess the most appropriate mark I could give these Sooners on their year-end evaluation would be "meets expectations." In fact, this is exactly where I expected they would end up in the first place.
But that brings us to the thornier issue of setting those expectations.
Back in the Sooners' salad days, it was taken as a matter of course that Bob Stoops would have his team in the title hunt. From 2000 to 2008, the Sooners played for four national championships, winning one.
This year marked the fourth in a row in which OU hasn't really factored into the national championship race. While some once-successful programs have managed to crash and burn lately – Texas comes to mind – Oklahoma has been slowly fading. Take a look at a four-year moving average of the Sooners' winning percentage since Bob Stoops started at OU in 1999:
*Four-year moving average.
**Bowl game still to be played.
Starting with the 2005 season, the overall trend in OU's record has been one direction: down. At best, you could say OU has plateaued. At worst, the decline indicates that the Sooners are gradually slipping down the ladder of the country’s elite college football programs.
Not coincidentally, Oklahoma's recruiting has gradually eroded during Stoops' tenure:
|Year||Rank*||4-Year Moving Avg.|
*Source: Rivals (2002 is first year with class rankings)
To this point, Rivals has OU's 2013 recruiting class ranked 29th in the country. If that holds up, the program's four-year moving average through that class would be 15.25.
That doesn’t exactly bode well for the future.
To be fair, Stoops and his staff have shown an ability time and again to identify and develop underrated high-school prospects. They truly have made due with less a number of times.
It's a nice story and all, but that dog won't hunt for a national championship with any kind of regularity. ("Cry me a fucking river," say 90 percent of college football fans.)
Taken as a whole, the trends paint a picture of a program running in quicksand. For whatever reason, OU’s coaches simply aren’t reeling in the same caliber of players that they once did. Not surprisingly, those players aren’t winning as many games as their more talented predecessors.
The Sooners are far from falling off the map, and their overall consistency speaks volumes to the quality of the outfit Stoops has set up. Still, Oklahoma has dropped from a program that should be expected to contend for a national championship to one that should be aspiring to win the Big 12.
Sooner fans can demand another national title all they want, but they can't change that reality.