Sunday, 29 November 2015

Could Oklahoma be this season's Ohio State?

We all know Bob Stoops' theory on the good loss vs. bad loss thing by now.

A good loss is akin to having a good bout with kidney stones. There's no such thing.

Here's another theory: Stoops' streaking Oklahoma football team looks like the kind nobody wants a part of right now after the No. 3 Sooners all but locked up their spot in the College Football Playoff with a 58-23 Bedlam beatdown of Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Boone Pickens Stadium.

There's some irony here, too, because nobody in the playoff is going to have a worse loss this season than the Sooners, who were ambushed by rival Texas, 24-17, back on Oct. 10 in a Red River Showdown stunner that's still hard to explain.

But if this all sounds familiar, go back about a year ago to another team playing its best football at just the right time, winning big games away from home and all the while dragging around with it an inexplicable loss earlier in the season.

Ohio State followed this same blueprint to a national championship in the inaugural CFP last season after losing by two touchdowns to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season.

But just like a clunker of a loss didn't sink the Buckeyes' hopes last season, it didn't sink the Sooners' hopes this season. As Stoops so prophetically pointed out earlier this week, it's about who have you beaten and where you beat them.

Oklahoma has beaten a pair of 10-win teams on the road in the past three weeks (Oklahoma State and Baylor) and also beat an eight-win team on the road back in September (Tennessee). And now with an outright Big 12 championship, Stoops' ninth Big 12 title at Oklahoma in 17 years, he doesn't see that there's any debate, especially with the Sooners sitting at No. 3 last week. Notre Dame losing at Stanford also helped.

"I didn't know Notre Dame lost, but you just figure that you're third and go to a championship game away from home to the No. 9 team in the country and win by [35] points that you'd only move up," Stoops said. "You certainly wouldn't move back."

All the Sooners have done since that Texas debacle is look forward. And, really, it goes back further than that.

Senior defensive end Eric Striker, the emotional leader of the team, said losing to Clemson in the bowl game last season sparked a change that has galvanized the Sooners.

"If there was ever going to be a year where you made a movie about the Sooners, I guess this would be the year," Striker said. "Tell them directors to get it right because from the spring to now, we've made a great jump and the guys have really responded well, and I'm so proud of the young guys for coming along.

"You want to get better as each game goes on, and that's what we've done. It's just seemed to roll ever since that Texas game. We've been getting better and have more football to play."

Reminded that Oklahoma could see Clemson again in the playoff, Striker said the movie should begin with the Sooners' humbling 40-6 defeat to Clemson last December in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

"Let it start off right there," Striker said. "That's the beginning, an ugly beginning. But look where we've come from."

This marks Stoops' first outright Big 12 championship since 2010. The Sooners earned a share of one with Kansas State in 2012. The past couple of years, Baylor and TCU have dominated most of the Big 12 headlines and were the heavy favorites this year.

Stoops turned feisty Saturday when asked about not being the team picked to win it.

"That just says you guys aren't right very often. I'll leave it at that," he huffed.

But pushed further, Stoops said nobody within the Oklahoma program ever felt the Sooners were on the outside looking in.
"Yeah, we felt we had a really good football team regardless of what the outside perception is," Stoops said. "No one knows they are going to win it back in January or the start of September, but I knew we had a good football team, better than what people thought."

It's a football team now that's not only beating teams, but punishing them. The Sooners raced out to a 28-10 lead against the Cowboys early in the second quarter and had run only 26 plays. A staple during their seven-game winning streak has been their running game.

Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon took turns shredding the Oklahoma State defense. Mixon finished with 136 rushing yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run. Perine had 131 yards and ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run during the possession before Mixon had his long scoring jaunt.

The Sooners rushed for 344 yards Saturday and have topped 330 yards on the ground in each of the past two weeks. They've run for at least 232 yards in all seven games since the Texas loss, a game that saw them limited to 67 yards on the ground.

"We took it personally, that it was [the offensive line's] fault that we lost, and if we were going to be where we wanted, which is right here, then we were going to have to improve dramatically, and that's what we did," Oklahoma senior center Ty Darlington said. "We stepped up in a big way. Some of the young guys played much older than their years. We've [been] emphasizing being nasty and playing that way."

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, sporting a Fu Manchu mustache he grew for Bedlam, accounted for three more touchdowns and has 42 on the season. He suffered a concussion last week against TCU and had to sit out the second half.

"We're playing really well right now and couldn't ask for a better time to do it," Mayfield said.

The 30-29 win over TCU went down to the wire, but the other six wins were by an average of 37.8 points per game.

"This group of guys has been through a lot together, all the ups and downs, but we've stuck together, and I feel like that brought us closer together," Oklahoma senior receiver Sterling Shepard said. "And with the Texas loss, that changed this team's whole mentality.

"We've been on the rise since then, and it's going to be hard to slow us down."

Striker joked that he has more football to play, but that in his down time, he might take some acting classes to ensure he lands a lead role in the Sooners' movie.

"Tell whoever's directing the movie to throw me in there," Striker quipped.

It's a movie we've all seen before, which ended with Ohio State finding itself a year ago after a troubling loss and taking home college football's top prize.

Don't look now, but the Sooners could be this year's version of the Buckeyes.

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