By Clay Horning
ARLINGTON, Texas — For any and all who were wondering just how far away Sooner football is from the promised land, it is this far away.
It is exactly the 41-13 distance between itself and Texas A&M on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium. OU, if everybody’s willing to be honest, was nothing more indictable than its very self, a good team, capable of great things, but with big whopping exploitable holes, just about all of which were exposed.
That’s the only takeaway from A&M’s crushing and no-fluke Cotton Bowl victory over the Sooners.
OU is a defense capable of playing well, but still porous. It is an offense capable of great things, but incapable of doing it all itself.
Against the right team, it is a very long way away and the Aggies are most definitely the right team, home of the third of three Heisman finalists the Sooners have played — and lost to.
Johnny Manziel turned out so much better in real life than he’d ever proven to be on television, and this from a voter who understood the Heisman had to be his — and ultimately was.
How can anybody possibly believe a Notre Dame linebacker who’s made about 10 tackles a game and picked off seven passes is better than this guy, now even more clearly the "most outstanding" player in the college game this season and maybe several seasons.
Manziel ran for 229 yards and threw for 287, and by the middle of the third quarter he was just showing off, toying with the Sooners because he could.
Manziel could get hurt, and SEC defenses, already the nation’s best, may invent a better way to play him over the next three seasons. But after Friday night it’s hard to guess how they might, the kid playing a different game than the other 21 players on the field.
Maybe it took the world’s largest hi-def screen to prove it replay after replay Friday night, but that’s exactly what it did.
Manziel may never be an NFL quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he can’t own the college game as long he’s in College Station, like nobody before him at any campus in the land.
Meanwhile, the Sooner Nation better hope each time Bob Stoops steps into a question daring to question the talent of his defensive line and linebackers, he’s merely blowing smoke. Because if the talent can’t be upgraded, then what’s OU to do?
Really, Manziel may be the best anybody’s ever seen, but he wasn’t alone the second half of OU’s season. Between Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and A&M, four of the season’s last five games, the Sooners allowed almost 600 yards per Saturday and more than 250 on the ground.
Everybody was pulling their hair out last year over what happened in Waco and Stillwater, yet by the end of this one the defense was no better and, pretty clearly, worse.
So bad, in fact, what happened Friday night — while disappointing and laying OU’s deficiencies bare — was nonetheless a reverse-tribute to a regular season that included 10 wins, two losses that might have gone the other way, and a shared conference championship.
Against Baylor, West Virginia and OSU, the Sooners were their very limited selves, just as they were against A&M, and yet OU won those games on grit and character and the finest moments of the artist formerly known as Landry Jones; at least for Sooner fans who never fell in love with him, but might only have been on the good side of six or seven contests this season, nowhere near 10, without him.
Going forward, it’s easy to see how A&M gets better. The Aggies have the nation’s best quarterback and maybe the nation’s fastest-improving defense, too, good for a trio of third-quarter three-and-outs that marked the end of OU’s challenge.
For the Sooners, it’s a whole new ballgame, one that might get worse before it gets better, or just maybe Blake Bell’s the savior so many have wanted to make him the last couple of years.
Anyway, a college football world will keep spinning.
The Aggies deserve to begin at the top. The Sooners belong wherever they belong.
That’s the difference.
It’s a chasm.