By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – The hardest thing to do in college football stand still. Programs constantly rise and fall at the expense or benefit of rivals. For the vast majority of programs, success is akin to being on a see-saw rather than the top of a mountain.
Oklahoma, though, has somehow managed to tread water for the last two seasons, going 10-3 in both. Odds are that will change in 2013. This will likely be the year the Sooners either begin another march forward or recede. There are signs pointing both directions.
Last season, struggles to slow down the Big 12’s prolific offenses proved OU’s defense has some reputation building to do along with roster building. Throw that into a mix that will include as many as seven first-year starters on defense, and a completely reworked secondary and defensive line, and this could be one of those rebuilding years programs dread.
On the offensive side, through success or failure, it will be a transformative season. The only guarantee about the quarterback position is that it won’t be the guy who started the last four seasons, Landry Jones.
The days of an absolute pocket passing quarterback are gone as well. Quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight signal a new offensive direction for the Sooners. Both can run and OU has geared itself for the last eight months to take advantage of their mobility.
But the one most in touch with the change being experienced by the program should be the head coach himself. Bob Stoops has hired three new assistants since last season ended in offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jay Boulware. All three will tutor positions in which the Sooners have experienced a talent dip in recent years.
Clearly, Stoops believed changes had to be made.
“It’s hard to continually be at the top. We were 10 wins last year, co-champs in the Big 12, and lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. No, we’re not pleased about that, but there’s improvement to be made, and our guys are excited about making that improvement.”
The goal remains the same.
The Sooners expect to win a Big 12 championship and compete for a national championship. For the first time in years those seem like goals that, on their face, may be well out of reach. The Sooners will join most of the conference in believing they can win a league that’s experiencing greater parity than ever, yet appears to lack a dominant presence.
For the last decade, OU was that presence. But it hasn’t remained in the national title hunt into late November since 2008. There’s a growing feeling the Sooners have fallen further away from that standard after back-to-back 10-3 seasons.
OU will begin the season ranked No. 16, outside of the preseason top 10 for the first time since 2000, when the program last claimed a national championship. If that’s a nice thing to remember, it’s nonetheless difficult to find many other similarities between that team and this one, which opens the season Saturday night against Louisiana-Monroe.
Fifteen years ago, OU was a program yearning for success after a decade-long descent. In 2000, OU played with a chip on its shoulder and seemed to get a little better in every game.