Dallas Colleges: Bob Stoops

It’s not exactly the Dust Bowl days.

But the 2014 season has been a depressing one on the gridiron for the state of Oklahoma.

The Sooners opened the season with College Football Playoff aspirations. They will likely end it in either the Russell Athletic Bowl or Valero Alamo Bowl.

With one of the youngest teams in the country, the Cowboys were always going to be in rebuilding mode. Yet even pessimistic Oklahoma State fans assumed that would still include a ninth consecutive bowl trip (which remains possible but would require an upset over the Sooners).

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma running back Samaje Perine leads the Big 12 with 1,428 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.
But while playoff contenders Baylor and TCU will overshadow Bedlam on the final week of the regular season, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have reason to believe sunnier days lie ahead. Thanks largely to a pair of promising true freshmen in running back Samaje Perine for the Sooners and quarterback Mason Rudolph for the Cowboys.

In his debut two weeks ago at Baylor, Rudolph turned heads after getting his redshirt pulled following a concussion injury to Daxx Garman.

Rudolph, who was an ESPN 300 recruit coming out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, wasn’t flawless, tossing a pair of untimely interceptions. But he also electrified a previously dormant Oklahoma State offense that had ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring in conference games. Rudolph threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns and had the Bears sweating in the fourth quarter, until Baylor pulled away to win 49-28.

“We thought his poise was excellent,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “And toughness and leadership seemed to be good in that game.”

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops came away impressed, too.

“You can tell he’s been developed really well,” Stoops said. “He made good decisions, threw the ball well. A big guy. Stands in the pocket, throws a good ball.

"I think he managed that game really well.”

With Garman cleared to return, Gundy has yet to name Rudolph the starter for Bedlam, though that seems to be an inevitability. And with another banner performance in another tough environment, Rudolph can take a decisive lead in the quarterback derby over Garman and J.W. Walsh heading into 2015.

In Norman, meanwhile, there’s no doubt Perine will man the Oklahoma backfield moving forward.

The 242-pound bulldozer set an FBS record with 427 yards in the Sooners’ last outing against Kansas. Perine now leads the Big 12 with 1,428 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.

“He’s a very good player,” Gundy said. “He’s a tough runner. Runs low, keeps his pads down, he’s run through a number of tackles and he’s really good with yards after contact.

“He’s one of the best (freshman running backs) we’ve seen. Certainly a very good football player.”

Perine has provided the Sooners with a much-needed identity offensively in the second half of the season. And the Sooners believe his best is still to come.

“Naturally, as he matures and gets older and more powerful,” Stoops said, "he can be even better.”

As a result, so could the Sooners.

The Cowboys, too, if Rudolph’s Waco debut was only a sign of what’s ahead.

Overall, this has been a downer season in the Sooner State.

But behind this pair of budding freshmen, the dust could be settling. And before long, Bedlam could be back in the limelight again.
NORMAN, Okla. – It all changed with the RG III touchdown pass heard round the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty and the Bears feel like they have something to prove when they visit Oklahoma on Saturday.
 In the waning seconds in 2011, Robert Griffin III heaved a bomb that fell into the arms of Terrance Williams, catapulting Baylor to its first win ever against Oklahoma.

The dramatic victory over the old-money program of the Big 12 gave the Bears the credibility they had so desperately craved after years of futility. And since that moment, new-money Baylor is 30-8 with an outright Big 12 title; the Sooners are 29-9 with a Big 12 co-championship.

“We put a lot of stock in our wins [over the Sooners] because they’re a storied program. ... Oklahoma has been the dominant team in the Big 12 since its inception; they’re certainly the mark everybody kind of looks at as being a pretty good place to be,” said Baylor coach Art Briles, who has pulled the biggest rebuilding job in college football this side of Bill Snyder. “If you’re a casual fan, the names Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops might mean something to you. They’ve done a tremendous job as a program for decades. To come out on the topside lately is a boost to our program from a recruiting standpoint and a national image standpoint.

“They’ve dominated for so long, we’re glad we're a formidable foe. We’re just glad to be a part of it, getting to where we’re gaining a little more respect in the series.”

The Bears have done more than gain respect, they have gained Oklahoma’s full attention for this weekend’s showdown in the quintessential old money-new money clash in the Big 12.

But just as history has shown, new money can also cause old money to turn up its nose.

Texas linebacker Steve Edmond underscored this when he called the Bears “trash” even after Baylor stomped the Longhorns by 20 points last season to capture its first Big 12 championship. Just this week, Edmond said he wasn’t sorry about what he said. And leading up to their game this year, Edmond's teammate John Harris proclaimed that “They’re still Baylor. … We’re still Texas.”

Unlike the Longhorns, the Sooner players have avoided handing over any like bulletin-board material this week. Monday, Stoops went as far as to say that his program respected Baylor even when the Bears couldn’t win a Big 12 game in the pre-Briles era.

“I’ve always felt they’ve done a good job,” Stoops said, somehow with a serious face.

But Oklahoma's fan base hasn’t been so gracious. From Twitter to message boards to sports talk radio, Sooner Nation has continued to discount Baylor, from its soft nonconference scheduling to its lack of tradition, even though the Bears whacked Oklahoma 41-12 last season:

 
“A lot of people don’t want Baylor to win, and that’s totally fine with us,” said Bears quarterback Bryce Petty. “It’s not hard to sense.

That new-money perception has extended beyond Big 12 country. Even though the Bears are 7-1, toppled TCU with an historic fourth-quarter comeback and have won their other six games by at least three touchdowns, Baylor ranks just 13th in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

“Turn on the TV, and everybody is picking against Baylor,” Petty said. “But it is what it is. That whole national persona, it has kinda always been there, even after we began to turn the program around. Even last year, people didn’t want us to win."

But the Bears did win. And now, they're trying to become the first team to win back-to-back Big 12 titles since the Sooners did it in 2007-08.

“We’re trying to rewrite history.," Petty said. "We’re not the old Baylor, we’re not scrappy little Baylor. We’re trying to be the best, and to get there, you have to play the best. The Sooners in Norman are at their best. That’s where we want to be, that’s where the challenge is, and we’re definitely up for the challenge.”

It will be quite the challenge. Baylor has never before won in Norman in 11 attempts.

Then again, this isn’t the old Baylor.

And Saturday, the new-money Bears will have another chance to validate their worth against an old money powerhouse.

“We get the opportunity to prove ourselves,” Petty said, “and show we’re here to stay and we do belong.”

Bob Stoops 'ready for Baylor'

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
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Bryce Petty is "ready for OU."

And Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is "ready for Baylor."

The two will meet Saturday in a key Big 12 matchup. And in his weekly news conference, Stoops had fun with Petty’s comments from the weekend.

After a 60-14 win against Kansas, Petty answered every question in his postgame news conference with some form of, "just ready for OU."

Stoops was asked Monday if he had any thoughts about Petty’s comments.

"Sounds like Coach (Bill) Belichick," Stoops joked, referring to the New England Patriots coach’s infamous "we’re on to Cincinnati" news conference from this NFL season.

Moments later, Stoops, added, "I don’t care ... we’re ready for Baylor."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops thought his team played better against Kansas State than it had the previous two weeks in a loss at TCU and a narrow win against Texas.

The Sooners missed fewer assignments defensively. Quarterback Trevor Knight completed 26 of 32 passes for a sparkling QBR of 90.5 (scale 0-to-100). Oklahoma also averaged 6.8 yards per play for its best statistical offensive output since Week 2 against Tulsa.

Stoops, however, said the performance that resulted in a 31-30 loss to the Wildcats was still not good enough.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBob Stoops said crucial mistakes by the Sooners negated their improved overall play Saturday.
"Nothing’s well enough when you lose by a point," Stoops said during his weekly news conference Monday. "We needed to be a play or two better on offense. A series or two better on defense. Or (a play better) on special teams. It all isn’t good enough when you lose."

Though Oklahoma generated 13 more first downs than the Wildcats and outgained them 533-to-385, the Sooners were ultimately doomed by several costly mistakes.

From his own goal line, Knight elected to throw on a run-pass option call. The ill-advised pass was picked off by Danzel McDaniel, who returned it three yards for a touchdown.

"Certain plays are tagged," Stoops said "If (Knight) gets a soft corner he has the option to throw the out. When the guy squeezed back down, you can’t throw it."

The Sooners had another ill-advised throwing decision, though it didn't come from Knight. Off a reverse/wide receiver pass, Durron Neal forced a throw into a coverage trying to hit Sterling Shepard for a touchdown. Instead, K-State’s Morgan Burns intercepted in the end zone for a touchback and thwarted the scoring opportunity.

"We didn’t have as many mental breakdowns, we executed our passing game in a really good way, we were much better on third-down conversions," Stoops said. "We were much better as far as missed assignments.

"But it doesn’t matter. I’d take the other in a minute. You can’t make the critical mistakes that change the game."

The Sooners also made critical mistakes elsewhere. Safety Ahmad Thomas whiffed trying to tackle quarterback Jake Waters on the opening play of the third quarter, resulting in a 53-yard run that set up a field goal. Earlier, Oklahoma turned fullback Glenn Gronkowski loose on a delayed pass play that led to a 62-yard touchdown, though Stoops implied he wasn’t pleased with the way the play was officiated.

"The guy (Gronkowski) running down the middle of the field, that’s a difficult play when (Waters) waits and waits and the center (B.J. Finney) is blocking the linebacker," said Stoops, who wanted officials to flag K-State for an illegal man downfield. Before that, Stoops was also upset that his fullback, Aaron Ripkowski, was ejected in the first quarter for targeting, and that on the same play, the Wildcats weren’t penalized for hitting Knight after he had hit ground diving.

"Those are tough plays to defend," Stoops said of the delayed pass, "in the way they’re allowed to play them."

Yet the biggest play that decided the outcome came on special teams. Senior Michael Hunnicutt, the school’s all-time leading scorer, missed two field goals, including a 19-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Hunnicutt also had an extra point blocked in the fourth.

"He just rushed the second (field goal). He hit a bad shot," Stoops said. "Michael has been as consistent and as good a player as we’ve had here. He’s been a big part of a lot of wins. He had a bad day and a couple of bad shots. It came at a bad time.

"We all respect him and think the world of him. And we’ll need (him) to win more games coming forward."

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in a wild Week 8:

1. The league race is wide open: By taking down preseason favorites Oklahoma and Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia completely transformed the Big 12 title race Saturday. With only one loss, the defending champion Bears could still win the Big 12. But they now have plenty of company. TCU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) bounced back from its heartbreaking loss to Baylor last week to obliterate Oklahoma State 42-9. The Wildcats (5-1, 3-0) have also hopped firmly into the conference championship conversation after an impressive 31-30 victory in Norman. But West Virginia shouldn't be discounted, either, following its 41-27 win over Baylor. The Mountaineers have Oklahoma and Baylor behind them on the schedule, and they get TCU (Nov. 1) and Kansas State (Nov. 20) in Morgantown. The only certainty at this point is the Big 12 race down the backstretch is going to be a fun one to watch.

[+] EnlargeKevin White
AP Photo/Chris JacksonKevin White, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving with five games left, and West Virginia are still very much in the Big 12 title race.
2. Oklahoma is not elite -- again: The most recent time the Sooners seriously contended for a national title past October was 2008, when Oklahoma won a loaded Big 12 and played Florida in the national championship game. After returning the bulk of a team that downed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners believed they had a squad that could break the dry spell and break into the inaugural College Football Playoff. They played up to that hype through the first month of the season. But yet again, Oklahoma was proven to not be elite. The past three weeks, the Sooners lost at TCU, barely escaped Texas, then fell at home to the Wildcats to get all but eliminated from the playoff picture. Quarterback Trevor Knight has been too up and down, while the defense has failed to dominate. Even the kicking game crumbled Saturday when the Sooners needed it most. Oklahoma still has a good team. But for this program, having a good team isn't good enough, especially when this was supposed to be Oklahoma's year to return to national prominence. Bob Stoops and his coaching staff have soul-searching to do. Once again, the team they fielded won't be a contender past October.

3. Oklahoma State is rebuilding after all: After graduating more starters than any other Power 5 program, the Cowboys faced the prospect of having to rebuild this year. But after they took defending national champ Florida State to the wire in the opener, then won five straight games, expectations were raised. Turns out, they shouldn't have been. Oklahoma State's 3-0 Big 12 start turned out to be fool's gold, as the Cowboys were exposed in a game they were never in against TCU. Quarterback Daxx Garman failed to complete a single pass in the second half, while Oklahoma State's beleaguered offensive line was manhandled in the trenches. Defensively, the inexperienced Cowboys surrendered 676 yards of offense, the most TCU had racked up in a game since 2007. Oklahoma State has some good young players, but facing a back-loaded schedule, the Cowboys figure to endure more growing pains -- and losses -- the second half of the season.

4. The Big 12 has some monster WRs: Good luck finding four receivers in college football better than West Virginia's Kevin White, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett or Baylor's Antwan Goodley. That Big 12 foursome combined for 547 receiving yards Saturday. They were -- as they have been all year -- basically unstoppable. After breaking the 1,000-receiving-yard barrier with five regular-season games to go, White could begin to warrant Heisman consideration. Shepard, who tied a school record with 15 catches against K-State, should be a Biletnikoff finalist. Goodley and Lockett are All-American-caliber players, too. The Big 12 might be as deep as it's been since 2008, and the depth of its blue-chip wide receivers is a big reason for that.

5. Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes is turning the corner: Swoopes followed his breakout performance against Oklahoma last week by engineering a drive in the final seconds to set up a game-winning field goal and give Texas a dramatic 48-45 win over Iowa State. Swoopes got the ball back with 28 seconds to go on the Texas 28 and the game seemingly headed for overtime. Instead, Swoopes floated a bomb into the arms of Jaxon Shipley for 39 yards down the sideline. On the next play, Swoopes hit John Harris along the same sideline for a 29-yard gain to the Iowa State 4. Nick Rose nailed the field goal on the next play with 3 seconds left. All told, Swoopes threw for 322 yards and ran for another 95, and he gave more reason to believe he could be Texas' long-sought answer at quarterback.

Big plays save Sooners in Red River Rivalry

October, 11, 2014
Oct 11
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DALLAS -- Oklahoma defensive end Chuka Ndulue jogged down the sideline waving the oversized Oklahoma flag. The band boomed "Boomer Sooner." And Sooners wide receiver Durron Neal walked the Golden Hat trophy up the tunnel before placing it on his head.

Yet the sentiment on the crimson half of the Cotton Bowl was as much relief as celebration.

Saturday in the Red River Showdown, Texas outgained the Sooners and, in many aspects, outplayed them. But thanks to its big plays, Oklahoma came away with the 31-26 win.

And, just as importantly, with its Big 12 title and playoff hopes still intact.

"Do I like everything that happened today? Heck no. We have a lot to work on. That’s obvious," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "Don’t take anything away from Texas. … But it’s always good when you win and you didn’t play very well and you know you’ve got things to correct."

In Charlie Strong's Red River debut, his Longhorns didn’t win.

But they dominated the box score.

Texas outgained Oklahoma, 482 yards to 232.

Texas generated 13 more first downs than the Sooners, who had only one the entire first half.

And Texas converted 7 of 18 on its third down attempts, while Oklahoma went just 1 of 11.

The Longhorns also had the better sophomore quarterback Saturday in Tyrone Swoopes, who decisively outplayed Oklahoma counterpart Trevor Knight in the first Red River start for either player. Swoopes completed 27 of 44 passes for a career-high 334 yards and rushed for another 50 while almost producing the greatest comeback in the history of the rivalry.

[+] EnlargeSanchez
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Zack Sanchez returns an interception 43 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving the Sooners a 17-3 lead against Texas.
Oklahoma ground out a 31-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Swoopes engineered back-to-back touchdown drives to give Texas a chance late. The Sooners, however, ran the clock down with two first downs, leaving Swoopes without enough time for a miracle rally.

"I think you can look at this game and say, 'They fought, They believed,'" said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led a valiant Texas defensive effort with 10 tackles. "There’s no quitting in this team. We’re not going to quit. There’s no disbelief in who we are."

Texas (2-4, 1-2 Big 12) might not make a bowl this season. Yet Texas’ fight and Swoopes' poise showed the Longhorns might be able to become a contender again in the Big 12 before long.

"You would love to see the whole team build on this, not just Tyrone," said Strong, whose Longhorns were a two-touchdown underdog coming in. "I love the way our team came out today, and loved the way we competed and how hard we played.

"We battled back."

But while Texas hopes to be a contender again in the future, Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) is a contender now.

Although the Sooners didn’t make more plays than Texas, they made the ones that counted the most.

Alex Ross returned a kickoff 91 yards for his second special-teams touchdown of the season, giving the Sooners an early lead, a lead they never relinquished.

Later, Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez stepped in front of a Swoopes pass and took it 43 yards for another TD.

And, in the third quarter, Sterling Shepard beat Texas’ best defensive back, Quandre Diggs, on a wheel route for a 24-yard TD to put the Sooners up 24-13.

"We’re resilient," said Stoops, who became the first Oklahoma coach to notch 10 wins against Texas. "The group has a great attitude and great team chemistry. We just have to keep fighting. We made some mistakes and bad plays throughout the game, but you have to keep after it and make other plays to make up for it."

And the Oklahoma offense, which underwhelmed all day, did just that on its final drive to clinch the win.

Facing third-and-4 on the burnt orange side of the bowl, Knight floated a swing pass to wide-open Samaje Perine for a first down. Two plays later, Perine battered his way 8 yards through the Texas defense for another first down. When the Longhorns finally got the ball back, only 18 seconds remained.

“I think there is some frustration involved when you’re not running up and down the field like you want to,” said Knight, who passed for a season-low 129 yards. “But we made some big plays down the stretch.”

To remain in playoff contention and to win the Big 12 title, however, the Sooners will have to be better than they were Saturday. And better than they were two weeks ago in a loss at TCU that eliminated any further margin for error.

The big plays have been there for Oklahoma. But the little ones have not.

The past two weeks, the running game has completely stagnated against the uptick in competition. Perine finished with just 62 yards on 18 carries. Knight continues to struggle to keep the chains moving with the pass. The receivers have been unreliable aside from Shepard.

And a Mike Stoops defense that was supposed to be dominant has surrendered almost a thousand yards the last two games.

"We just couldn’t come up with a play," said Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator. "It’s the little things and execution that we are not doing as well as we need to be, as we should be."

Swoopes and the Longhorns did the little things Saturday, giving them hope for the future.

But the Sooners did the big things. Keeping their big expectations alive after a win that produced relief as well as celebration.
NORMAN, Okla. -- During his weekly news conference, Bob Stoops defended his team’s play calling while admitting that the passing game also needs to improve going forward.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight completed just 14 of 35 passes, as the Sooners were held scoreless in the fourth quarter of a 37-33 loss at TCU this past Saturday.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsProtecting quarterback Trevor Knight was a key issue for Oklahoma this past Saturday.
“I thought in the first half [the passing game] was really positive, in the second half it wasn’t,” Stoops said. “We weren’t nearly consistent as we need to be.”

After hitting Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal for a pair of bombs early, Knight struggled with his accuracy the rest of the way, dropping his season completion rate to 54.5 percent.

Stoops agreed that Knight missed some throws. But the coach placed blame elsewhere, as well.

“There’s three reasons for it,” Stoops said. “At times, we’re getting pressured, we didn’t protect as well as we have in some other games. At times, it’s an errant throw. At times, we’re covered. So it’s a little bit of everybody.”

The Sooners have struggled all year to get anyone other than Shepard involved in the passing attack. Shepard had another huge afternoon in Fort Worth with seven grabs for 215 yards and a touchdown. But after Neal’s four catches, no other wide receiver had a reception. Tight end Blake Bell and running backs Samaje Perine all had a reception apiece.

“I think we do have to make sure we’re spreading the ball around more,” Stoops said.

Stoops confessed that in hindsight he wished the Sooners would have run the ball more and passed less against TCU.

But otherwise, Stoops said he had no issues with coordinator Josh Heupel’s play calling, including the quarterback draw Heupel called on Oklahoma’s final drive. The draw was stuffed, and with no timeouts, the Sooners lost valuable seconds off the clock as they scrambled to attempt to win the game in the final minute.

“I thought it was a great call,” Stoops said. “I was all for it.”

The reason the Sooners were out of timeouts was due to a pair of mental errors in the fourth quarter. The Sooners burned one timeout struggling to get the snap off before the play clock expired. They burned another because they didn’t have enough men on the line of scrimmage.

The mental mistakes carried over through the rest of the team, too. Stoops said the Sooners had several busted defensive calls, while the offensive line missed blocks.

“Some of it is very fundamental in what we do, and for whatever reason, even guys with a lot of experience didn’t do it very well,” Stoops said. “I believe a lot of it is easily correctable in that some is just discipline and fundamentals. We’ve got to do a better job coaching them and they’ve got to do a better job of being mindful of their disciplines and what we’re doing.”

Key stretches for Oklahoma, Baylor

September, 24, 2014
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It's hard not to look toward the Nov. 8 battle between Baylor Bears and Oklahoma Sooners with anticipation and excitement. The game between the Big 12's highest ranked teams could decide the conference title.

Yet both teams are staring at a stretch of games that could define their seasons.

Baylor will start Big 12 play with three of four games on the road including Saturday's visit to Iowa State. After the Cyclones, BU plays at Texas, hosts TCU then travels to West Virginia. Oklahoma will regroup with a bye on Saturday before playing at TCU, taking on Texas in the AT&T Red River Showdown and hosting Kansas State to end the three-game stretch.

It's an opportunity for the Bears and Sooners to cement their places among the nation's best teams or stumble off the radar before their head-to-head matchup in November.

The Sooners can learn from a similar stretch in 2013 when OU was flying high heading into Big 12 play, fresh off a road win at Notre Dame. A narrow home win against TCU was followed by a shocking loss to down-and-out Texas, which knocked the Sooners out of national title conversations in the third game of their toughest three-game stretch of the season. OU has been dominant this fall but the bye week comes at an ideal time, allowing Bob Stoops' squad to make proper preparations for this year's season-defining, three-game obstacle course.

"This off week comes at a great time," Stoops said. "We can really focus on some areas we can improve. You get a little breather here as we go into this stretch. Sometimes those stretches are positive. You know 'Here they come' and you're ready for them. In 2000, it was that way we had Texas, K-State and Nebraska in that stretch so sometimes when they're bunched in that way it's a positive."

The four-game stretch for BU is just as important. The Bears are 32-10 since the beginning of the 2011 season including a 21-1 record in Waco, Texas. Learning to carry their dominant play into opposing stadiums is the next step for Art Briles' program, which is 6-8 on the road since 2011. BU's lone regular-season loss came at Oklahoma State during their Big 12-title winning season a year ago. Even though they went 3-1 in true road games last season, the Bears are anxious to re-affirm their road-game struggles are a thing of the past.

"I think it is going to show us a lot of what this team is capable of," quarterback Bryce Petty said. "This next month, three of the four games are away, and they're not easy. The venues that we are playing at aren't easy to win at. Each game is going to be a fight and struggle."

BU knows wins at ISU, UT and WVU are hard to come by after making road trips to all three schools in 2012 and heading home with losses. The tough early conference schedule is an opportunity for Petty and his teammates to show how far the program has come since 2012.

"It's going to show us who we are, and I like that," Petty said. "I like that it's front-loaded at the beginning of the season. It's important for us to make sure that our focus is small and that we grow as a team pretty fast. We're going to have some hostile environments early, which will prepare us for down the road."

OU's Perine off to Earl Campbell-like start

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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While Billy Sims took in an Oklahoma practice this preseason, another Red River legend came to his mind whenever he watched freshman Samaje Perine.

“The strength, the power, the way he ran over people, it kept reminding me of Earl Campbell back in the day,” said Sims, who the Heisman Trophy for the Sooners in 1978, a year after Campbell won it at Texas in 1977.

Perine is no Earl Campbell yet.

But he’s off to an Earl Campbell-like start to his career.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressOklahoma freshman Samaje Perine is leading the Big 12 in rushing with 419 yards and five touchdowns this season.
The 5-foot-11, 243-pound “Tank” -- though “Optimus Perine” is his preferred nickname -- came a yard away from rushing for his weight, finishing with 242 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 45-33 victory at West Virginia over the weekend.

Perhaps just as impressive, Perine carried the ball 34 times and afterward looked like as if he had done nothing more than taken a light morning jog.

“He works so hard with his conditioning and training,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a guy that can handle all those carries. At the end of the game he wasn’t all that taxed. I saw him get on the bus and he looked great. He’s exceptional in his conditioning and his strength. He’s physically gifted that way.”

Like Campbell used to do to opposing defenses in the 1970s, Perine wore the West Virginia defenders down as they bounced off him like pingpong balls. While the Mountaineers' resolve to tackle him began to wane in the second half, Perine seemed to get stronger, as he finished with 84 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

“He was able to sustain it for four quarters,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That tells you what kind of shape he’s in.”

The emergence of Perine, who now leads the Big 12 with 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns, has left the Oklahoma offense in great shape, too, heading into the heart of the schedule. After the open week this weekend, the Sooners face three of the toughest front sevens in the league in TCU, Texas and Kansas State. But this Oklahoma rushing offense is beginning to smack of the Barry Switzer days when the Sooners could run right through opponents when they wanted to.

“I was glad to see the ground-and-pound game,” Sims said. “Let the big guys up front eat and the backs do their thing.”

The big guys up front ate well again after the game, too, courtesy of Perine. Showing he doesn’t just have physical maturity, Perine ordered pizzas for the entire offensive line Sunday.

“We were watching film, and he just walked right in and set the boxes of pizza down and walked out,” center Ty Darlington said. “That’s who he is.”

Though Perine was one of the major storylines in college football over the weekend, he wasn’t even the most highly touted running back in Oklahoma’s signing class. Joe Mixon, suspended for the year for an altercation before the season, was viewed as the gem of the recruiting class, with offers from every major program in the country. Perine, who hailed from the Austin, Texas, suburb of Pflugerville, didn’t even receive an offer from Campbell's Longhorns as he recovered from a knee injury his junior year and barely averaged double-digit carries his senior season for Hendrickson High School.

The Sooners, however, always felt Perine was a unique talent.

“He’s a very special player,” Stoops said. “We felt that all along in the recruiting process. We loved him. Physically, he’s so powerful and strong. He’s also got great vision, great speed. He’s got hands."

While Sims invoked Campbell to describe Perine, Stoops didn’t hesitate to compare Perine's immediate impact to other great runners to pass through Norman in recent years like Quentin Griffin and Adrian Peterson.

“Samaje, his performance the other night, was as good as any of those in one game,” Stoops said. “I believe he’ll continue to add on to it. He’s a similar player like that. He’s unusual in that his size and power are different than maybe anyone else we’ve had.

“We’ll see if he can continue to build on it.”

Sims, however, is a believer that will happen.

“After watching him in practice, what he’s doing now, it doesn’t surprise me,” Sims said. “Oklahoma is known for great running backs. He has the potential to be the next."

Grissom's versatility key for OU's defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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An imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Geneo Grissom lined up in a blitzing position before the snap. Seconds later, the Oklahoma linebacker stepped back, re-aligning over Tulsa’s slot receiver. After the snap, Grissom dropped into his zone, passed off the inside route to a teammate before leaping into the passing lane to intercept a pass from Golden Hurricane quarterback Dane Evans and gallop 38 yards into the end zone.

It was just like Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops envisioned.

[+] EnlargeGeneo Grissom
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGeneo Grissom's versatility was on full display with his 38-yard interception-return touchdown against Tulsa.
After making several position changes during his first four seasons at OU, Grissom has finally found a home as a linebacker in the Sooners’ 3-4 system. In doing so the senior joins Eric Striker to give the Sooners arguably the nation’s top pass-rushing linebacker duo while also providing the versatility to handle the various offensive attacks of the Big 12.

“He’s a great athlete,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Geneo’s a big guy, he has great range, he can run, he’s got great hands. If our 120 players on our team had a pickup basketball game, he’d be one of the first couple picked. That’s the kind of athlete he is, even with that size.”

Cornerback Zack Sanchez probably puts it best.

“He’s a freak of nature, the way he can get to the ball and make plays,” Sanchez said. “Geneo is a freak athlete, he’s a ball player.”

In many ways, Grissom is too good an athlete for his own good as the Sooners kept tinkering to find the best way to put his skills to use. His athletic prowess resulted in stops at defensive end as a freshman, tight end as a sophomore and defensive end again as a junior before finally finding a home at linebacker this fall.

In Saturday’s Big 12 opener against West Virginia, Grissom’s versatility and talent will be in the spotlight. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen excels at finding ways to create mismatches and exploit defenses with the run or pass, but that task gets harder with Grissom on the field.

Last time these two teams met in 2012, the versatility of Tavon Austin gave the Sooners fits. This time around it could be the versatility of Grissom that creates chaos for WVU’s offense. He has the size and strength to handle the run and the athleticism to be comfortable in coverage against the pass. No matter what approach the Mountaineers’ offense takes, run or pass, Grissom can remain on the field and impact the game.

“For me personally, this is going to be a good game for me to test where I’m at and where I need to get better,” Grissom said. “I’ll measure myself and the things I need to work on.”

Don’t be surprised if Grissom and Striker excel against the Mountaineers, as their ability to rush the passer or drop in coverage is one of the reasons the Sooners made the change to a 3-4 defense after the 2012 season.

“Every game is like that with those two guys, they give us a lot of versatility,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s what we like about this defense, and it will be put to the test again.”

Grissom has started all three games for the Sooners, contributing 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, along with his interception.

“If he hasn’t shown it already, this [game] will add on to what he’s capable of doing,” Sanchez said. “Playing tight end a couple years ago helps him go up and get the ball and make crazy plays like that. He’s so athletic, he’s smart, he knows where to be, he just flies around the field.”

While Striker creates havoc all over the field from his position as “field” linebacker, Grissom has more than held his own as the “boundary” linebacker. He finally got comfortable at his new position near the end of two-a-days in August and has performed like a veteran during nonconference action.

“He’s one of those guys who’s always watching film,” Sanchez said. “He’s always watching film and if he makes a mistake, he’s fixing it. He’s not one of those guys that makes the same mistake twice. He’s real tenacious in everything he does.”

Big 12 has prime chance to impress

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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The Big 12 has proven it can hang with the best.

Now, the league has a chance to show it can beat the rest.

With seven games against the four other power conferences, this weekend offers the Big 12 another opportunity to establish credibility in the College Football Playoff era.

Oklahoma jump started the Big 12 momentum by toppling Alabama last bowl season. Oklahoma State and West Virginia kept the wave going by taking Florida State and Alabama to the wire in their openers. This Saturday, the Big 12 can begin to carve out a place at the playoff table.

"Everyone is paying attention to your strength of schedule and things like that,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “So sure, it's always important that your league plays well.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Phillips
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma is off to a 2-0 start but will have a chance to make an impression against a Power 5 nonconference opponent when 2-0 Tennessee visits on Saturday.
The playoff committee will surely be paying attention to how Big 12 performs against teams from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 who are a combined 13-1 two weeks into the season.

Stoops, who has been waving the Big 12 banner over the last year and a half, will attempt to move to 14-4 against Power 5 nonconference opponents in his Oklahoma career when undefeated Tennessee visits the fourth-ranked Sooners.

“We recognize it as another big challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said. “I know they’ve recruited really strong in the last couple of years. When you watch them on tape, you see a lot of speed running around, you see a lot of big guys. They’ve really got a great-looking team.”

Oklahoma, however, isn’t the only Big 12 team with an SEC challenge. Texas Tech takes on old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas in a matchup that could be a potential springboard for the Red Raiders, who have gotten off to a sluggish start despite defeating Central Arkansas and UTEP.

“I think for us and our university, it's a great matchup between two teams that used to be in the same conference,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think that's where all the excitement comes from. It's the most talented opponent we've played so far, and our kids will be fired up for it.”

While the Red Raiders and Sooners will be squaring off against the SEC, TCU and Iowa State will have the chance to deliver more blows to the Big Ten, which could be the one conference on the outside looking in for a playoff spot after suffering several disastrous losses last weekend.

The Horned Frogs play Minnesota, one of the few Big Ten teams that has been sharp so far this season. Iowa State has a prime opportunity to get its season back on track at instate rival Iowa, which barely survived Northern Iowa and Ball State in its first two games.

“The nation’s eyes will be on these games,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

The Cyclones, who fell to the Hawkeyes at home last season, won’t be the only team out for revenge this weekend.

West Virginia will be looking for payback against Maryland after getting destroyed by the Terrapins 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, have been a different team so far this year. They made Alabama sweat, then last weekend demolished Towson, which played for the FCS national championship in 2013. A win at Maryland, which returned 17 starters from last year’s team, would be a tone-setter for the Big 12 and for the rest of West Virginia’s season.

“The majority of the people on our team right now played in that game last year and wasn't too happy with the outcome and was embarrassed with the outcome,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We've got a pretty motivated bunch to be able to get over there and try to obviously put a little bit of a better effort out there on the field.”

After a promising performance in its first game against Southeast Missouri State, Kansas will see how its revamped offense measures up at reigning ACC Coastal Division champion Duke. And Texas will round out the marquee weekend by attempting to bounce back against No. 12 UCLA after a disastrous 41-7 loss to BYU.

"Can we get this team and bounce them back from a humiliating, disappointing loss and get them to prevail and go play?" Longhorns coach Charlie Strong said. "It's going to be a challenge.”

Saturday will be a challenge for the entire Big 12, which will have only one more chance to make a national impression -- when Kansas State faces defending SEC champ Auburn in Manhattan next Thursday -- before conference play begins.

And the playoff committee, among others, will be watching.

Sooners moving on minus 'limbo' players

August, 25, 2014
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma was hoping to have the talented quartet of wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, running back Joe Mixon, linebacker Frank Shannon and quarterback Baker Mayfield on the field this season.

Green-Beckham and Mixon have already been ruled out. Mayfield is still waiting to hear whether the NCAA will grant him an eligibility waiver. And Monday, Shannon wasn’t listed in Oklahoma’s Week 1 depth chart.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops said his focus is on the Sooners playing in 2014, not the talented ones who are ineligible.
“I’ve got to proceed with players that I know are going to be available to me through the rest of the year,” coach Bob Stoops said during his first weekly news conference. “So at this point the depth chart is as it is.”

As the Sooners prepare for Saturday’s opener against Louisiana Tech, Stoops wanted to talk about the players that will be on the field this year.

But the dominant story line this preseason has been about the players that won’t be on the field. And it popped up again Monday.

Late last week, the NCAA ruled that Green-Beckham would not qualify for immediate eligibility under the run-off exception after transferring from Missouri.

Stoops said it “hasn’t been decided” whether Green-Beckham will be back with the Sooners in 2015, though Stoops added that “it seems like that he wants to do that and is heading that way.”

But this season, Green-Beckham would have supplied quarterback Trevor Knight with a dangerous receiving weapon on the outside. Instead, the Sooners will be relying on several inexperienced pass-catchers to fill the void at receiver alongside three-year starter Sterling Shepard.

“We’ve got 10 other guys or eight other [receivers] or whatever it is that we’re working with on a daily basis,” Stoops said. “So you work with what’s available to you.”

It doesn’t look like Shannon will be available to the Sooners, either. He’s appealed the university’s decision to suspend him for a year for allegedly violating the school’s code of conduct to a district court. But as long as Shannon remains tied up in legal issues, Oklahoma’s leading tackler last year won’t be part of the plans.

“That situation is still unresolved,” Stoops said.

As of Monday, Mayfield’s situation remains unresolved, as well, forcing the Sooners to move forward with making Cody Thomas their backup quarterback. Thomas redshirted last year, and has been dealing with a muscle strain. That has led former quarterback and current starting tight end Blake Bell to take snaps in practice, as a break-the-glass option, in case of an injury to Knight.

“You obviously want the best for those guys and it hurts to see it go on the opposite side of that line,” Knight said. “You want the best for them and whether or not it works out for them this year, you stay positive with them and hope things will work out in the future.”

As for the present, the Sooners will have to roll with the players currently eligible. That’s still enough to keep them the preseason favorite in the Big 12 and a legitimate contender for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

And while this preseason could have gone better, Stoops is still excited about the players that will be in the game.

“Our guys go to practice every day and the guys on the field have competed in a great way,” Stoops said. “I feel we’re in a great position, ready to start the season.”

Bob Stoops rides on Sooner Schooner

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
1:41
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Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has plans to place food trucks on campus to feed the Sooners' student-athletes. But it's doubtful any of those trucks will be as cool the one the football team ate from Friday.

At the end of practice, coach Bob Stoops rode in on the Sooner Schooner wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a Ruf/Nek shotgun. He also brought with him some frozen treats for the players.

Big 12 weekend takeaways

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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Over the weekend, six of the Big 12 schools opened fall camps and opened up their coaches and players to the media.

Here are some of my takeaways from the weekend:

Texas Tech could have its run-stuffer

Due to injuries and a lack of depth, Texas Tech struggled to stop the run all last season and finished ninth in the league in run defense. With defensive interior linemen Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder gone from last year’s club, Texas Tech desperately needed to add an impact player up front during the offseason to stabilize its porous run defense.

The Red Raiders, however, might have found such a player in mammoth junior college noseguard Rika Levi, whose size and strength has been generating plenty of buzz in Lubbock this summer. Levi was also the talk of Tech’s media day on Sunday.

“He’s a guy that the strength staff really, really likes,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said. “He’s a voice in the weight room, he’s a voice in the locker room and he’s a voice on the field pushing guys.”

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Levi arrived on campus weighing 362, but he has since slimmed down 14 pounds, which could be crucial to keeping him on the field.

“I think in his career, he’s been maybe as high as 390,” Wallerstedt told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “If we can get him into the low-340 range, you may have a guy that can play not just first and second down, but could help us all three downs.”

One of Tech’s biggest needs going into this season was a three-down run stuffer. The Red Raiders just might have found their man.

Boykin not giving up QB job without a fight

It remains unclear whether Trevone Boykin will be at quarterback or wide receiver this season. But Boykin, who is in the best shape of his life according to coach Gary Patterson, has done everything within his power to prove he should be TCU’s starting quarterback.

“From just working out, eating right, living right, watching film, staying out of trouble, leading guys on and off the field, being in front of the summer workouts -- stuff that quarterbacks are supposed to do, but that not necessarily all of them do,” he said during TCU’s media day on Sunday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Some people lead by example, and some are more vocal. I’ve tried to become both.”

Co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said the Horned Frogs would like to settle in on one quarterback. And Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel has more experience operating the offense Cumbie and co-coordinator Doug Meacham are installing.

Joeckel, however, has a fight on his hands.

West Virginia’s freshman trio impressing

While they’ve struggled on the field their first two years in the Big 12, the Mountaineers have been rolling on the recruiting trail. In its most recent signing class, West Virginia landed three elite prospects in defensive back Dravon Henry, quarterback William Crest and running back Donte Thomas-Williams who have all impressed since arriving in Morgantown.

Henry figures to push for a starting role at free safety, just like cornerback Daryl Worley did as a true freshman last year.

“He's ahead of the curve for a true freshman, that's for sure,” Dana Holgorsen said during West Virginia’s camp-opening news conference.

The backfield is crowded for Thomas-Williams, but the “sky is the limit” for him, position coach JaJuan Seider noted after getting a glimpse of him in practice.

Crest is still adjusting to the speed of the college game, but the talent is undeniable.

“He's big, he's fast, he's strong, and he's got a good arm,” Holgorsen said. “There's a reason we recruited him for three years.”

All three freshmen have the potential to emerge into cornerstone pieces for the Mountaineers in time.

Oklahoma embracing defensive status

With the return of tackle Jordan Phillips from injury and the addition of promising redshirt freshmen Matt Romar and Charles Walker to the rotation, the Sooners should be deep and athletic up front. The entire linebacking corps returns, headlined by pass-rushing menace Eric Striker. And while the secondary has questions, Zack Sanchez is one of the top returning corners in the league.

Coach Bob Stoops said the returning experience has made a huge difference in how the Sooners have approached this preseason defensively.

"There's no comparison. A year ago on these first three days we were just implementing a basic 3-4 defense,” he said. “Now our guys have had a whole year in it and they understand with each play how we want to play against that particular play. We have our different wrinkles to blitz one way or another to try and screw up blocking schemes. All that together is a big deal. A year ago you're just figuring out all that. We've had a long time to study and work it, and our players now are comfortable with it and we're comfortable with if somebody's doing a certain thing, here are our wrinkles to take care of it and all the kids know how we want to handle it as opposed to a year ago figuring all that out."

"We have a chance to be pretty good, yeah.”

Senior transfer could boost Cowboys

The Oklahoma State defense got a boost last year from senior transfer cornerback Tyler Patmon. The Cowboys are banking on getting another boost from another senior transfer in safety Josh Furman, who arrived in Stillwater by way of Michigan.

“He’s a bigger safety and we’ll play him at our star linebacker position,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said Saturday. “We brought him in, that was the goal, to get him ready to play that position.”

The “star” is essentially Oklahoma State’s nickelback spot, where the Cowboys have a giant void due to Shaun Lewis’ graduation.

"He's going to fit in perfectly,” safety Tre Flowers said. “He's going to keep working and he's going to help the team out."

Strong will be relying on freshmen

Texas coach Charlie Strong confirmed on Sunday the dismissal of five players and the suspension of three others. That will leave the Longhorns with 10 fewer scholarship players than the NCAA’s 85-man limit. And will leave Strong reliant on incoming freshmen to replenish some of the depth.

Two spots freshmen will have the opportunity to earn time will be at running back and receiver. Through the dismissals and suspensions, the Longhorns lost five players from those offensive skill spots.

“A freshman can handle the skill positions,” Strong countered. “It’s all about speed and athletic ability. You can get those guys out there and they can get up to speed.”

The Longhorns still have veteran cogs at the offensive skill positions in Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley. But it appears the depth at running back and receiver will be supplied by freshmen this season.

Best case, worst case: Oklahoma

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
3:00
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On Monday, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to take a look at what the season might look like if everything fell into place for each school, the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we'll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong, the worst-case scenario.

We continue the series with Oklahoma.

BEST CASE

The Sugar Bowl never ended.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight certainly played like a Heisman Trophy contender in the Sugar Bowl.
OK, well, that’s taking things a bit far, but the Sooners open the season as if their 45-31 thrashing of Alabama is destined to end up on the lower end of their list of accomplishments in 2014.

OU begins the 2014 season with three consecutive wins, including a 30-point home blowout of Tennessee, its second win over an SEC team in four games. Bob Stoops’ postgame news conference lasts less than a minute as the Sooners’ veteran coach, tired of being asked about the SEC, says, “Maybe you guys should stop asking me about the SEC and start asking the SEC about me.” He promptly drops the mic and walks out.

Stoops' team rallies behind its CEO, winning three straight games away from home with West Virginia, TCU and Texas each coming up short against the Sooners.

Trevor Knight starts to emerge as one of the Heisman Trophy frontrunners as the season hits the midway point. The sophomore is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the nation, joining Bryce Petty as the driving force in restoring the Big 12’s reputation for elite quarterbacks.

Wins over Kansas State and Iowa State result in the Sooners entering a early November showdown with Baylor with an undefeated record. The labels for this battle are endless -- “offense vs. defense,” “old school vs. new school” and “tradition vs. up-and-coming” are just a few of the labels being attached to the showdown.

Much like the Sugar Bowl, OU’s defense wins the day against the Bears, with a late-game sack by Eric Striker sealing a Sooners victory. OU narrowly escapes an upset bid by Kliff Kingsbury’s Texas Tech squad then rattles off wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State, earning a CFB playoff berth.

Controversy overshadows OU’s semifinal win over Florida State after it is revealed that Sooners fans had been sending a pound of crab legs to Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston every day since the matchup was announced, and the Seminoles admit it became a distraction during playoff preparations. Sooners fans smile.

Oklahoma meets Auburn in the title game and the Sooners defense stands up to the test again, giving the Sooners their eighth national title. Knight ends the season as a Heisman Trophy finalist and clear frontrunner for 2015.

WORST CASE

After a 2-0 start, Tennessee comes into Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and gives the Sooners’ College Football Playoff hopes a major setback with an upset win. The “S-E-C, S-E-C” chant doesn’t go over well in Norman, and local politicians implement a policy shortly thereafter that outlaws the chant in Norman city limits.

Fans of SEC schools unite and send one fan to Norman every day for a year with the sole purpose of breaking that law. The social media account labeled “Started in the SEC now we here” documents the daily forays into the city and quickly jumps to 850,000 followers by mid-October.

Meanwhile, OU rallies with back-to-back victories over West Virginia and TCU before another Red River blowout at the hands of Charlie Strong’s Texas squad. Strong cements his popularity in Texas afterward by stating, “I thought it was going to be harder than this.”

The Sooners rattle off two more wins before Baylor comes into Norman and leaves with its third victory over OU in four seasons. Kingsbury’s squad hands the Sooners their second straight loss the following week.

OU enters Bedlam with a 7-4 mark and questions about what went wrong. Things get even worse for the Sooners as the Pokes leave Norman with an upset win, leaving the Sooners without bragging rights over the SEC, the Longhorns or Cowboys for the next year.

Sooners fans express their displeasure by purchasing only 5,000 tickets to the Texas Bowl, where OU saves a little face by knocking off Ole Miss in an ugly, turnover-filled game.

Previous posts

June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State
June 18: Kansas
June 19: Kansas State

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