What have the Sooners learned?

OU had off-the-field troubles in 2011, and now the team is trying to correct them

Updated: August 29, 2012, 12:47 AM ET
By Brandon Chatmon | SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- It wasn't a major surprise to see Oklahoma State knock off Oklahoma to clinch the 2012 Big 12 championship in 2011.

The dominant fashion of the Cowboys' 44-10 Bedlam victory was a surprise, however, as OSU took a 44-3 lead into the fourth quarter of a game that was billed as the regular season's Big 12 title game.

And yet the final score wasn't the most troubling part of the regular-season finale for the Sooners.

"A big part of the OSU game -- props to them, they put it on us -- but we had a lot of guys missing classes and suspended from practice," senior defensive end David King said. "When you're suspended from practice you don't get that full game week, I feel like we weren't as prepared as we should have been. And it showed."

[+] EnlargeShaun Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones and the Sooners were pounded by Oklahoma State last November, but they say they've learned from their mistakes.
The Sooners' Bedlam loss was capped off a disappointing 9-3 regular season which included losses in two of their final three games. OU finished the season with a 10-3 record after a 31-14 win over Iowa in the Insight Bowl.

"Last year we had guys miss class, miss tutors, get suspended from practice," center Gabe Ikard said. "You can't miss practice during game week. That's not going to fly."

As disappointing as 2011 was for OU, it could become a positive year, if -- and it's a big if -- the Sooners learn from the things that led to losses to OSU, Baylor and Texas Tech. When the Sooners talk about what they learned in 2011, one word continually came up: Consistency.

"Consistency is a big word; it's almost like potential," running back Brennan Clay said. "If you're not consistent, nothing goes right. And that was our biggest downfall last year. We would play well some plays, then some plays we would slack off."

Inconsistency played a major role in the Sooners' losses to Texas Tech and Baylor as OU got off to slow starts and trailed early.

"Last year we got complacent," King said. "We beat Texas, blew them out, and that's when we got complacent. You have to play consistent to win. If you play too inconsistent, you're going to lose."

But what is consistency? What exactly does that mean for a team with eyes on winning a national championship in 2012?

"Showing up every day with the mentality to become better," fullback Trey Millard said. "Any mistake just isn't acceptable. (It's) knowing it's the little things that separate between a 13-win season and a 10-win season."

Consistency on the field is just part of the battle.

It wasn't a lack of playmakers that doomed the Sooners in 2011, it was a lack of focus and a lack of commitment to winning, which showed itself in some of their poor off-the-field decisions such as missing a class or skipping a tutoring session.

"Nothing too major happened," defensive end R.J. Washington said. "It was just a bunch of little stuff that chipped away at our focus. (Then) we were on the outside looking in like, 'We could have done this, we could have done that.'"

Said Clay: "People were making bad decisions off the field. Some things are out of your hands, but some things are in your hands. And you do have the decision ultimately."

This season, the Sooners expect that to change. Teammates said King, Ikard, Millard, Landry Jones and Tom Wort are among the veterans policing the locker room with the goal of preventing a repeat of 2011. Not surprisingly, King, Ikard, Millard, Jones and Tress Way are the Sooners' captains this season.

"That's been one of the main goals of Coach (Bob) Stoops and the elected captains," Ikard said. "Everyone on this team is going to take care of their stuff, off the field, the right way. We aren't going to have guys on lists or anything like that. When we get here, from 2 to 7, it's football, I don't want to worry about you being suspended because you can't go to a tutor."

Said King: "I've tried to preach to the guys, 'Be where you should be at all times, with who you should be with. Don't be late, don't be missing classes, don't be missing academic appointments and don't be doing dumb stuff off the field that is going to affect you on the field and put you in an unfortunate situation.' "

The Sooners are looking to prove they have learned that consistency, on and off the field, can put you on the road to competing for a championship. And that consistency is driven by the players, not the coaches. Championship teams have players who police the locker room and hold their peers accountable.

"It's very important," linebacker Corey Nelson said. "It's what separates good from great. If we want to be great, we have to have guys like that. We have to remain consistent, on and off the field, in all aspects of our lives. A lot of us weren't consistent and it played a major role in those games.

"For that mindset to occur, it starts with how bad you want it. It starts with your heart and your head. Where are your heart and your head at? If you want it as bad as you say you want it, it's going to show. It has to be your own fire, your own determination and motivation."

Thanks to last year's disappointment, this season's team knows the little things can be the difference between a championship and a 10-win season.

"People are tired of saying shoulda, woulda, coulda and thinking woulda, shoulda, coulda," Washington said of last season. "I feel like everybody's focus is where it should be for the most part. We took a couple losses we didn't want to take, but we took lessons from those losses.

"Although we didn't want to take them, I'm glad we did so we can take those [lessons] into this season. Just try to do the little things right and tweak everything. We need to keep policing each other and hopefully everything will be all right."

Proving last year wasn't a complete waste for the program starts Saturday, when OU visits UTEP at 9:30 p.m. CT at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas.

Brandon Chatmon | email

Oklahoma/Big 12 reporter