Six weeks ago, the Sooner season was hanging in the balance as they managed a measly 25 yards of 1st quarter offense at home against the woeful Iowa State Cyclones. Fans were squirming to say the least, not realizing that Sooner Magic was just around the corner. The Sooners snapped out of their funk and eventually dispatched the Cyclones and went on to improbable wins at K-State and OSU, a series of games topped only by the miracle on Bourbon Street.
Lost in the euphoria of the Sugar Bowl win is the fact that the Sooner program had slipped over the past three years and was no longer considered by many to be among the nation’s best. That all changed over the last half of the season as the Sooners roared back with a vengeance. The win on Thursday coupled with a ton of young talent and a favorable schedule in 2014 now puts the Sooners in perfect position to expedite their return to the national scene.
Just as important for Big 12 fans will be the fact that the Sooners’ return to national prominence in 2014 will possibly save the conference. At the end of 2013, most national pundits had positioned the Big 12 as fifth among the five power conferences, a ranking that would leave the Big 12 out of the final four playoff picture. Sooner Magic at the of the 2013 season and, particularly in the Sugar Bowl, has erased those views as the Sooners and the conference are now positioned to fight for a playoff spot in 2014.
What happened to create such a dynamic change for both the Sooners and the Big 12? Coupled with the Texas move of ousting the consummate good old boy in Mack Brown and replacing him with the up and coming Charlie Strong and the end of season Sooner surge has saved the conference at least for now. While always viewed as a great rivalry, the OU/Texas game had slipped in recent years due to the perceived downturn of both programs. In just one weekend, the OU/Texas game is back and ready to assure the conference of a national contender for an end of season playoff run.
While fans of the conference should give Texas officials credit for their moves in Austin, fans of the conference should provide equal love for Bob Stoops and his staff for the OU turnaround. The reason for the staffing changes made by Stoops became more obvious as the season rolled on and made the resurgence of the program possible. The program had grown stale under the Brent Venables /Jackie Shipp staff and changes were needed in a big way. Enter Mike Stoops, Jerry Montgomery, Bill Bedenbaugh and Jay Boulware. The line play, special teams play and defense were light years better this year than last. While this fact may have been lost on many fans early in the year due to the anemic play of the offense, the defense and special teams actually kept OU in ballgames as Josh Heupel and his offense grew up. By the time the team rolled into New Orleans both the offense and defense were clicking.
While a football team cannot be successful without emotion, the second cousin of success is leadership. Having the courage to make needed changes in a timely manner is critical to the success of any organization, not the least of which is a football team. The changes made by Stoops laid the groundwork that allowed for an emotionally charged Sooner team to have its way against the Wildcats, Cowboys and Crimson Tide.
As the Sooners enter what hopefully will be a bountiful recruiting season, offseason and preseason, that will end with another Sooner run to a national championship, Sooner fans should reflect back on what made this happen. Greatness does not happen by accident. Success, particularly in football, must be well planned and extremely well-executed. The 2013 end of season run that was culminated by the miracle on Bourbon Street is a perfect example of this fact.
Sooner and Big 12 fans should give credit where credit is due. Without the proactive leadership of Stoops, none of this would have been possible.