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Sooner Spectator Premier Issue Cover
Questions about Sooners' aura not surprising
OU looks at the big picture

It wasn’t a surprise, nor was it embraced, but Oklahoma players and coaches knew the subject would come up time and time again during the Big 12 Conference media days in Houston.

Forget about the microscope focused on the quarterback battle. Never mind the details of replacing departed All-Americans. That stuff made for lots of copy and chatter in the spring, but the trip to Houston was mostly about the big picture.

Lots and lots of big-picture questions directed at Bob Stoops, and there was little OU’s coach could do but smile and provide answers.

How can this program rebound from back-to-back national championship game losses?

Has the veil of invincibility been lifted from the once dominant Sooner program?

“Nobody is invincible,” replied Stoops to one such question. “Everybody knows that.”

The Sooners have known that since Kansas State put the first chink in the Stoops’ armor two seasons ago in the Big 12 Championship Game.

USC, some say, delivered an even more emphatic blow.

But the truth is, Oklahoma has been in this position before. Following the 2003 season, Kansas State supposedly delivered the blueprint to defeat Oklahoma. Every team apparently had that game plan on file. And the Sooners were expected to suffer greatly the following year.

But those claims of a Sooner downfall never materialized. Oklahoma put together another perfect regular season. With bumps in the road at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, the Sooners still managed to put up massive offensive numbers.

Teams quickly went back to the drawing board trying to defend Oklahoma’s no-so-predictable offensive attack. The blueprint failed.

So here the Sooners sit heading into 2005. The blueprint to OU’s collapse now calls for a steady diet of downfield passing.

The OU defense, and particularly the secondary, apparently lost its way last season. It’s eerily similar to the things said about Oklahoma’s offensive attack heading into the 2004 campaign.

You could even feel others in the conference salivating at the possibilities this week in Houston.

“USC’s offense and the way they executed the West Coast offense is exactly what we’re doing,” Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan said in Houston. “It’s the same plays, the same concepts and the same techniques.”

Of course, USC has the personnel to produce a dangerous aerial attack. Last season in Norman, Nebraska appeared to have the type of talent to shorten the length of a football game through its running backs.

There is plenty of talk about Oklahoma’s vulnerabilities, but there are very few teams capable of acting on that conjecture.

The Texas Longhorns enter 2005 as the favorites to win the South division. This is the same Texas team that has fallen to Oklahoma five straight times in the Cotton Bowl.

In fact, the No. 1 argument for Texas’ selection to overtake the Sooners seems to center around the law of averages, rather than the coaches' or the players' abilities.

Even so, this wasn’t a Sooner crew full of braggadocio in Houston. OU players have been humbled by the experiences of the last two seasons. Stoops has been humbled by lopsided losses when they mattered.

The years of dominance following the Sooners’ triumphant return to national prominence in 2000, the stellar record of Stoops in big game matchups — all of that talk has been replaced with questions about negative endings to outstanding seasons.

If the past two seasons have done anything to the OU program, the have taken away some of the swagger.

In its place, a sense of reality has taken hold. There are fewer absolutes and more uncertainties. And unfortunately, this program can’t start another season with a blank canvas.

“We don’t accept failure,” said senior linebacker Clint Ingram. “It may happen, but it’s not something we’re going to accept. It’s not something that will ever be cool with us.”

This group of Sooners knows that success is earned, it’s chased and it’s demanded. But it also knows success is not guaranteed.

The Sooners have a plan of their own. And they know the only way to quiet the questions of their imminent demise is to go out and earn their way yet again.

“Each year is different, each team is different,” said Stoops. “I have said it a bunch of times. You earn your way every time. You are going to line up and nobody thinks you are invincible. That’s just talk out there. I don’t think it much matters. We are going to go play and compete like we always do.”

For now, that’s all that can be done. As for the big picture, this group is just happy to get back on the field and away from those questions in an effort to quiet the critics once again.

If the Sooners plan to calm the storm surrounding their program, it’s clear a work of art is needed once again in 2005, especially where the Big Picture is concerned.