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Road Warrior
OU turned forgettable 1-2 start to 2016 into memorable 9-0 run and Big 12 title

I said here after the Ohio State game that there were two things that were for sure about the 2016 season — we weren't going to the playoff and we weren't going 11-1 — but that everything else was still on the table.

Nobody thought on that September night that it would be the last time the Sooners would be on the short end of the scoreboard in 2016. In fact, there were those who were predicting that the Sooners would be 1-4, with games against TCU and Texas looming.

Instead, two and a half months later, TCU is 6-6, Texas is 5-7 and has a new coach, and the Sooners, who did not start the season 1-4, are undefeated back-to-back conference champs, on a nine-game winning streak, and just finished at No. 7 in the final CFP rankings.

Just like we all expected back in September.

Frankly, weird as it is, we were only a few different results in other games from making the playoff. If Michigan State makes a two-point conversion against Ohio State and Washington State doesn't throw away literally like five touchdown chances against Washington and NC State doesn't miss a winning field goal against Clemson, we’re probably in the playoff.

Of course, we’d be playing Bama had that happened, and I’m not sure this is a year we want Bama. I’m not sure this is a year anyone wants Bama. They are even more of a joyless killing machine than usual in 2016.

That said, I will never understand the folks who were saying that they didn’t want us to go to the playoff for that exact reason. I’d much rather get curbstomped in the playoff than win some lesser bowl. Every single time. After all, the only way you know for sure you’re not going to win a championship is if you don’t get the chance to play for it.

Kirby Hocutt (who used to work at OU and is now the Texas Tech AD and the chairman of the CFP selection committee) said on the selection show that OU ended up 7th instead of being considered along with the top teams for the playoff because our defense wasn’t very good and we were not a complete team as a result. I have no disagreement with any of that at all. It was
just kind of funny for TEXAS TECH’s AD to be calling out another school’s defense, for obvious reasons.

After a couple of years without a real weather game, we had two in a row. I was bundled up like I was headed to the South Pole in Morgantown. Four shirts and a hoodie under a Gibbs-era Nike parka, plus a pair of polar weight insulated overalls.

It had been so long since I wore that coat, I found a St. Louis transit receipt in the pocket from March of 1999, when I flew into St. Louis and took the train directly from the airport to the downtown football stadium where we were playing Michigan State in the NCAA Sweet 16.

That was the game where Eduardo Najera and Mateen Cleaves knocked heads and Najera got his chin split open, then famously returned to the game.

I flew into Dayton, Ohio, for the WVU game, since my brother lives there, and we drove from Dayton to Morgantown, which is about a four-hour jaunt. Along the way, the route took us through Columbus, so we made about a five-mile detour to do a little reconnaissance of Ohio Stadium ahead of our trip there next September.

It’s one of those stadiums like Tennessee — huge capacity but not very big on the outside. It’s definitely steep on the inside, from what I could see from the outside. It’s like Notre Dame’s stadium, in that it’s been expanded outward for the purpose of expanding it upward.

I’ve been to Morgantown three times now, and the people seem to get nicer every time I go. I figured that they might be a little more adversarial this time, since they had a chance to win the conference if they beat us, but they were even nicer than they were the prior two times up there. If we just could have played that game 24 hours before we did, we’d have gone in shorts.

Instead, it kicked off in a blizzard.

There was no blizzard in Norman two weeks later, just a steady, cold rain that would have been miserable had I not been clad in a sweet Gore-Tex rainsuit.

I found it interesting that Mason Rudolph couldn't do much of anything throwing the ball, while the weather didn’t seem to affect Baker Mayfield at all. I also found it interesting (and highly amusing) that Mike Gundy coached the game scared.

As a result, we get another trip to New Orleans — to play the second best team in Alabama — the same as the last time we were down there. I was so confident of the win over OSU that I made my hotel reservations for New Orleans during the week leading up to the game.

Pro tip: book a hotel within walking distance of the Superdome. Forget about proximity to Bourbon Street — just cab it over there.

Enjoy the holidays, stay reasonably sober on New Year’s Eve, and see you in 2017 in the Big Easy.

(This story appears in the 2016 Bowl Preview Issue of Sooner Spectator magazine. To read more or subscribe, call 405-364-4515)