Where's the boom?
Why Oklahoma has recently lost its luster and more
Posted: Wednesday June 13, 2007 12:30PM; Updated: Wednesday June 13, 2007 1:52PM
Despite the fact I've been writing for an online publication for nearly nine years, I confess to a limited understanding of how this whole Internet thing actually works. Which is why it caught be my surprise recently to learn that when you set one of those "Out of Office" automated responses in Outlook, it gets sent beyond the confines of your actual office. Which is how nearly 300 readers who responded to my last Mailbag inadvertently learned I was already on vacation by the time the thing got published.
It's been a relaxing, enjoyable past few weeks, during which I did my best to avoid reading, writing or talking about college football as much as possible. But one can only suppress the bug for so long. En route to Las Vegas last weekend for a buddy's bachelor party, I couldn't help but pick up a copy of Athlon at the airport to peruse on the plane. And when the degenerate gambler in our group picked up a copy of the 2008 BCS championship odds sheet at one of the sports books, I suddenly found myself engrossed in a conversation that spanned everything from USC's receivers to Rutgers' quarterback to Virginia Tech's schedule to West Virginia's secondary.
You know one team that none of us mentioned in this impromptu title debate, despite winning 11 games last year and despite rating among Vegas' top-10 contenders? Oklahoma. Isn't that strange? Dan Johnson of Big Rapids, Mich., wonders the same thing:
Ever since the debacle against USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl, it seems like the pollsters have been a little bit leery of ranking Oklahoma high in the early part of the season. Do you think that OU is finally starting to move past that hurdle or do you think that the poll voters still keep that particular game in mind when making their decisions?
There's no question that 55-19 humiliation became something of a milestone in terms of the perception surrounding Bob Stoops' program. It's pretty simple: Before that game, the Sooners were considered a national title contender every year; now, they're not. Sure, they may start every season in the top 10, but I get the sense not too many people outside the great state of Oklahoma actually believe them to be capable of hanging in USC/LSU/Texas/Florida territory. And for that, I blame not only that Orange Bowl but also the Big 12 title-game beatdown by Kansas State the year before, the season-opening loss to TCU the following year, the end of their run of dominance against arch-rival Texas, the Rhett Bomar scandal and the Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State. Basically, where once there was an aura of invincibility that surrounded Stoops' program, now they seem like just one of many very-good-but-hardly-impregnable teams. And that's reflected in their standing in the polls.
When you look at the 2007 Sooners on paper, there's a lot to like. Between Allen Patrick and freshman sensation DeMarco Murray, the running game should be phenomenal. They have a veteran offensive line and a solid group of receivers (love Malcolm Kelly). And most of the defense returns as well. So why can't OU win the national title? Because of one big, huge, glaring deficiency that has come to the attention of Nick Tait in Tulsa:
Bob Stoops has run one of the most successful programs in the nation, and in so doing produced both a Heisman winner (Jason White) and runner-up (Josh Heupel) at quarterback. Yet Stoops seems to be consistently scrambling to locate quarterback talent. When he kicked Rhett Bomar off the team last year, the Sooners were forced to use a wide receiver (Paul Thompson) the entire season. When Sam Keller decided to leave Arizona State, I thought he would be perfect for Norman. When he (and no one else) did not, it left a three-man competition for 2007 -- without any standouts. My only explanation for the tepid interest in quarterbacking at Oklahoma is its track record with developing pro talent. Any thoughts?
It's true: OU's quarterback stable right now borders on disastrous. None of the three contenders -- redshirt freshman Sam Bradford, juco transfer Joey Hazle and true freshman Keith Nichol -- were highly recruited elsewhere (though Nichol originally committed to Michigan State). The hope in Norman is that Bradford, the likely starter, will surprise people like Colt McCoy at Texas last year, but if he doesn't there aren't a whole lot of other viable options. Part of the problem is just bad luck -- Tommy Grady transferred to Utah because he was stuck behind Bomar and ASU's Rudy Carpenter, from what I've been told, would have been on the first plane to Oklahoma had Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter not pulled his 11th-hour switcheroo with Keller. But I also think you hit the nail on the head in your question: High-profile QB recruits want to go someplace where they know they can develop into NFL quarterbacks. Stoops has produced two phenomenal college QBs (Heupel and White) and one very solid one (Nate Hybl), but they barely sniffed the next level. I'm not sure it's fair to blame that on OU's program, but if you're Keller, and you're going into your last season to prove yourself before the draft, and your choices are playing for the Sooners or playing for NFL passing guru Bill Callahan, you're probably going to pick the latter.
And if you're a pollster trying to fill out your preseason ballot, and you know OU is likely going to be starting a no-name freshman QB, that probably weighs on your decision far more than a 55-19 blowout three years ago.
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