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23. Oklahoma

There is change in the air: In Norman these days they'd sooner pass than run

By Richard Deitsch

The Book
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Sooners

"Oklahoma has always had talent, but in '97 and '98 they didn't play nearly as hard as they did last year. If you want to know the reason for the return of OU football, it's effort.... Their down linemen get off the ball and put pressure on you, especially Ryan Fisher, who's strong inside. Those guys tie up your linemen so you can't get to the linebackers.... They're young in the secondary, but they've got a lot of good players there."

Sports IllustratedFor a school that produced Billy Sims, Barry Switzer and the most famous wishbone this side of Thanksgiving dinner, the latest incarnation of Oklahoma football is going to take some getting used to. Still, you don't have to be Rodgers and Hammerstein to admire the production of Oklahoma last season. The Sooners' aerial circus broke nine school and five Big 12 passing records and left the rest of the country pondering the following query: What in the name of J.C. Watts is going on in Norman these days? "I think it's communism, myself," says Watts, who now does his scrambling on Capitol Hill as a Republican congressman representing Oklahoma's Fourth District. "Oklahoma throwing the ball 35 to 40 times a game; that's as close to communism as we'll ever see. But I'll take it because we're winning again."

Oklahoma What wishbone? Josh Heupel is a key reason the Sooners are taking to the air.Elsa Hasch/Allsport 
So will his constituents, especially after a decade in which storied OU was more like PU. Last year, with a new offense (spread), coach (Bob Stoops) and star quarterback (Josh Heupel), the Sooners reached their first bowl game since 1994. Life in Norman should be just as much fun this season with Heupel (3,460 passing yards) throwing to a fleet of young wideouts. If sophomore running back Quentin Griffin can give the Sooners a ball-control alternative late in games, Oklahoma will be tough to beat. An improving defense will be buoyed by the return of the starting front seven.

Texas, K-State and Nebraska will determine the Sooners' fate. Asked if he's got a wager on the Texas game with Governor George W. Bush, a Longhorns supporter, Congressman Watts emits some Texas-sized confidence of his own. "He's a smart man," Watts says. "He knows better."

Was that the sound of a Sooner trash-talking again? Some things in Norman just never change.

Issue date: August 14, 2000

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