The Oklahoma Sooners (10-3) finished the season with a 31-14 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl. However, I don't expect an Insight Bowl victory was on the Sooners' checklist this season.
After starting the season out at No. 1 in the polls, the Sooners failed to disappoint early on in the season. Despite being bumped out of the No. 1 position due to the stellar play of LSU and Alabama, the Sooners still began the season 6-0 with the hopes of a national championship still in sight.
The Sooners were playing so well I even deemed their "overall" score as an "A-" in my midseason report card. It was hard to argue with an undefeated team that looked unstoppable on both sides of the ball.
Then the momentum shifted. After a humiliating loss at home to unranked Texas Tech, the Sooners hopes of an undefeated season were crushed, but all was not lost. The Sooners were able to bounce back with big wins over Kansas State and Texas A&M, and things were starting to fall back into place.
That is, until All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles went down with an injury. Rightfully so, the offense started to appear out-of-sync without its best player on the field. The injury bug was an issue for the Sooners all season long, and when the season was over, injuries had definitely played a part in the Sooners' underwhelming season.
So, the question remains, is it fair to deem a depleted offense with a lackluster grade?
The short answer: yes. The Sooners were down a few players, but they never helped themselves out, either.
Needless to say, this report card looks a lot different than it did two and a half months ago.
Another year, another great offense for the Sooners. At least before Ryan Broyles' injury.
Still, the Sooners still produced great overall numbers: 4,542 yards passing (No. 4 in the NCAA), 349.4 passing yards per game (No. 5 in the NCAA), and only 11 sacks allowed (No. 8 in the NCAA).
Their rushing totals could have been better, but with starting RB Dominique Whaley getting injured midseason as well as the Sooners being a pass-first offense in the first place, the running totals are expected to just be average.
However, thanks to "The Belldozer," the Sooners actually rushed for more touchdowns (30) than they passed for (29) this season.
At times, Oklahoma's offense looked unstoppable. With Broyles on the field, junior quarterback Landry Jones produced Heisman-caliber statistics. However, with Broyles off the field, the offense looked lost. They didn't have a "go-to" guy like Broyles to step up, and Jones looked more and more flustered as the season went on.
The one touchdown pass Jones threw in the Insight Bowl was the first touchdown pass he had thrown since Broyles' injury. He went three straight games without throwing a touchdown pass. It wasn't like him.
The ineptitude of the offense without Broyles on the field makes me question the mental toughness (even more so than I already did) of this offense—mostly Jones.
The Sooners never had a back-up plan. They never had guys willing to step up and take control of the game. They never stopped passing, regardless of how bad Jones was looking.
For all of these reasons, I simply can't give the offense a higher grade than a "B," even though they played so well throughout the first half of the season.
First, let's talk about the positives: Senior defensive end Frank Alexander anchored a defensive line that really played great this season.
Going into the year, the defensive line had more question marks surrounding it than any other unit on the defense. Alexander proved he was NFL ready this year with a career-high 8.5 sacks, and Sooners' fans weren't the only ones to notice.
Alexander, along with Broyles, was named an All-American due to his outstanding performance on the field this season. He anchored a defense that produced a total of 40 sacks this year, good enough for sixth best in the country.
Now, let's get to the bad. For a defense that had been playing so well throughout the first half of the season, everything seemingly fell apart once the Sooners started facing teams that could throw the ball.
Here are some numbers to remember for next season: 394, 441, 394, and 551. These are the total yards that Missouri QB James Franklin, Texas Tech QB Seth Doege, Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill and Baylor QB Robert Griffin III were able to put up on the Sooners.
Highlighted in the Baylor game, Oklahoma's secondary continually looked lost, confused and unprepared. Whether the woes of the secondary fall on the players' ability or a lack of coaching, something needs to get fixed before next season starts.
It was uncharacteristic for a Sooners' defense to play so poorly, and it's even more uncharacteristic when the guys on the field have gobs of talent.
There were times where the defense showed signs of life, like the second-half of the Kansas State game or really the entire Florida State game, but, for the most part, the defense couldn't get the job done against better-than-average quarterbacks.
Finally, the Oklahoma Sooners get a break on special teams.
For the first time in a few seasons, at least since former kicker Garrett Hartley graduated, the Sooners had a great season in terms of kicking. Freshman Michael Hunnicutt stepped in for injured Jimmy Stevens in Week 3 and never looked back.
Hunnicutt finished the year 21 of 24 on field goals and 55 of 55 on extra points. On the season, the Sooners finished 25 of 28 in field goals, and their 89.3 field goal percentage was good enough for fifth in the country.
Because Hunnicutt is only a freshman, the Sooners should be feeling great about their kicking game for the next few seasons.
Junior punter Tress Way had another great season, as well. This was the third season in a row Way has averaged over 40 yards per punt (42.0 this season).
Way looked like the best player on the field during the Insight Bowl. Way was forced to punt the ball six times and averaged 50.3 yards per punt with a season-long punt of 67 yards.
The Sooners will be happy to have both Way and Hunnicutt back next season, and if I were just grading on their individual performances this season, this slide would have been an "A."
However, I have to think about the return game as well when talking about special teams, and this year was pretty lackluster. The Sooners averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return this season, which put them in the middle of the NCAA pack at No. 65. At 8.7 yards per punt return, the Sooners were a little better at No. 57.
The Sooners are just treading water in their return game. They will need to improve that next season.
Is a "C" too harsh of a grade for a coaching staff that took their team to a bowl game and won? On most teams that finish 10-3, that answer would be yes. However, for a team like Oklahoma with a reputable coaching staff, 10-3 is a lousy year.
In fact, this might be head coach Bob Stoops' most disappointing season at Oklahoma. It's certainly not his worst record, but with the talent he had this year and all the expectations surrounding this team, it's hard to say 10-3 deserves anything more than a "C."
There are some things that Stoops and Company did get right this year, such as finding a solution to the Sooners' redzone offense woes. Granted, it came in the form of a gimmicky Wildcat package, but third-string quarterback Blake "The Belldozer" Bell proved to be instant offense for the Sooners.
Bell scored three rushing touchdowns in the Sooners' Insight Bowl victory, which gave him a team-high 13 rushing touchdowns on the season. At 6'6" and 245 pounds, the Belldozer crushed every opposing defensive line he faced.
While I would have rather seen Landry Jones be able to make redzone plays instead of using a gimmicky package, you have to commend the coaching staff on their ability to find a playmaker.
However, some things I didn't agree with this season included: the disparity between pass offense and run offense (especially after Broyles' injury), the inability to find playmakers for the secondary and the the inability to consistently keep the players motivated.
Many times this year the Sooners came out completely flat and had to fight their way back. Why did this keep happening? Stoops is a great recruiter and, as far as I know, is a great motivator. Did he stop doing his job?
Even if he was "doing his job," he didn't "get the job done" this season. None of the coaches did. Therefore, a "C" seems more than fair to me.
If you average all the grades out on this slide, then the "real" overall grade would be a "B-." However, I can't justify giving any form of a "B" to a team that continually played unmotivated football and wound up losing three games because of it.
A "C+" basically means just a little better than average, and that's how the Sooners played down the stretch of the season. Some of the blame can be placed on injuries, especially some of the offensive struggles, but the fact of the matter remains that the Sooners had a really, really talented team this season.
Losing Ryan Broyles shouldn't have made Landry Jones a terrible quarterback. It shouldn't have meant that Jones wouldn't throw a touchdown pass three games in a row. It shouldn't have meant that sophomores Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds would drop passes they normally catch.
Junior safety Javon Harris got beat time and time again during the Baylor loss, and he was eventually pulled from the game because of it. Without hanging his head, Harris showed up at the press conference the next day and took the blame for his performance.
The Sooners need more guys like Harris on this team. I know that Harris played, at times, really terrible football this season, but his character proved to be strong, and he will continue to be motivated to get better.
I honestly questioned this team's integrity as the season went on. I saw no will to fight and no motivation to get better.
Going 10-3 with a bowl victory would be nice for some teams, but not for a really talented Oklahoma Sooners team. When it was all said and done, this team was just a little better than average.