Oklahoma Football: What Sooners Must Do to Become Clear Cut Big 12 Favorites

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Oklahoma Football: What Sooners Must Do to Become Clear Cut Big 12 Favorites

I'd like to spend a moment reflecting on what exactly Bob Stoops has done at Oklahoma since becoming the head coach in 1999. 

I don't need to discuss his national championship, his prized recruits or his ridiculously large house. I just need to sum up his reign in the Big 12 conference—I can do it in one word—dominance.

Stoops came into a program at Oklahoma that had not once won (or even competed for) a Big 12 title. Granted, the Big 12 championship game had only started in 1996, but still, Stoops rebuilt the Sooners into a championship-caliber team. 

In just his second year, Stoops took his team to the Big 12 championship, defeating Kansas State by a score of 27-24. Oh yeah, I guess he also won a national championship that season. No big deal. 

Since 1999, Stoops has never gone two consecutive seasons without winning a Big 12 championship. Sure, there were hiccups along the way, but the Sooners have always come back twice as strong after not getting crowned in the previous season. 

Stoops' ability to get his troops recouped and readied for battle has resulted in seven conference championships. This is five more championships in that time span than his closest foe—Mack Brown and the University of Texas. 

After floundering down the backstretch of last season, the Sooners failed to capture their eighth Big 12 championship in the Stoops era. Instead, that prize was awarded to in-state rival Oklahoma State, who went on to beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

Still, let's reflect for a moment on the greatness that Stoops has brought back to a dominant and prestigious program.

 

Are you done? Good, because our seemingly smooth trip down memory lane is about to hit a wall, and it's name is WestVirginiaTexasTCUOklahomaStateKansasState.

That's a mouthful, right? I guess we're going to have to get used to it.  

The Big 12 has gone under construction, losing long-time participants Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. However, the strength and competitiveness of the conference may have gotten even better when West Virginia and TCU signed on for the upcoming season.

With the return of senior quarterback Landry Jones and his arsenal of offensive weapons, the Sooners are likely to be the favorites when the season starts, but that doesn't mean they're "clear cut" by any means. 

Their defense is still a work in progress, and even though the Sooners have a plethora of talent coming in at wide receiver—even after the suspensions—junior Kenny Stills will begin the season as the only player who has caught a pass at the Division 1 level.  

So, how do the Sooners become clear cut favorites? The simple answer is "go out and win football games." If you keep winning, you're going to get recognition. 

That answer feels too easy, though. That's the answer a head coach would give to the media. What the Sooners really need to do to become the clear cut favorite starts before games even begin. 

 

Yes, Mr. Iverson, I'm talking about practice. 

It all begins with getting Jones on the same page as his incoming wide receivers. We all saw the damage after Ryan Broyles went down with a knee injury last season, and as my colleague Eric Pennell pointed out in an article earlier in the week, the bulk of the blame cannot be placed on Jones.

 

Without Broyles—and now Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson—the Sooners can't just rely on Kenny Stills to go out and make 10 catches a game. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel needs to draw up a scheme that gets everyone involved.

The offense, as talented as it may be, needs chemistry to be successful. Once the chemistry is established, I have no doubt that the Sooners will have one of the most prolific offenses in the nation once again.

As for the defense, chemistry isn't the issue. Instead, it's getting back to the fundamentals, understanding their roles on the field and learning to be more perceptive.

With the rehire of former defensive coordinator (and brother to Bob) Mike Stoops, the defense should be well on their way to getting back to "normal." However, they are going to have to prove themselves on the field first. Stoops may be a great defensive coordinator, but the players have to perform—bottom line.

These are the things the Sooners have to do to become clear cut favorites, but, honestly, we may not know who the clear cut favorite is in this league until the final game of the season is played.

So, in turn, it all comes back to the all too simple head-coach-like answer: All you have to do is win.

With what is likely to be one of the most difficult schedules in the country, the Sooners will have to be on top of their game, every game. The talent in the conference is catching up.

Stoops' prestigious conference record still holds merit, but the Sooners will need more than record books to earn another Big 12 crown this season.

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