Saying goodbye to the go-to receiver on a good team is one thing, but when a year-in, year-out championship contender loses the nation's all-time career receptions leader, the impact is far and wide.
When Ryan Broyles limped off the field during the second half against Texas A&M last season in Norman after tearing ligaments in his knee—his last on-field moment as a Sooner—Oklahoma not only lost a Norman-born legend, they lost the most important piece of their high-flying passing attack.
Through that Texas A&M game, Broyles had caught a whopping 33 percent of quarterback Landry Jones' completions that season. To compare, Justin Blackmon caught 30 percent of Brandon Weeden's completed passes at Oklahoma State and Tavon Austin received 29 percent of Geno Smith's completions for West Virgina in 2011.
Only Kendall Wright caught a larger percentage of his quarterback's passes in the Big 12 last year, hauling in 37 percent of Heisman winner Robert Griffin III's passes at Baylor.
Making the loss even more detrimental was the fact that Broyles' catch percentage was nearly identical the previous two seasons—32 percent in 2010 and 34 percent in 2009—meaning Jones had spent nearly three full seasons with Broyles as his safety blanket.
The impact of his loss quickly brought the Oklahoma passing game to its proverbial knees, from well-oiled juggernaut to inefficient lemon. The team went 2-2 in Broyles' wake and didn't throw another passing touchdown until the third quarter of the Insight Bowl.
Kenny Stills was looked to to help keep things afloat, but averaged a so-so five catches for 60 yards over those remaining four games.
Broyles' early departure wasn't all bad, however. Yes, it was the catalyst for head coach Bob Stoops' worst finish at the helm, but it did shed light on a vital flaw that was lurking just beneath the surface—everyone was riding Broyles' coattails and the offense would crumble without him.
The meteoric end-of-season crash opened everyone's eyes a little wider, especially Jones and his remaining receivers. They now had hard evidence that they all needed to step their post-Broyles game up if they were to return to prominence in 2012.
This lesson instead would have likely been learned sometime during a tough Texas two-step in Week 6 and Week 7 when the Sooners play Texas in Dallas, then travel to Lubbock to battle Texas Tech. Imagine that midseason meltdown leading up to the tough three-game stretch to end the regular season with games at West Virginia, Oklahoma State and at TCU. One shudders at the potential media-fueled firestorm in Norman.
So while Broyles' early departure hurt the Sooners' end to the 2011 season, it will pay big dividends for 2012 because the team learned a tough lesson about 12 months earlier than they could have otherwise. The receivers have seen first-hand the dangers of tucking in behind their leader instead of fighting hard to displace him, raising all of their respective games while they were at it.
Come to think of it, this is a lesson we could all learn from.