First a tip of the hat has to be made from yours truly to Landry Jones. His 36/51 370 yard 2 touchdown performance Saturday was much needed for himself, the team, and me. With almost a complete absence of the usually reliable run game, and the Sooner defense donning matador outfits instead of uniforms, OU needed every one of the completions. No, he's not off my list, and yes he is still locking on to receivers, (almost thought I would have to send a bill to the OU athletic department citing a broken television for his costly/turned out not to be costly interception) but he did make some key plays down the stretch and put the first 'can they win on the road' question to the back of critics minds...for at least a week. OK Now that's out of the way, let's delve into why this team still scares the hell out of OU fans and looks to have a fog of uneasiness surrounding it even at 4-0...
The first reason is easy. Cincinnati should not have been added to the Sooners 2010 list of opponents they beat by a touchdown or less. They have some playmakers, yes, and they got their talented tailback Isaiah Pead back from injury for this game (gaining 169 yards on 21 carries) but the fact remains this teams lone victory came against Indiana State. It had to be expected they would play well coming home (well not exactly home, the Bengals home...still has me wondering why teams do this, I mean don't you want your big home game at your actual home field? I digress...) but, like the Utah State and Air Force games, there were multiple chances for knockout blows, but apparently this OU team likes to take on the role of George Foreman while their opponents perform the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope. Fortunately for OU, these Sooners haven't suffered Big George's fate...yet. Over the course of the week leading up to, and a few days after, the Cinci game I kept hearing about the Bearcats being two time defending Big East Champions. This is obviously true on paper, but making that statement as if it has any bearing on this season (or makes OU's win better) would be like believing the 1989 Sooners would just continue on with Switzer-like seasons sans Switzer. Look, this team is good, and will get better. A bowl game is probable, but with some of their biggest playmakers gone due to graduation or NFL contracts, a new head coach, and a quick glance at the remaining schedule reveals OU won't be their last loss, and a Big East three-peat seeming highly unlikely.
The second 'uneasiness' feeling is...Travis Lewis, you lied to us. I've spent the first four articles of my young online writing life slinging mountains of distrust on Landry Jones, but keeping hope alive for the Sooner defense. Even going as far to say that the three week slate of offenses (Utah St., Florida St., and Air Force) they had to prepare for was unenviable for ANY other team in the country, even giving a 'tip of the hat' to Venables and staff prior to Cincinnati (now regretting my previous 'tip of the hat' to Jones prior to Texas). But after this game? 461 yards total offense. Somewhat mobile quarterback Collaros goes for 305 yards with 3 TD's. The aforementioned Pead got 169 on the ground and the guy that turned out to be the favorite 'Soonercat' on the field, D.J. Woods, ended up snagging 7 catches for 171 yards. Let's review...Utah State had a mobile quarterback figuring big problems, check. FSU qb had cement cleats, figuring the D to thrive, check. Air Force ran a 'what the heck is this?' offense, D gets pass if OU wins, they did, check. The Bearcats have a somewhat mobile quarterback, and the run game is solid BUT it more resembles the kind of offense the Sooners control or dominate...check? There were many things I was wanting to keep an eye on coming into this game, but the Sooner defense wasn't supposed to be one of them. If I could ever get my hands on the crystal ball that mysteriously went missing the day before the season started, and it told me that OU would put up 31 points I would have confidently predicted a 14 to 17 point win at a minimum. The last thing that was needed heading to Big "D" was questions about our own "D" but, alas, that's where we are at.
It's funny how the week of OU/Texas feels like Christmas come early for me. I guess the unfunny part is 4 of the last 5 years it's taken me back to adolescence...on Valentine's Day...without a date. I've talked about the feeling you get from being inside Memorial Stadium on gameday, but I've seen the highest of highs and the lowest of bitter lows take place on the floor of the Cotton Bowl. In 1987, John Dockery was doing sideline reports for the game, and during the pre-game he said he talked to former players in the series who felt like, walking down the ramp into the Cotton Bowl, they were actually losing their minds. Seems a bit drastic, but to any Sooner or Longhorn fans, it sounds aptly put. Year in and year out the rankings and records just do not seem to matter much in this one. No other pressures need to be put on the athletes, from the State Fair of Texas going on right outside the stadium to the fans that *ahem* don't like each other too well on the inside. No, no other pressures...but naturally I'm going to add one. Simply put, with it seeming (from an early season record standpoint) that Texas needs the win more, a loss this year by OU would sting worse than any over the past 5 meetings. Here's why...2005- the Sooners already had 2 early season losses. Texas had a motivated Vince Young. OU had won 5 in a row. The shellacking handed out by the Longhorns that day seemed more like an aberration to Sooner fans that would soon enough be corrected. 2006- It wasn't corrected a year later and was tougher to swallow having a healthy Adrian Peterson there to run. It wasn't the worst of that season, however, as OU came in with one loss already to Oregon (Yeah I know, I still hate/haven't gotten over that one either. Deserves an article all to itself *grumble grumble curse word grumble*). 2008- OU did come into this one undefeated, ranked number one, but it wasn't like Texas was chopped liver. They too were undefeated and ranked number five. It was a high scoring affair that was tough to take at the time, but OU sure got the last laugh regardless of the BCS title game outcome...we were there. 2009- Goes back to what is the usual theme of this series. Rankings and records don't matter. Sooners come in with two losses against an undefeated Texas squad. Sam Bradford goes down (again) and the Longhorns squeak by with a 16-13 win. Never easy to take a loss in the Cotton Bowl, but let's face it, this was one of many things wrong with the 2009 season for the Sooners. Flash forward to five days before the 2010 edition. Sooners, ranked number 8, undefeated, against the 21st ranked Longhorns coming off what can only be described as terrible performance against UCLA at home that left them standing (somewhat) at 3-1. Besides the obvious fact that a loss derails OU's national championship aspirations, and not being able to count on Texas Tech to force the three way tie in the South again (I realize I excluded OSU in this part of the conversation...yeah? sorry but you just can't count on the "I'm a MAN!" Cowboys for much of anything, just wait), the 'does Mack Brown have Bob Stoops number' talk would go from low grumblings to a roar. From 1999-2004 Stoops sported a 5-1 record against Mack. From 2005-present he sits at 1-4. For all of you non-mathematicians out there (include me) that leaves Big Game Bob at a very medium 6-5 with a loss of course putting him at .500 against the 'Horns. I'm not much for making picks. It's not because I don't think I'm good at it, or don't want people checking my history in the area, call it more of a karma thing, or bad luck, or whatever when it comes to the Sooners, but looking at this upcoming game, even with the problems OU has, it seems the Longhorns have more to deal with. I don't see how, barring a Sooner collapse, they lose this game, but if they do, I will make the bet that something went terribly wrong on the floor of the Cotton Bowl.
Before the game takes place I believe something has to be said about the annual "We're not here just to beat Texas, we're here for championships" speech from Coach Stoops. Look I get it, we all get it. You don't want to make one game during the regular season be your number one goal. Many reasons for this that are all justified. You run the risk of getting your players too high for one game, and mistakes could start to add up, or win or lose, it's tough to get up like that again for any other game during the season. Noted. BUT...I guess every now and again I miss the subtle jabs Switzer used to give out, or even what turned out to be the moronic Howard Schnellenberger quote before they played Colorado and the Buffs starting qb was out when he quipped "We don't want any damn asterisk after we beat their a$$!". It doesn't even really have to be from the coaches either. Everything seems too buddy buddy these days. It reminds me of when ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons talked in his book 'The Book of Basketball' about when the Jordans, Birds, and Johnsons of the world played and when two teams played each other you could just tell they were sworn enemies. Now it seems like everyone is so congratulatory of the others accomplishments before and after the game you would swear they are going to have dinner together later. I'm not looking for a brawl, but maybe a little bit of something that lets me know the fans in the stands aren't more apt to fight each other than the players on the field are (even if and hoping they don't).
In the end this Sooner season reminds me of Major League II (wait, don't go yet! i actually tie this together). In this scenario, however, we'll blend the Sooners 2009 season going into 2010 with the one season portrayed by the 1994 movie Cleveland Indians. The Sooners, after having played in the January 2009 BCS title game, come into the season believing their press clippings as do the Cleveland Indians following their Wild Card series win from the previous season. Things go terribly wrong for the Indians as their chemistry falls apart. Sooners finish a season in which most picked a rematch in the title game at a disappointing 8-5. Cleveland starts to turn it around as the team comes together. Sooners start 2010 4-0. For our movie Indians, it all comes down to a game 7 with the Chicago White Sox. 2010 Sooners are set to face their bitter rival Texas. As Rick 'Wild Thing' Vaughn makes his way to the mound with his nicknames music blaring over the PA speakers, the man who makes the women in Cleveland puke, Jack Parkman, takes a look at Vaughn and remarks "New Haircut...same tired arm." In the movie, Vaughn strikes him out, en route to an Indians victory. For the purposes of making this Sooner season a continued happy one, let's hope Texas plays the role of Parkman, and Stoops troops show the Longhorns 2010 isn't the same tired 2009...is it Saturday yet?