For Oklahoma Sooner fans, the 2011 regular season was expected to be one to remember. Many analysts and fans predicted OU would capture an eighth title, thus killing the BCS Championship curse that has tormented Norman for far too long.
If a national championship simply wasn't meant to be, then surely Oklahoma would at least make a BCS bowl. Despite the plethora of talent returning, there were multiple question marks on the schedule, and the Sooners could drop one here or there to Florida State or Oklahoma State.
It's hard to believe that now, after the dust has settled on a rich and eventful season for college football generally, the Sooners sit at a a hollow 9-3, preparing to face the 7-5 Iowa Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl. Nobody expected Bob Stoops' bunch to be in this position when forecasting the 2011 season.
Dwelling on what might have been is useless, however. All the Sooners can do now is make the most of their opportunity and finish the season on a high note with a win over Stoops' alma mater.
Considering the stark disparity between preseason expectations and final results, this game, to use the cliche, is truly a must-win for Oklahoma. All of the frustration, disappointment and anger about the way the season played out will be channeled into the upcoming game.
If OU prevails over Iowa, then at least fans can enjoy the win and the fact that the Sooners concluded their season by accomplishing something that could generate momentum heading into 2012.
A loss, on the other hand, would only rub salt on the festering wound and paint the 2011 season as an utter failure in Norman. Four losses, the last being a defeat to a mediocre team that barely won more games than it lost, would be unacceptable for this program. It would kill any opportunity to salvage momentum for next season, have a detrimental impact on recruiting and would incite yet another round of criticism directed towards Bob Stoops and his staff, all of which must be avoided for the sake of rebounding next season and making 2012 more memorable than 2011.
The importance of winning this game is symbolic more than anything; after a poor finish to the regular season, with a humiliating failure to compete against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma needs to show competitiveness and passion; the Sooners, to put it bluntly, need to show they still care.
Bob Stoops is aware of this, and the players—having plenty of time to think about their uncharacteristic performance in Stillwater—will likely be very motivated and anxious to redeem themselves in Tempe. If this is not the case, though, and the Hawkeyes become the fourth team to topple the Sooners, we will be in for a very interesting offseason.