OU's seniors and what might have been

Senior class will leave after worst home season, worst four-year stretch under Stoops

Oklahoma defensive end Chuka Ndulue sat down near the end zone as two waves of orange crashed in the middle of Owen Field.

As the Oklahoma State celebration ensued Saturday, Ndulue sat with his legs extended and his hands in his lap. His helmet sat next to him, leaving what had to be a look of disbelief across his face.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This wasn’t how any of it was supposed to be.

“I don’t know what to say, man,” the fifth-year senior said after game. “I never wanna feel like this again.”

This year’s senior class was supposed to re-write history for the Sooners. Oklahoma was the biggest favorite in the Big 12 conference to make the inaugural College Football Playoff - a preseason No. 5 and favored by more than a touchdown in every game it played.

This year set up for a historic season. Every big game at home: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Kansas State.

Oklahoma would go on the road to face nobody: Tulsa, Iowa State, Texas Tech.

A believed invincible defense and a quarterback who decimated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. This season class was going to etch its name into Oklahoma legend.

Just not in this way.

This year’s senior class won’t be remembered as champions, but as a case of what could have been, what should have been. A senior class that was expected to bring so much success ends its legacy with a whimper as OU won't reach the 10-win plateau for only the fourth time in the Bob Stoops era and first time since 2009.

Under Stoops, only two teams lost more games (1999, 2009) than where OU is at now and none lost more at home in conference play.

No other four-year span during Stoops’ time at Oklahoma has produced fewer wins to date. If Oklahoma wins its bowl game, this class will tie for the fewest.

No matter the true culprit, Ndulue will never shake the fact that he lost his last game at home – blowing a 14-point lead with five minutes to play. He was out there for all the big moments: Zack Sanchez’s interception, Oklahoma’s first punt in the final minute, Tyreek Hill’s punt return score and the Cowboys’ game-winning field goal in overtime.

“Dude, it’s my last year, man,” Ndulue said. “My last home game. Would you like to lose?”

The last-minute meltdown was just another string of mishaps that this veteran senior class, which had 11 starters in the 24 main positions, couldn’t fix.

“I can't even explain it right now,” Sanchez said. “It just hurts more than anything, just for the seniors. I feel more hurt for them than for myself. It's just disappointing and hurts more than anything.”

The punt return happened too late. Trevor Knight’s Pick 6 against TCU was too dooming. Michael Hunnicutt’s abysmal performance against Kansas State was too shocking. Baylor was too good.

And as things piled up this season there was no one there to clean it up, leaving Oklahoma’s senior class with an empty feeling where there should have been one so filling.

“It’s not what we wanted,” tight end Blake Bell said. “Each game we wanted to win and not look too far ahead. That was our whole goal this year – just one game at a time. We had some slip-ups and close games that we thought we should have won. We can’t get those back. It is what it is. This week was obviously a tough one too. We had them where we wanted. We just couldn’t finish.”

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories