What to watch: Oklahoma

OU has said it's ready for the Russell Athletic Bowl, but what version of the Sooners are going to show up in Orlando on Monday?

The time for talking is just about done. After two weeks of preparation, it’s time for Oklahoma to conclude its 2014 season with the showdown against 17th-ranked Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The lingering question remains what to expect from the Sooners. A team many expected to make the college football playoff enters the bowl game not even ranked in the top 25.

A team expected to win the Big 12 conference that finished a mere 5-4 in conference play and 4-4 in the last eight games of the season.

It’s the complete opposite of the tone and vibe that was coming in for OU at this time last year ahead of its showdown against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

That team was riding a wave of momentum the Sooners used to dominate the Crimson Tide in a 45-31 upset victory. This year’s squad is one that only went 3-3 at home with three conference home losses this season.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows what people are saying about the Sooners and OU coach Bob Stoops, but he’s simply not buying it.

“I mean, I know that at a place like Oklahoma, you’re supposed to win the national championship every year,” Swinney said. “And I get that. I spent 13 years in Alabama so I understand that. And they’re ‘only’ 8-4 this year.

“But the success that Bob Stoops has had is unprecedented. And when you do this for a living, I know how hard it is to win a game, much less a million of them like they’ve won. It’s like 10 a year. It’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Maybe the weight of expectations wore down the Sooners this season. Recent history has certainly shown when the least is expected of OU is usually when the best results come.

The higher the expectations, seemingly the greater disappointment for OU and its fans in the last 10 years.

A loss Monday would make 2014 a clear favorite in many eyes as the most disappointing season for OU in the Stoops era. A win won’t cure all ills, but a loss will magnify a season where all publications had OU as a top five team and see it finish at 8-5.

Stoops has downplayed what’s on the line Monday. His stance has been win or lose, the experience has been positive. But what happens Monday can’t be emphasized too much, he said.

“Every game is important at Oklahoma,” Stoops said. “The first game to the last game. So it can’t be much different.”

OU came out flying to the ball, playing free against the Tide. It was a refreshing sight to see for OU fans. Will the Sooners return to that form in the Citrus Bowl against the Tigers? Or Will Monday evening be the exclamation point of a season full of one disappointment after another?

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