The storylines would have been crazy leading up to a potential Oklahoma and Alabama showdown in the Cotton Bowl in the college football playoff.
There’s no doubt about that. But for this year’s OU team to come full circle, didn’t it have to be Clemson? Didn’t it have to be the team where the Sooners were at their lowest as a program in a long time?
OU fans have tried to block it out, but it happened. Clemson dominated OU 40-6 in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl in a game not even as competitive as that score would tell you.
OU looked like it didn’t want to be there. OU looked like it had stopped playing the minute Tyreek Hill took the punt back for the touchdown in the upset Bedlam loss.
It looked that way Dec. 29, 2014. Linebacker Eric Striker had the message after the game.
“Things are going to change around here,” Striker said. “No one wants to finish like this — not at all. I’m a team guy. Know what I mean? That’s the way Armwood (high school) shaped me and that’s the way I’m going to be. I’ve got another year to make it better and that’s what I’m going to do — everything I can to make it better.
“You shouldn’t finish like this. You shouldn’t want to go out like this. I’m a winner and we should all want to be winners. This is not the way you do it.”
The gauntlet was put down, and Striker and the leaders have done everything right since that day on and off the field in getting the Sooners back where they feel they belong and another shot at the No. 1-ranked Tigers in the Capital One Orange Bowl 3 p.m. CST on Dec. 31 in Miami.
Revenge can be played out, but following OU’s emotional win at Baylor last month, all OU players were quick to point out the next two games, TCU and Oklahoma State, were also against teams that defeated the Sooners in 2014.
OU has gone 4-0 against those teams, also including a 55-0 win at Kansas State. The only one left, fittingly enough, is Clemson.
“It’s been crazy,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “You could probably make a movie about it. Just everything we went through in the offseason, how last season ended and everything we’ve gone through. I don’t think any other group of guys could have done it except the guys we’ve got in this locker room.”
It started with head coach Bob Stoops making the necessary coaching changes to give OU an identity it had sorely been lacking the last couple of seasons.
For 2015 to be a success, though, it couldn’t be about coaches. With so many players coming back from the tumultuous 2014 team, everybody knew where to look – themselves.
“I don’t think it can come too much from the coaches,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “It has to come from the players. We took it amongst ourselves that we had to change it. We had to change the way we were playing. The leaders stepped into the room and we all talked about it and it changed.”
It changed since that surprising 24-17 defeat to Texas two months ago that now feels a lot longer than that. OU won its final seven games, averaging more than 52 points per game in the process.
The Sooners clawed their way back much like Ohio State last year and have made the most of their second chance.
“We saw a team come together in a way like I have not been a part of in the past,” senior center Ty Darlington said. “That's what gives me the most pride is seeing the adversity the team's fought through and seeing the way we've come together not just since Texas but since, whatever, Dec. 29 of last year.”
Maybe Sanchez is right, maybe it is like a movie. So what kind of ending is in store for this picture? Might find out all the answers against Clemson.