Coaches never like to talk about it. Players are also rather hesitant to bring it up. What happened one year supposedly has no bearing on how things are approached the next.
But could you really say that with a straight face regarding Oklahoma and its 2015 season? Is there really any way at all that what happened in 2014 didn’t influence the hunger, the passion, the drive the Sooners have shown this season?
It has been well documented by now what happened with the Sooners in 2014. Expected to contend for the national championship, the season was an unmitigated disaster, culminating in a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Fans are sick of talking about 2014 so imagine what it must be like as a player – to still be reminded of one disappointment after another.
“Me and Strike talk about it all the time – this could have happened last year,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “A snowball effect happened. One loss turned into two. I think the TCU loss really set us back. I think after that, guys lost hope of us being in the playoff. I think that kind of changed the attitude of the team.”
The snowball effect is something, word-for-word, multiple OU players have brought up when talking about 2014. There was hope and apprehension at the same time regarding OU and 2015. Almost the whole cast of characters from 2014 were coming back. But was that a good thing or bad thing?
Would it be a group that bounced back, corrected their mistakes or a group that simply wasn’t that good to begin with? The former has been proven time and time again and is a huge reason why the fourth-ranked Sooners are taking on No. 1 Clemson in the Capital Orange Bowl on Dec. 31.
“When you reflect and sit down by yourself in your room and think about how you got here, you get a little emotional,” senior linebacker Eric Striker said. “Because it’s been a tough road for everybody. It ain’t been easy, especially being in a leadership position, it hasn’t been easy. But we prevailed through a lot. You sit back and reflect, you really feel good about the team.”
But 2014 had to happen. Failure often comes before success. And OU needed to see that one loss no longer means the end of playoff dreams. The Sooners needed to see the run Ohio State made it last year in winning the national championship from the No. 4 seed.
It was all about mentality. The mentality change the players and coaches have talked about repeatedly since OU’s surprising loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
Because OU had 2014 to fall back on, it was able to regroup instead of splinter. Prosper instead of stumble.
“I feel like we were capable last year,” senior wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Coach (Lincoln) Riley came in and talked about the mentality and mentality means everything. I look back last year and I see that and then I look at this year and I see that. That is the big difference.”
Striker laid down the gauntlet following the Clemson loss, saying he was going to go out a winner. Charles Tapper followed suit when he tweeted he was returning. One-by-one, integral members of the 2014 team had that edge again, about making sure 2015 was a year to remember.
A theme of unfinished business was there for OU. It has been there all season for the Sooners and has helped propel them to a seven-game winning streak and first Big 12 championship since 2012.
“After the Texas game, the attitude didn’t change – it got better,” Sanchez said. “Guys weren’t going to let what happened last year happen this year.
“I think it’s different that aspect – leaders on the team, especially not letting that dropoff happen like it did last year.”