You rarely make it all the way back in one fell swoop. It’s what the 2015 edition of the Oklahoma football team was trying to do.
Close but oh so far. Coming off the head-scratching 8-5 season in 2014, head coach Bob Stoops essentially made his last stand. One major change after another with the coaching staff. It was either going to be a rebirth of the Sooners or the beginning of the end.
Obviously following the 2015 season it was a lot more of the former than the latter as everybody went from talking Baylor and TCU for the Big 12 championship to mentioning the Sooners as OU rolled down the stretch to win its final seven games and claim its first outright conference championship since 2010.
OU’s 11-1 record was good enough for the Sooners to become the first Big 12 team to participate in the college football playoff where the dream season came to an end in a 37-17 loss to No. 1-ranked Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
“This is very tough,” said senior wide receiver Durron Neal after the game. “It’s one of the tightest groups that I’ve ever been around. I love this group and this group of seniors definitely brought Oklahoma back to where it needed to be. We know the guys next year will be motivated from this season and we’re expecting good things.”
Expectations, though, haven’t always been kind to the Sooners. History has shown too many times where OU is expected to do the most is usually when it does the least.
That could happen in 2016 through no fault of the Sooners. OU could arguably be starting the season with two of its first three games against top 10 schools in Houston and Ohio State, who both won their respective New Year’s Six bowl games.
OU answered a lot of questions about itself in 2015, and Bob Stoops certainly silenced the doubters for one more season. But the Clemson game, for the second year in a row, let the Sooners know there’s still a lot of work left to be done.
It will be up to a new bunch of leaders to pave the way. The 2012 class did an incredible job of bringing the program back to prominence. Now who will step up next.
“A pretty good one,” said senior wide receiver Sterling Shepard about 2015 legacy. “It was a great room. The seniors have done a great job just getting everybody focused and just showing these younger guys how to lead a team. That'll always stick with them.
“When I was a youngster, I used to look up to everybody and everything they taught me stuck with me so hopefully some of the things that we taught them will stick them and this thing will keep on going uphill from here.”
Some positions will be hit harder than others. Some leaders, on the surface, don’t look like you can just replace them and move on. The Sooners will find a way because they don’t have any other choice.
This is a major opportunity for OU going forward even after the announcements of Zack Sanchez and Dominique Alexander both leaving early for the NFL Draft. The message is still clear to those who are remaining in Norman.
“They know what to do,” senior defensive end Charles Tapper said. “They know how to get here. They know how to prepare in the summertime. They know they’ve gotta push themselves and push each other in practice. It’s gotta be a competition amongst each other to make each other better and get to this great place we were at.
“I promise you they’re gonna be back here next year. I know this for a sure fact. It’s sad that we couldn’t get it here because this is where the dynasty starts.”