It’s not necessarily that hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s more that it’s very easy to push to the side any doubts you might have and replace them with the good feelings.
That’s sort of the way to describe the optimism for Oklahoma heading into the 2016 season. There is so much talent in Norman, but the elephant in the room was trying to replace leadership on both sides of the ball.
The leaders who made sure a 24-17 shocking loss to Texas didn’t snowball into another 8-4 regular season but instead a run to the college football playoff.
Those guys, well, they’re not there anymore. Ty Darlington, Sterling Shepard, Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, Dominique Alexander, Zack Sanchez. You say those guys, and you mention the heart and soul of OU the last few years.
Following a 1-2 start, the question becomes who are those leaders and how are they going to turn this thing around for the Sooners in conference play?
“Right now, it’s time to man up,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “A lot of people need to pick up leadership – me included. You just have to push forward. Yeah, this is the University of Oklahoma but it’s not given to you.
“You have to earn it. That just goes to show from Houston and Ohio State that you have to work for everything around here. That’s just how it’s always going to be.”
Saying OU isn’t working for it might be overstepping. Even coach Bob Stoops won’t apologize for the effort. The want-to is clearly there for OU and was in the losses to Houston and Ohio State, but you have to have a plan to get there.
And accountability. The first signs of that accountability came Saturday night after a humbling 45-24 loss to visiting Ohio State. It came from Stoops.
“It’s fair to say the leadership isn’t close to what it was a year ago,” Stoops said. “But that’s on me. I’m in front of the program. I gotta do a better job. And I gotta do a better job developing players to be that.”
The last part is the intriguing piece to this puzzle. Developing players into becoming leaders. Is that how it works? Do coaches need to have that sort of talk with guys, or is it more natural to simply have the players decide now’s their time?
It’s a question posed to first-year defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux repeatedly during the spring and preseason camp. There’s no voice on the defensive line. Good players, sure, but nobody could pinpoint that guy that’s going to get fired up on the sideline when someone is abusing them on the field.
Running back Samaje Perine is a producer on the field, but asking him to be something he’s not is also not a good recipe for success.
“We’re not used to being these vocal leaders like Strike and Tap and those guys,” Perine said. “We have to do our part and make sure we’re vocal enough so the team doesn’t just wither away. We have to do whatever we have to do to keep the team back up and ready for TCU.”
That’s the kicker right there. All this talk about not falling apart when the reality is the season is only one-fourth done. Those dreams of a national title are gone, of heading back to the college football playoff.
Fans won’t want to hear talk about a Big 12 championship, but that’s absolutely the goal now for OU. Find that leadership naturally, not forced. Find it, harness it and go forward to figure out the answers and right the ship.
“Guys that are all in will keep us together,” senior captain Jordan Evans said. “Guys that want to sit there and be individuals, that's when you kind of see a team fall. I think my team, we're all-in and everybody cares for each other.”