Oklahoma Loaded, But Still Vulnerable?

A surprising two-game losing skid to end the 2003 season, a Heisman-winning quarterback now getting nudged for 2004 league pre-season honors, the departure of its former defensive coordinator and head coach's brother to Arizona, plus the arrival of sudden-impact RB Adrian Peterson in Norman: No question, the Oklahoma Sooners brought the most drama to the opening round of the Big 12 Football Media Days in Kansas City Tuesday.<p>

First the bad news for Orangebloods: the 2004 Sooners stack up as coach Bob Stoops best team during his five-year tenure. "We have more senior leadership than at any time since we've been here," Stoops said.

Ready to predict another national title appearance for Stoops' seasoned (and hungry) squad which, despite all that it accomplished during the 2003 regular season, enters this year's campaign with a two-game losing streak that cost them both the national and Big 12 Conference titles? Not so fast, because OU's fortunes last year reinforced the maxim that the only thing predictable about college football is the unpredictable.

It's all part of several intriguing story lines surrounding the Sooners on the cusp of the 2004 season, namely...

THE 'GRAND PLAN' BEHIND THE TWO-GAME SKID

Oklahoma losing to three-time loser Kansas State in the Big 12 title game? Heck, a more plausible scenario would have been the Mother Ship returning for Michael Jackson and Pee Wee Herman. The truth is out there: conspiracy theorists (namely those at KSU and LSU) have reportedly discovered a so-called Grand Plan that can now be disseminated and employed effectively against the Sooners. Or, if there is any shred of evidence that there really is a secret antidote to the misery OU usually inflicts on opponents then, by all means, go for it. That, in essence, was Stoops message Tuesday.

"If you can do what they did, go ahead and do it," Stoops said. "I'm sure we'll have an idea to know what to do, too. There isn't one special grand plan that can beat everybody, but they (KSU, LSU) did a great job. They played better than we did and they coached better than we did. The bottom line is that if you have turnovers during crucial times and miss a few tackles in crucial times, you're going to get beat. You get a call here or there, so there's a very fine line between winning and losing when you're playing great teams. And those are very good teams you play there at the end."

He also took to heart some counsel he received from former OU coach Barry Switzer last month. "He was talking to me that he was in six national championships and I said, 'You weren't in three?'" Stoops recalled. "He looked at me and said, 'You think you're going to win every danged one of them you're in?' Now, that isn't exactly how he said it but the odds are sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn't add up."

Stoops is taking a big-picture look at last year, particularly the spotless regular season that had pigskin pundits categorizing the 2003 Sooners as perhaps the greatest team of all time. "It wasn't easy to do what we did," Stoops said. "We carried the Number One banner in 12 straight games. We weren't playing the Little Sisters of the Poor during that run. We failed in our last two games, we've analyzed it, and we've looked at it to make sure it doesn't happen again."

More than anything else, what we saw in those two games was arguably the two most physical D-lines in college football that were peaking at just the right time. The defense got to White, again and again and again. He suffered a broken bone in his right hand against KSU and a broken toe against LSU. His uniform barely got dirty against Texas.

"I don't think there was a point last year where we thought we were invincible," White said. "The thing we're able to do at OU is put things behind us and move on to something else. We'll learn from those things and that's how we're definitely looking at this season."

THE MIKE STOOPS FACTOR

There are those who suggest that Oklahoma fell apart (or, at least was distracted late last season) when Stoops' brother and former OU Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops landed John Mackovic's old job at Arizona.

"He doesn't need me and I don't need him," Stoops said, "and I mean that in the most fun-loving sense of the word. We're both strong enough to manage on our own." Thing is, Stoops replaced a brother with one who has been like a brother to him when Nebraska failed (in my opinion) to hire former DC Bo Pelini as its head coach. Stoops, as many of us expected, did not hesitate to come calling.

"He's had great success every place he's been," Stoops said of Pelini. "He's a guy I've known my whole life. We grew up together. We're real excited. Bo will have a strong influence on what we do. I'm not downplaying the impact my brother had on the program, but Mike wasn't doing it alone. Bo comes in here with a great deal of experience. Mike, (associate head coach) Brent (Venable) and Bo shared concepts on how we play certain teams so there has been a lot of communication between us the last several years. I don't think the defense will be noticeably different. There will be some new wrinkles but Bo comes with great experience to replace Mike's experience."

All-Big 12 DE Dan Cody concurs there will be a no drop-off in the Sooner defense. "Coach Stoops wouldn't have anybody here that couldn't win games," Cody said. "Right now, (Pelini) is working out his relationship with the players. That affects the way you coach your players. When two-a-days get here, all the things fall into place. Coach Pelini always put a lot of emphasis on how hard Nebraska played and he wants us to do the same thing. I think aggressive play is what will help us more than anything else this year."

NO RESPECT FOR WHITE?

White surprised everyone by winning the Heisman after posting some staggering numbers that still look shocking next to season totals for a Sooner quarterback: 278-of-451 passing for 3,846 yards, including 40 TDs against just 10 INT. Perhaps even more uncanny is the fact that Big 12 sports media did not pick White to repeat as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. That pre-season prop went to Kansas State RB Darren Sproles. (What a difference a game makes. Now the 5-7, Oompa-Loompa in shoulder pads is everybody's All-American and legitimate Heisman candidate.)

"I guess (media) forgot how well (White) played during those other 12 games," Stoops said. "He'll have a chance to earn it again this year. We'll see." Following a freshman redshirt season (1999) and a medical redshirt year (2002), the 24-year old White returns for a sixth season in Norman. The age-difference between White and, say, incoming freshmen is not all that unusual given the number of "(minor league) baseball guys coming back" to collegiate football.

"Some of them are darn near as old as I am," Stoops said, before adding, "Jason is grounded. He's a blue collar player who likes to compete better then he likes to talk about the Heisman or talking to (media) about individual awards."

White said pre-season lists are "for the fans and media" before adding, "Last year we were pre-season Number One and it didn't end up that way. I'll wait until the end of the year and see what happens."

As far as the Heisman itself, White said: "It was a great honor and it's great to be part of that fraternity. It does change your life. You're never going to know how much it means to you until you're completely done."

Adrian Peterson and Company

The season hasn't started and he has yet to play a down, but the initial impression of RB Adrian Peterson is that he is all that.

"He looks like he's been in college for three years," White said. "He came in in outstanding shape. He jumped right in. He has to ask what to do, but he's got all the ability in the world. But if you don't know the plays, it's hard to put it all together."

Added Cody: "He's jumped right into the workouts and is running with the older guys. He's right in the mix. It's taken us to another level, the way he and (QB Rhett) Bomar are working off each other. They have humbling personalities but their work ethic is not matched by even some of the older guys."

Don't be surprised if Peterson is in the starting lineup come the second Saturday in October. "I have had a chance to eyeball them," Stoops said. "They've come walking through the office. They look good. I'm not afraid to give freshmen a chance to play."

On Tap For Wednesday: continued coverage from the 2004 Big 12 Football Media Days in Kansas City, including comments from Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, Oklahoma State coach Les Miles, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder plus Wildcat RB Darren Sproles who edged Oklahoma's Heisman winning quarterback as the media's choice for the conference's offensive player of the year honors


Horns Digest Top Stories