The Sooners (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) are battling for a BCS berth with games left against WVU, Oklahoma State and TCU. And while that's not a gauntlet, head coach Bob Stoops has cautioned his team that, though they'll likely be favored in each, the trio of contests could go either way and spin a successful season into the doldrums.
"The first thing we talk about, in our scouting report, is that we have three games remaining. We can beat anyone, and anyone can beat us," said Stoops, whose Oklahoma program last played WVU in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, a 48-28 Mountaineer upset. "What matters now is West Virginia. We have our scouting report, what does it take to beat these guys?"
Oklahoma, with losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame, would receive the Big 12 automatic BCS berth if it finished 10-2 and KSU makes the national title game. That would mean the league gets a second team in the BCS, adding millions to the coffers and an extra punch of national recognition. Stoops is aware of the situation and how the pressures increase towards the latter portions of the season as the wins also mount.
"It is inevitable," said Stoops, who has led OU to eight BCS games. "Not that you're listening to anything, but players and coaches are aware of the situation. And, usually, even the teams you are playing are pointing at you because they understand. You get everybody's best shot, all those things add up. You stick to your routine and recognize it. The more you win, the more important every game becomes. And you want to be in that position. The other part is there's a lot of scenarios at the end of the year for everybody. Everybody had Alabama going undefeated and that didn't happen. A lot is going to happen in the next two or three weeks. We do what we can to be ready for this game and keep improving our position. Let's just keep playing and doing our part."
Oklahoma, which ranks 13th in points per game at almost 40 and 24th in points against at 20, will get a bit of a boost in finishing with a struggling West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) team before Oklahoma State, as the two schools run very similar offenses. It then plays at a beat up TCU program with depth issues to end the year.
"They still throw the ball all over," Stoops said of a WVU team threatening to match its longest losing streak since 1986. "They run it well, they got great speed and they are productive. Of course they are a dangerous offense."
The Mountaineers have played significantly better on offense in the last two weeks against TCU and Oklahoma State, but had mistakes on defense and, especially, in a variety of special teams that has contributed to the defeats. West Virginia still ranks 11th in points at exactly 40 a game and fifth in passing yards at 347.6 per game. What WVU needs to unearth is the running game that largely aided it in a 5-0 start.
Stoops, like other coaches, noted the similarity of the offensive stylings of Oklahoma State and West Virginia – the biggest difference being the Cowboys can execute in the running game as need be.
"A lot of the same formations, of the same plays," Stoops said. "There's a great deal of similarities. … Tremendous speed and explosive offense. I don't much care what papers and media say. You really respect the ability of the team. (Oklahoma must have) good fundamentals, good structure defensively, some pressure, good coverage and getting some interceptions. A little bit of all of that. Good discipline overall defensively."
Stoops said positives in the 42-34 win last week over Baylor were the "balance on offense, run and pass. We protected the quarterback. Defense, great pass coverage. That's a big deal when you're playing them. I didn't feel we played the run game as well as we could. We missed tackles and were not in good position for a few runs that we could correct. Our kicking game was good again. Great field position on a few returns, one that led to a score at the end of the half. That contributed as well, and that was another positive side of it."
"The first thing we did was we embraced the tradition of what we were supposed to play like. I'm supposed to coach like these guys and you're supposed to play like all these All-Americans and we are going to do whatever we can to live up to this and not hide from it. I think there was a common theme that it couldn't be done anymore, playing at that level. We didn't buy into that. We knew we could be like those guys at the past. We didn't come in and talk about a three or four year plan to win. We told those guys who were juniors and seniors, hey, we plan to win right away. They accepted us instead of bucking the change. They were excited and we got things going pretty fast."