NORMAN, Okla. – Bob Stoops and Oklahoma didn’t win the national championship in 2013, but Stoops, one could argue and be correct, did a masterful coaching job.
He went through three quarterbacks, a change in defense, a change in offense and a mid-season slump which included a loss to Texas.
Stoops and the Sooners also won at Notre Dame, won at Kansas State, won at Oklahoma State and then won again in the Sugar Bowl against mighty Alabama.
But as the 2014 begins, Stoops and the Sooners met the media for the first time this summer in Norman, the coaching task Stoops has in front of him is more significant and more difficult than anything he and the Sooners went through a season ago.
"The expectations are the same," quarterback Trevor Knight said.
Yes, but the pressure is different.
Unlike a season ago, the Sooners, thanks to their win over Alabama, are a heavy favorite to win the Big 12, a trendy pick to earn their way into the four-team playoff and a consensus, top-five ranked team. People around here are expecting a national title.
And unlike a season ago, Stoops didn’t head into August with expectations like he has this year paired with problems he hasn’t faced in awhile.
"We’re bigger, stronger, quicker at every spot over where we were last year," Stoops said.
And yet, so are the expectations, the problems, the possible concern.
Before the Joe Mixon incident, the Sooners and Stoops were dealing with linebacker Frank Shannon, involved in a Title IX sexual misconduct issue. Stoops also signed on to take Dorial Green-Beckham, who was kicked off the team at Missouri. Stoops didn’t comment on any of the three players — all of whom are still on the team at Oklahoma.
"It’s not for me to talk about," Stoops said. "I’ve been here 16 years. There’s a long track record. Reflect on that."
Stoops was making the point that he has done things the right way for a long time, yet here he is at the beginning of the season, without a down having been played, with a starting linebacker, who may or may not be with the team and a five-star recruit (Mixon) who hasn’t been suspended, but is not participating in team activities. Green-Beckham is not eligible to play this season, but Oklahoma officials are working toward getting a waiver to allow it to happen. It’s hard enough to try and figure out how to get a first down vs. Texas, much less deal with off-field issues in August.
And all of this with a starting quarterback who beat Alabama but doesn’t exactly have a history of staying healthy. Knight finished only three games he started a season ago.
Meanwhile, OU — with or without Mixon — doesn’t have an established running back (no seniors or juniors at the position) and have only one receiver (Sterling Shepard) who has made a legitimate contribution.
That’s a lot to deal with for any team. That’s a nightmare to deal with if you’re a top-five, Big 12 Conference favorite. So much is expected. So much to lose.
"We’re much further along," Stoops said of the defense.
"We’re light years ahead of where we were a season ago," Stoops said of the offense.
And he’s right on both accounts. The defense returns playmakers all over the field, including a defense line that should be one of the best in the country, a rush linebacker in Eric Striker who could be an All-American and an offense that has the benefit of knowing who its starting quarterback will be.
All of that matters.
But count on Stoops having to be magical again. Chances are real good Stoops will have to make even more changes this year. Remember, Knight was hurt more than once last year. Remember, only one other person on campus has had snaps at the position. That person is Blake Bell and he’s been moved to tight end. Stoops went as far as saying Bell hasn’t spent any time in the first three days working with the quarterbacks.
"There’s more calmness with Knight," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. " (He) can bounce back from mistakes quicker without the thoughts of losing his job."
That’s a huge bonus, but what’s Plan B, someone asked Heupel? You know, just in case. Well, there is none at quarterback. Not yet, anyway. Gone is Kendal Thompson (transferred) and Bell. In their place is untested Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen. OU has transfer Baker Mayfield, but then again, no one knows if he’ll be eligible to play this season, either.
Stoops is going to have make tough choices. Things won’t be easy. He’ll have to do another impressive coaching job in 2014 and it starts with what he does off the field.