NORMAN, Okla — First, there was the Bedlam Blowout. A loss to Oklahoma State that pretty much confirmed 2011 as a season that got away.
An Insight Bowl game, even though Oklahoma won against Iowa, didn’t change anyone’s mind.
So, what happens when you pair the finish to last year with an offseason that has the dysfunction of watching a Real Housewives marathon?
You get coach Bob Stoops giving social media advice and you get new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in midseason form, sprinkling in a four-letter word during an us-against-them speech to the media.
It’s only August, but the Sooners are in attack mode.
Outside of Norman, expectations just aren’t the same as they were a season ago when the Sooners started the season No. 1 before a more-fizzle-than-sizzle season.
That’s what happens when leading receiver Kenny Stills goes viral after posing in a dress, when second-leading receiver Jaz Reynolds gets suspended for a fourth time, receiver Trey Franks gets suspended and third receiver Kameel Jackson is dismissed. There’s more, too. All-American candidate safety Tony Jefferson supposedly removed himself from Twitter after questionable posts and questionable pictures, running back Roy Finch injured himself playing pick-up basketball just days before practice started, starting center Ben Habern retired after numerous injuries and highly touted junior college transfers Courtney Garnder and Will Latu failed to qualify.
But when the Sooners met the media for the first time Saturday, the shoulder shrugs, which seemed to be the company line as OU limped in to finish 2011, have turned to raised eyebrows.
“I feel like our focus isn’t bothered,” Stills said.
“It doesn’t keep me from focusing,” linebacker Tom Wort said. “It doesn’t cause a distraction.”
“There are going to be mistakes,” defensive end R.J. Washington said. “I feel like this has been one of the best offseasons we’ve had.”
“I don’t think it’s a distraction,” fullback Trey Millard said. “Every team has issues. We’ve moved past those.”
Maybe this is what the Sooners needed – a uniting flag to fight under. Maybe this is what will encourage Oklahoma to develop team leaders and team chemistry for what has been a wildly talented team lacking both.
Unquestionably, there’s some uncertainty. Aside from quarterback Landry Jones and a deep offensive line, stability isn’t something Oklahoma can point to. But maybe the mystery of the offseason – the suspensions, the Twitter blunders, the retiring of a starting center and the talk of transfers – can help.
“We’re tired of hearing about what happened a year ago,” said Mike Stoops, back in Norman after eight seasons as the head coach at Arizona. “It’s time to do something about it. We have to take it personal.”
Forget the on-the-field issues of who will catch the passes from Jones or whether OU’s secondary, burned and crispy in losses to Baylor and Texas Tech, will recover. The Sooners’ season likely will be determined by attitude.
Saturday was a first step toward redemption.
“It’s disgusting to see we played like that,” linebacker Corey Nelson said. “We had such high expectations.”
“There’s been focus about playing with your heart and your head,” Wort said.
“Hopefully we can make some improvement from a year ago,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Absolutely, the struggles (from last year) hurt my pride.”
Hard to imagine Oklahoma as an underdog or under the radar, especially with a No. 4 preseason ranking, but the wildness of the offseason and the inconsistency of last season are issues locally even if they’re not discussed nationally.
“Things that happened last year, can’t happen again,” safety Javon Harris said. “The losses mean you have to get better. You have to correct all the things you messed up on the year before. I feel like I’m going into camp remembering those things.”
Most OU fans remember them, too. An unexplainable home loss to a Texas Tech team that took the rest of the year off after beating OU. A defensive meltdown against Baylor. A no-show at Oklahoma State. All of this after starting the season No. 1, winning at then-top-five ranked Florida State, routing Texas.
So Saturday, when Oklahoma players and coaches got a chance at getting in the first word, they took full advantage.
“There’s never two or three guys dictating what the locker room will be like,” Bob Stoops said.
Right now, there seems to be one voice for Oklahoma. That may be just what the Sooners need.