NORMAN, Okla. – It’s fragile, this world we live in.
The Oklahoma football team, mighty Sugar Bowl winners and conquerors of the offseason, fat with momentum and a nifty national ranking, are no more.
Sometimes everything changes.
Unable to get a touchdown when the Sooners needed a single yard with less than 4 minutes to play, kicker Michael Hunnicutt’s legacy, history, name, whatever and however he will be remembered at Oklahoma, changed.
Quarterback Trevor Knight threw an interception that went for a touchdown, receiver Durron Neal threw an interception on a trick play in the end zone, Aaron Ripkowksi got ejected, and it’s Hunnicutt who will be at the center of the game that effectively ended the 2014 season for the Sooners.
Oklahoma lost to Kansas State 31-30 Saturday afternoon and it’s a reminder that this college football world is fragile and breakable and things ebb and they flow. What was supposed to be way up this year for the Sooners has now shifted. No longer is this team in the position to win a national title. Worrying what Alabama and Auburn, Mississippi State and Mississippi are doing is no longer relevant. Concern over heading to the Alamo Bowl is.
Wild how things have changed. The Sooners spent an offseason preparing for an expected, successful kind of year. They spent a week working on Kansas State, but you can never, no matter what the situation or scenario, ready yourself for a blocked extra point, missing a 32-yard field goal and then a 19-yard field goal.
Not from a kicker like Hunnicutt who has been as dependable as Hunnicutt. Not just dependable, but remarkable. Coming into the game, he was eight-of-nine this season and 70-of-81 in his career.
But that’s where we are. The Sooners have lost twice and could have won both, including Saturday when they were eventually eliminated after Hunnicutt hooked that very, short attempt with 3:53 to play.
"He told me he rushed it," coach Bob Stoops said.
You have to figure gameplans sometimes go crooked. It did Saturday when Knight chose poorly when throwing out of his own end zone in the second quarter. The result was the easiest interception return for a touchdown you’ll ever see.
You can factor in some plays not working out. That happened, too. Neal threw wildly into the end zone on a trick play when OU was driving the field. The result was an interception by Kansas State.
And you can certainly count on things not always working out. That happened when OU couldn’t manage a single yard on its final drive of the game from a running back who has been dependable all season behind an offensive line that has been good, too.
But you can’t count on coaches and players and everyone wearing crimson and cream having to rush to the defense of a kicker who failed when the entirety of his career has been successful.
"I feel for Michael," Stoops said. "He’s been a great young man. We all love him. Unfortunately, the kicker sticks out. It’s a lot more than just Michael. Too many big mistakes that we can’t overcome.That’s how you end up one point short. I put my arm around him (Hunnicutt) in the locker room. It’s more than just that."
It’s a lot more than that. It’s about a shift in perception after a change in fortune. OU, so, very average during 2013, became so very powerful after its win against Alabama.
Now here we are again, somewhere between the 2013 team that lost big against Texas and then against Baylor, to now where the Sooners have lost two of their last three games and are spinning toward obscurity that’s also defined as a second-tier bowl.
"That’s not something you expect," receiver Sterling Shepard said. "We have to keep pushing. You never know what’s going to happen."
Shepard is right about that. As bad as OU looked a season ago, it was still able to rally. As bad as the Sooners looked Saturday, mistake after mistake, they have to know the good plays are still in there. It’s possible Oklahoma could find its way again.
"I don’t think anyone is shocked," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "You can see each week how this goes. It’s not one particular game. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I know that’s difficult for you to understand, but I think our best football is in front of us."
No, that’s something we all do understand. The stresses and the pressures. What no one can grasp is the unknown like how a kicker so good like Hunnicutt, misses a makable attempt at the end of the first half, hits an extra point low enough it’s blocked in the fourth quarter and seemingly has his confidence affected to the point where he smother-hooks a 19-yard try.
"It’s not Michael," Knight said. "You could blame it on anybody. He’s in the spotlight, but it’s not his fault."
And it’s certainly nothing you could have prepared for.