Oklahoma looking to follow up on successful 2013 season
NORMAN, Okla. – It’s going to be hard to not talk about Alabama.
Been that way since Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl victory on Jan. 2 and it will likely be that way until well after the Sooners kick off the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech.
In fact, the Crimson Tide conversation may never end. That’s what happens when you win a game everyone thought you’d lose and finish a season high when it looked like it was going to be low.
The victory against Alabama was arguably the best and biggest since the Orange Bowl, national title win against Florida State at the end of the 2000 season.
It could also be the biggest burden or the biggest boost going forward.
Because of that victory in New Orleans, expectations for 2014 are higher than perhaps any since Bob Stoops came to OU before the 1999 season. Because of that victory in New Orleans, anything less than an appearance in the four-team playoff, which begins this season, will have to be seen as a disappointment.
It’s only March, but here we are.
"We’re in great position with the momentum from the Sugar Bowl," Stoops said Thursday as he visited with the media for the first time since signing day in early February. Oklahoma starts spring practice Saturday and will its spring game on April 12.
"There’s positive momentum from it," Stoops said. "Sure. "It’s obvious to me they (OU players) aren’t sitting back. They have had the best winter they’ve had. It’s made them hungrier to build and keep improving."
Stoops, even acknowledging the fact OU is still gaining from the Alabama win is somewhat surprising. He generally is a look-forward, not back, kind of guy, but the Sugar Bowl was so monumental that it became instrumental on signing day and into the winter.
Stoops also conceded the 45-31 win may have influenced – although to what degree we don’t know – the decisions of a number of signees, including five-star running back Joe Mixon.
But more than just help with high schoolers, the Alabama game solidified OU’s starting quarterback situation for a team that seemingly had answers at about every other position.
"Obviously with Trevor we’re excited about that he’s only a sophomore and the development will continue," Stoops said of Trevor Knight.
That’s because in just his fifth career start, Knight was so good that no matter what he does the rest of his career, the Alabama performance where he went 32-of-44 passing for 348 yards and four touchdowns, will be an easy one to commit to memory as a barometer of what Knight can do.
And that’s a lot to live up to. If Knight struggles against Louisiana Tech, throws too many interceptions against Tennessee or is sluggish against Tulsa, count on the conversation shifting to, "But that’s not what he did against Bama."
Oklahoma’s defensive line returns. The linebacker situation, the defensive backs, the running backs. Sterling Shepard at receiver. OU has enough playmakers to be a national title contender in 2014. That wasn’t the case heading into last season because heading into last season the Sooners didn’t have a quarterback, a bowl victory or any sort of momentum.
Most significantly, the Sooners didn’t have the kind of win that resonated through an entire winter season, marinating until spring practice.
Certainly, Stoops didn’t lean on the Alabama game and win as the centerpiece talking point Thursday. Stoops pointed to a number of players at a number of positions. He has to.
"To improve," Stoops aid of what he wants to see most this spring from the team. "Be faster, more powerful. Now If we make improvement in each position, we’re building ourselves a stronger team."
With each day that passes, Oklahoma is distancing itself from the Sugar Bowl victory.
Pretty soon we’ll find out if that’s a good thing.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK