Sooners must buck troublesome trend to reach playoff

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops

Kevin Jairaj/Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Stoops fielded a question Monday morning about what he was looking forward to most about college football’s shiny, spankin’ new playoff system. 

"Hopefully us being in it," he said. 

Stoops and 124 other coaches might say the same thing. Baylor’s Art Briles actually did drop the same joke to the same question later on Monday. 

The difference between Stoops and 121 other coaches? They aren’t one of the favorites to participate in the inaugural iteration of what’s perhaps the biggest change to ever arrive for college football. 

History is traditionally one of the Sooners’ biggest allies. Recruiting gets easier when you can brag about seven national titles and show players statues of your five Heisman winners outside Owen Field. However, history’s most recent chapters mean living up to the hype will force Oklahoma to buck a fresh trend. 

Since 2006, when preseason polls are friendly to Oklahoma, it hasn’t lived up to its billing. That’s two full recruiting cycles. When the season kicks off with skepticism swirling around the Sooners’ chances to make a splash nationally, Oklahoma plays its best football. 

The numbers tell the story. 

Oklahoma has opened the season in the top four of the AP Poll four times since 2008. The 2014 preseason polls provide a fifth occasion. 

Only once in that span have the Sooners finished higher than 15th in the final poll. 

In 2009, Oklahoma fell (aided by injuries to Heisman winner Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham and most of the offensive line) from No. 3 in the preseason to unranked by season’s end. A trip to the BCS title game to cap the 2008 season was the only time since 2004 that Oklahoma opened the season in the top four and finished it in a BCS bowl. 

Conversely, Oklahoma has made four BCS bowl appearances since 2006 in seasons in which it began the year ranked seventh or lower. Last year, Oklahoma began the year at just No. 16 in the AP Poll, but qualified for the Sugar Bowl as an at-large team and knocked off Alabama, inspiring much of the preseason confidence. 

Expectations are nothing new at Oklahoma, but the Sooners have struggled to string together an acceptable retort when those expectations peak. Those expectations have been especially impossible to ignore after OU’s shocking, dominant win over Alabama turned up their volume to deafening.

At the conference level, Oklahoma has maintained its status as the guardian of the conference title, though it hasn’t participated in a BCS game as the Big 12’s automatic bid since 2010. 

In the three seasons since, each Big 12 title winner has earned kingpin status in the conference after knocking off Oklahoma. In 2011, Oklahoma State routed the Sooners 44-10 to clinch the trophy.

A year later, the Sooners hosted Kansas State as a 14-point favorite. The Wildcats left Norman with a 24-19 win and a status as the Big 12 title favorite it never relinquished on the way to the title. 

Last season, Baylor validated itself as the Big 12 frontrunner by embarrassing the Sooners with a 41-12 win in a nationally televised Thursday night game. That served as the first major test for the Bears and convinced America that Baylor was the Big 12’s best team and would be a factor in the national title race for much of the season. 

Like so many before it, the season begins in Norman on Saturday with high hopes and higher expectations. Reaching them will mean starting a new trend for the Sooners under Stoops.