Oklahoma football fans have a lot to be excited about following the 2013 season as spring football opens up March 8.
Bob Stoops would never admit feeling relief over last year’s 11-2 finish and season-defining victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but he should.
Stoops and Oklahoma were caught in a BCS dust bowl. Championship losses and BCS busts against Boise State, West Virginia and a Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M had glossed over a lot of good in Norman.
It wasn’t hard for Oklahoma football fans, or Bob Stoops, to be humble.
Fast forward to spring of 2014, and Stoops is already raring for more.
“It feels good,” said Stoops the day after the Sugar Bowl. “But I have more to come. To me it’s already gone. I’m on to what’s coming next year all ready.”
Stoops, and Sooner fans, can hold their chests out proudly to the world again. Stoops’ braggadocio seems to be back on display after that Sugar Bowl victory.
Stoops was reminded he actually finished a season at Oklahoma where he exceeded expectations.
“I’m part of developing that,” he boasted, then joked, “Because you (media) guys told everyone that we didn’t have any d-linemen.”
Stoops is always the first to say that every season is a new season. But Bob isn’t always the same Bob from year to year.
Oklahoma fans need Stoops to remain brash. They need him to be that coach that didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth-and-1 from midfield against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
“When I knew it was fourth-and-1, there was no question I was going for it,” he said the day after the game. “It was my mindset that in these kinds of games, if you're gonna win them you've got to make these kinds of plays. If you don't make them, maybe you don't win these games.”
Oklahoma got the first down and they won the game. The Sooners put their foot on the gas and never let up.
Stoops heads into spring football with a quarterback in Trevor Knight that has him as excited as we’ve seen him in a while.
“Listen, this guy’s got all kinds of potential,” Stoops says as he leans in as if he’s got a great story to tell. “It didn’t surprise us at all; let’s just put it that way. We very much know what he’s capable of - against Alabama or anyone else.”
Judging by the offensive gameplan in the Sugar Bowl, and down the stretch of the 2013 season, Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell are building strong reputations as major strengths inside the OU program.
“How could you deny it?” asks Stoops when asked about the job his offensive staff did working through QB issues all season. “Changing quarterbacks, playing three of them against Oklahoma State after one guy gets hurt. Middle of the year, another guy goes in and you have to adjust.
“Certain things fit a guy a little better, it's hard.”
Stoops goes on and on about the loss of Trey Millard and what a blow it was to the design of the offense. But it’s clear he’s as proud of his offensive staff heading into the future as he’s ever been.
“People always say it's the playcalling,” scoffs Stoops. “No, you don't have someone there to make a play. I've got guys to block people but they don't block them. A guy can't make a competitive catch, well it's not his fault. It's not always the scheme. You still have to execute.”
Oklahoma worked through a lot of kinks in 2013 offensively. Now they had into 2014 and spring football seemingly settled at the quarterback position.
They head into spring football with a defensive line that could be as good as any in the country.
And when the subject of the defensive line comes up, Stoops barks at the critics and puts on his bragging shoes once again.
“I wasn’t surprised because I went to practice every day and we had we had 10, 11, 12 guys that looked pretty good,” he says. “Next year, we might have the best d-line. That’s what’s funny (about the doubts), next year we’ll have the best d-line in the league.”
Spring football will have it’s share of position battles. But the quarterback will be there. The defensive line will be there. A new group of receivers to complement Sterling Shepard will be needed. New faces at running back will emerge along with players to block for them on the offensive line.
Recruiting is going well, big wins have returned to Norman. Stoops already sent Nick Saban into damage control mode in front of the NCAA football rules committee.
It’ll be an interesting spring to see how much swagger continues to reside in Norman, and whether Stoops can climb back atop that NCAA coaching mountain once again.