Dave Sittler: No need to panic as mystifying season ends
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Friday, December 30, 2011
12/30/11 at 3:50 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's BlogOriginal Print Headline: No need to panic as mystifying season ends
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Given this mystifying Oklahoma football season for the ages, a Sooners loss Friday night in the Insight Bowl wouldn't be all that shocking.
It also shouldn't set off widespread panic throughout the Sooner Nation. But it undoubtedly would, which is why several OU players have similar advice for those fearing the end is near for coach Bob Stoops' 13 years of dominance: Take a chill pill.
"I'd say 'Calm down,' " offensive guard Gabe Ikard said.
Ikard speaks from experience. An Oklahoma City native, the Sooner sophomore has been a diehard OU fan for as long as he can remember.
And those memories include the before-Stoops period in the 1990s when OU's best record over a four-year span was 5-5-1.
"I went to my first game when I was four and I saw it at its worst," Ikard said. "I remember saying: 'We're horrible, we'll never be good again.'
"That's when a 9-3 record was considered a success."
Ikard understands why this season's 9-3 finish is viewed much differently. Stoops' success has made three-loss seasons unacceptable to many Sooner supporters.
You can include Ikard and his teammates in that disgruntled crowd, along with Stoops.
"With the standard set under coach Stoops, we know we have to perform better than 9-3," Ikard said. "The thing is, we played really well in what people considered big-time games against Florida State and Texas."
Those two impressive wins over ranked teams contributed to this season's mystery. How could OU whip Florida State on its home field and Texas in Dallas and then turn around and lose to Texas Tech and Baylor?
The third loss was easier to understand. Oklahoma State was simply better than OU, and proved it with a 44-10 Bedlam win that catapulted the Cowboys into Monday's Fiesta Bowl against Stanford.
Stoops spent a good portion of his final press conference Thursday acknowledging some of the factors that caused OU to tumble from preseason No. 1 to No. 19 heading into the bowl contest with Iowa (7-5).
Starting with last summer's tragic death of senior middle linebacker Austin Box, OU continued to lose some of its best players to injury throughout the season.
And then there's been attrition, which Stoops confirmed that he speeded up by cutting some players who didn't provide the total commitment needed to help the Sooners be worthy of that No. 1 ranking.
While Stoops accepts the responsibility to get his program back on track, he'll need the help of his players. That's especially true in the area of leadership.
In press conferences during bowl week, some OU players confirmed that the team probably needed some more of the team's veterans to be in-your-facemask leaders.
"The guys who are in leadership roles right now lead more by example than vocally," sophomore wide receiver Kenny Stills said. "So we need some guys to step up and be vocal leaders, and we're working on that."
Stills and his close friend and fellow sophomore safety Tony Jefferson are two younger players who are eager to accept the responsibility that comes with leadership.
Californians, Stills and Jefferson have that West Coast swagger that makes them fearless when it comes to a take-charge approach with upperclassmen.
"I've never felt it was a chemistry issue with this team," Jefferson said. "But as far as being a leader, I'm already trying to be one, so it will help me going into next year."
Junior cornerback Demontre Hurst believes the new influx of leadership has helped forge a change in OU's attitude during the practices leading up to the contest with the Hawkeyes.
Hurst said that wasn't the case when OU first found out its bowl destination. The Insight Bowl is a considerable step down from the Sooners' preseason plans of playing for the BCS national title.
"That (attitude) was my biggest concern because we did have a lot of hopes and dreams this season," Hurst said. "At first we were thinking this (Insight) bowl was an insult, but it's not.
"We're playing against another great team in Iowa, and we have to try and finish it out strong."
In addition to leadership, Stills has the pressure of picking up the slack created when All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles was lost late in the season with a knee injury. The losses of Broyles and starting running back Dom Whaley have been major reasons for this troubling season.
"We got hyped up with the No. 1 ranking and slipped a little bit here and there when not paying attention to the little things caught up with us," Stills said. "Our season was about (a lack of) discipline.
"But I'd tell our fans to have no worries. We have a lot of character on this team and a lot of heart, and we're looking to get back to having seasons with no losses and playing for national championships."
Those goals will have to wait until 2012. But look for OU's heart and character to keep it from pushing the panic button tonight and bring the Sooners' 2011 season to a successful close with a 31-28 win.
OU coach Bob Stoops spoke about the factors that led to the Sooners' struggles this season. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World