John Klein: Oklahoma football teams finishing strong after early struggles
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, November 26, 2012
11/26/12 at 5:31 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: State teams overcame early struggles
There wasn't A lot of optimism at the end of the first month of the college football season in Oklahoma.
The Sooners had failed their only major test, at home with Kansas State.
Oklahoma State had stumbled twice and there was widespread speculation about whether the Cowboys could get to a winning season.
And Tulsa, with high hopes at Iowa State, had once again been unable to get it done against a Big 12 team.
However, all three survived and thrived at times in the past six weeks, primarily because of quarterback play at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
There are no complicated formulas left for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa.
The state's three major-college football teams, who have waffled between brilliant and disappointment, have pretty specific finishes on their mind.
If Oklahoma wins at TCU, it can salvage a possible top 10 finish and a BCS bowl.
If Oklahoma State wins at Baylor, it will have overcome a brutal injury-plagued season to get to a decent bowl and win eight or more games.
If Tulsa beats UCF to win the Conference USA title, the Golden Hurricane will reach its primary goal despite missed chances at Iowa State and Arkansas.
Given what we know from this season, none of those are assured.
However, we know enough to believe OU, OSU and TU should win the final weekend of the college football season. All three have given us reason to believe that the Sooners, Cowboys and Golden Hurricane were close to special seasons.
Oklahoma would probably like to have back home games with Kansas State and Notre Dame. The Sooners struggled on offense in both, especially against K-State, and couldn't stop either team in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma State is two fourth-down stops away from victories over Texas and Oklahoma. If the Cowboys make a late fourth-down stop against Texas and OU, we're having a far different conversation these days.
Then there is Tulsa, with three tight losses against teams it probably should have beat. Tulsa has the personnel to beat Iowa State, Arkansas and SMU but didn't get it done.
So, we're left somewhat deflated by the close calls that would have made this a season to remember.
However, there are few stories more uplifting than what Landry Jones, often the lightning-rod for criticism at OU, has done in his past seven games.
Since the loss to Kansas State, there are those who believe Jones has played the best of his career.
Early in the year, many NFL scouts were dropping Jones' NFL prospects, some saying publicly that he may be no better than a third-round pick.
However, he has been especially sharp in the last two months and played his way back up mock NFL drafts.
Jones was fabulous against OSU on Saturday, a game that he saved for the Sooners with one of the best performances of his career.
It could be argued that Jones has personally won two of the last three Bedlam games with his arm. Of course, and this is the reason for some caution, he played very poorly in the 2011 blowout loss.
So, Jones is coming to the end of his career with mixed results among some at OU.
Not with OU coach Bob Stoops and many in the media, such as this corner, where we are fully on-board with Jones.
His game against OSU was legendary. There's no other way to explain it.
He hit 46-of-71 for 500 yards and three touchdowns. Every time OSU threatened to pull away, Jones rallied OU.
Stoops doesn't know what else Jones has to do to convince some that he is one of the best quarterbacks in OU history.
Certainly, Jones is the best quarterback pro prospect in the school's history right behind Sam Bradford, who was a No. 1 pick in the draft.
Against OSU, he was at the peak of his career.
"Threw the ball all over, threw it well, throwing bullets everywhere and you're not seeing wobblers, you're not seeing balls that are tough to catch," said Stoops. "They're in the right spots.
"Landry was great."
Yes, he was great and we're guessing the skeptics will realize that at some point next fall.
Meanwhile, OSU's future quarterback situation may be more complicated but not in a bad way.
Clint Chelf was again very good for the Cowboys. If OSU would have played a lick of defense at the end of the game in Norman, he would have won Bedlam with another solid performance.
As a result, Chelf is now a legitimate threat to be OSU's quarterback of the future. Wes Lunt, the starter at the start of the season, has struggled to stay healthy. The same with J.W. Walsh.
Lunt and Walsh may eventually be the future of OSU football, but Chelf has given OSU coach Mike Gundy yet another third option.
"I thought he played well," said Gundy. "I thought he handled the situation to the best of his abilities."
If Jones and Chelf play at the same level this week, the Sooners and Cowboys should make it easy on those making the bowl pairings.