John E. Hoover: OU's image needs a Cotton Bowl victory
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, December 16, 2012
12/16/12 at 5:48 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Fading crimson
The Cotton Bowl is not an exhibition game. Not for Oklahoma.
The Sooners of 2012 can hang a Big 12 co-championship banner if they want, regardless of the outcome against Texas A&M. But the Sooners of 2013 and beyond basically face a win-or-bust scenario on Jan. 4 at Cowboys Stadium.
OU did end the regular season on a surge of good vibes, beating West Virginia and Oklahoma State and TCU in the final seconds to claim a share of the program's eighth Big 12 title. That's all good.
But the Sooners go into the bowl season riding so much negative momentum in recruiting that losing to Texas A&M could only result in future disappointments on the recruiting trail.
Things have gotten so bad for the OU staff that they're not just losing promising prospects to other schools. They're losing verbal commitments.
This has to stop.
Things seemed to take a turn for the better on Friday when reports surfaced that Kerrick Huggins, a four-star prospect from Dallas' Skyline High School, switched his verbal commitment to Oklahoma.
Huggins had been committed to Texas A&M. And he plays defensive tackle.
Given the landscape of the past two weeks, it may have been the best recruiting news the Sooners have received in years.
Who knows if Huggins can be a college football stud? But at this point, who cares? The Sooners had absorbed blow after devastating blow before Huggins' switch.
Oklahoma's recruiting class almost always ranks in Rivals.com's Top 10. Frequently, the Sooners are Top 5. But this year OU went into the weekend ranked by Rivals.com at No. 29 - behind Rutgers, Utah, Baylor, Illinois and Virginia.
Hey, at least it was third in the Big 12. Of course, Texas is No. 13 and Oklahoma State is No. 23.
All this voodoo came at the end of a season in which Barry Switzer, The King himself, remarked that OU can't win national titles again until it lands some big-time defensive tackles and offensive linemen. Before Huggins, the Sooners had exactly zero verbal commitments from defensive tackles and still have exactly zero verbal commitments from offensive linemen.
It's not like the Sooners don't have vacancies. Three seniors are graduating on the interior defensive line, and injuries have stripped bare any depth on the offensive line.
The Sooners don't have immediate openings at these positions. They have cries for help.
And yet, Dalton Rodriguez, a 2013 prospect from Union and a long-time commitment to OU, changed his pledge on Thursday to Tulsa. OU coaches wanted Rodriguez to play offensive tackle, which he had never done in high school. He figured his best position was on defense, and TU coaches told him he could play it there, so he switched.
This news came only two days after running back Devon Thomas, a 2014 prospect from Broken Arrow, removed his name from Oklahoma's list of verbal commitments, where he had been since pledging on Nov. 17.
And Thomas' rejection came just days after running back Greg Bryant, a 2013 five-star prospect from Delray Beach, Fla., committed to Notre Dame. Bryant committed to Oklahoma last March before changing his mind and reopening his recruitment.
OU recently lost out on other talented prospects like Georgia offensive tackle Trenton Brown, who committed to Florida, and Ohio defensive tackle Donovan Monger, who committed to Ohio State.
And speaking of lost defensive tackles, who could forget Justin Manning - a long-time Sooner target and the younger brother of ex-Sooner Demarcus Granger - pledging last week to Texas A&M.
And now along come Johnny Manziel and his band of merry Aggies.
This is a program that pulled up 100-year roots in the Big 12 Conference, cut ties with long-time rival Texas - they wrote songs about each other, for Pete's sake - and set up camp in the mighty Southeastern Conference.
Remember how the Aggies were supposed to struggle in the SEC?
New coach Kevin Sumlin - a one-time Bob Stoops assistant, no less - reinvigorated the 12th Man with a feisty attitude and a fancy offense, boldly winning in Tuscaloosa, confidently piling up 10 victories and, most unexpectedly, actually making the SEC stronger.
Manziel, a freshman, showed that dynamic quarterback play continues to thrive in the SEC, earning first-team All-American honors, surpassing records set by the likes of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, and winning the Heisman Trophy.
Losing to an SEC team in a bowl game would be one thing. Losing to a Big 12 defector, in Texas, no less, would be something else entirely.
A&M fans now think just having membership in the SEC imbues their team with some kind of special superpower. Beating OU would only reinforce that notion.
If Oklahoma beats the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl, it might effectively interrupt the nation's love affair with Johnny Football and the flavor-of-the-month phenomenon that is Texas A&M.
But more than that, it would boost Oklahoma's sagging identity - most importantly in the minds of a handful of recruits - and give the Sooners something to finally feel good about heading down the stretch toward National Signing Day.
Bob Stoops argues a pass interference call in last month's game against West Virginia. OU's recruiting class went into the weekend ranked by Rivals.com at No. 29. A win against Texas A&M could help turn the tide. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World