OU football: This year's senior class first to not reach national title game under Stoops
Saturday’s double-digit loss did more than just hurt the ego of an Oklahoma team that was looking to reverse Notre Dame’s past fortune against the Sooners.
For the first time under coach Bob Stoops, a senior class will likely graduate without playing in a national championship game.
After winning the national championship in 2000, Stoops found a way to get the right personnel combined with a proficient coach staff to make encore appearances in the 2003 and 2004 title games.
Former OU quarterback Sam Bradford in just his second year under center managed to keep the streak alive when he led the team to the 2008 national title game against Florida — the last time the Sooners played for all of the marbles.
Although the current seniors that redshirted during their first year on campus would have been listed on the roster when the Sooners faced the Gators in South Florida, none actually got the opportunity to play in college football’s biggest game.
However, when the Sooners tripped up against Kansas State earlier this season, the road to the top seemed much more treacherous than it was at the beginning of the year.
And Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame all but drove the last nail in the coffin to bury the Sooners’ chance of competing for the crystal ball this season.
“This one hurt a lot,” junior safety Tony Jefferson said after the game. “But we have to show some character and turn it around because we have five games left to see what we can do.”
It was a consensus among the players after the loss that closing up shop isn’t the answer for this OU team that still has a chance to play in a respectable bowl game and possibly could slip in as the Big 12 champion if the Wildcats slip up in any of their remaining contests.
But the Sooners admitted they’re only focusing on what they can control at this point.
“We have to hope KSU goes down at some point, but we also have to play hard and finish the rest of this conference schedule out,“ junior center Gabe Ikard said. “The conference title is relatively still in reach, but we have to move on.”
Restructuring team goals midway through the season isn’t easy, but winning every game on their schedule has been a priority for the Sooners from day one, and regardless of whether that comes to fruition, preparation for opponents doesn’t change through the course of a season.
“We have great opponents in front of us,” senior defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. “At Oklahoma, you’re going to play great opponents week in and week out, so it’s a live and forget moment, and now we have to get ready for the next one.”
And the team said it doesn’t want a pair of tough losses to multiply down the stretch.
Last season, after starting out with six consecutive wins, the Sooners lost three out of the last six regular season outings, including two road losses at Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Baylor’s loss was the first time a Sooner team had fallen to the Bears, previously holding a dominant 20-0 series record, and the loss in Stillwater ended an eight-game streak over the Cowboys.
But this year, OU hasn’t lost to any run-of-the-mill teams. If Kansas State wins out, coach Bill Snyder and his crew could be looking at packing their bags to New Orleans for this year’s national title game.
Notre Dame also is back in the national championship conversation after spending several years trying to find the right coach to finally bring this program back into the national spotlight.
Compared to last season, this year’s losses to undefeated, highly-ranked teams is easier to stomach.
“We lost to the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country in two good, hard-fought games,” Stoops said. “We’ve been a play or two away in each game for it to be different.”
And knowing that just a couple of plays can affect an outcome gives this team added confidence knowing it still can be the deciders of its own destiny — even if it’s not for the same, preseason goals — in the last half of the season.
“Maybe the national championship isn’t in the picture anymore, but we still have the Big 12 and a bowl game up in front of us,” senior quarterback Landry Jones said.