COLUMN: So what's next for the Sooners?
For a dejected football team that fell to Notre Dame at home Saturday night, the question hanging heavy in the cool autumn air is: what next?
With the loss, OU effectively eliminated itself from the national championship hunt and further diminished its once-impressive reputation for defending Owen Field. But it’s not all bad in Norman.
As unfortunate as the loss may be, OU is still a good-but-not-great football team.
The Sooners fell just four spots to No. 12 in the BCS standings released Sunday, making them the second-highest-ranked two-loss team in the country. Not too shabby, considering both of OU’s losses came at home (although it certainly helped that they came against two of the top three teams in the BCS).
The Notre Dame loss also won’t count against the Sooners in conference play, so they’re still tied for second place in the Big 12. Although the chances of Kansas State losing twice down the stretch and giving OU a shot at a Big 12 title are slim-to-none, the Sooners still have plenty to play for, and they know it.
If OU can run the table (and that’s a big “if,” thanks to three remaining road trips and a Bedlam battle in Norman, it could snag a BCS at-large bid and sneak into a BCS game — which would be its fifth berth in the last seven seasons.
In fact, if the regular season had ended Saturday, the Sooners would’ve clinched the 10th-and-final berth thanks to a provision preventing a conference from sending more than two teams to BCS games (sorry, SEC).
And if there was one positive takeaway from the loss, it’s the Sooners’ determination not to throw in the towel.
“This team is not going to fold,” junior linebacker Tom Wort said. “I haven’t seen our team fold at all. With the rest of the games left, whenever we’ve had a loss, we’ve come back stronger. It’s really disappointing that we lost, but in no way is this team going to quit.”
Wort is right; the Sooners always seem to bounce back after a loss.
In 13 seasons under coach Bob Stoops, OU has lost back-to-back regular season games only once: Stoops’ first season in 1999 when the Sooners lost to Texas one week after dropping a game to none other than Notre Dame.
But Iowa State has all the makings of a trap game, as OU travels to Ames to take on the Cyclones, which have never beaten a Stoops-led Sooner squad.
Something’s got to give, but junior fullback Trey Millard is confident the Sooners will play out the remainder of their schedule.
“We know that we’re not going to quit on this team,” Millard said. “We’re going to be in a fight, and we know that every game is a challenge where we have to come out and execute.”
Dillon Phillips is a journalism junior and assistant sports editor for The Daily. Follow him on Twitter at @DillonPhillips_.