NORMAN — It is not uncharted territory. This is, after all, Oklahoma football we’re talking about.
You know, seven national championships, 46 conference crowns, 29 bowl wins?
Nonetheless, two games into the 2017 season and the Sooners find themselves in a place they haven’t been since 2008, a year in which they were No. 3 after Week 2, No. 1 after Week 5, No. 4 after Week 7, yet back to No. 2 in time to meet Florida in Miami for the national championship.
At the time, life on the mountaintop wasn’t so unfamiliar. Indeed, the first recruiting class of the Bob Stoops era not to play for a national championship was the group that arrived in February of 2009.
The Sooners played for it all in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2008 and not yet since.
Back then, it was sort of a regular and expected thing.
Now, it’s new again to the point of one pastime sure to become popular among the Sooner Nation beginning right now will be trying to identify all the ways in which its team might screw it up. Because if you can identify them all, maybe they can be headed off, too.
Really, how new does this feel?
Here’s what CBSSports.com national college football guru Dennis Dodd had to say in Colmbus’ aftermath.
“This wasn’t just the nation’s youngest FBS coach walking into ‘The Shoe’ in his second career game and kicking the Buckeyes all the way to the Olentangy River. It was the surgical nature of the beating,” Dodd wrote. “It was a savant waving a wand. Harry Potter with a visor. It was a much-maligned defense from the much-maligned Big 12 rising up. It was Large Game Lincoln replacing Big Game Bob.”
Heady, heady stuff to be sure.
Monday was the day Lincoln Riley began a weekly ritual of saying all the right things in what’s instantly become the most immediately consequential Sooner season in several years.
“We’ve had success in two games. That’s great. We appreciate it. We’re happy about it,” he said. “But there’s so much more to go. We’ve got some good leaders.
“We, as a staff, will do a good job of keeping it in perspective and know that we’ve got a long way to go to get where we want to go.”
Just because Texas stinks hasn’t kept the Longhorns from beating OU in the past, so there’s that.
The Sooners may have to beat Oklahoma State twice this season to remain College Football Playoff bound, a feat that’s sure to hand them a Big 12 championship, too.
And still, though it may seem odd to say after beating the nation’s formerly second-ranked team, we won’t know how this new and improved Sooner defense will fare when it finally faces a terrific quarterback until it finally faces a terrific quarterback.
Also, we won’t really know if this team is built for the pressure of life at the top until it lives there for a while, like maybe the rest of the season.
But a couple of things Riley said Monday bode well as OU faces that challenge.
About quarterback Baker Mayfield taking the 2016 loss to the Buckeyes personally, he said it wasn’t just Mayfield.
“If anybody in this program didn’t take it personally,” Riley said, “they’re in the wrong program.”
So maybe that team-wide chip on the shoulder isn’t going anywhere.
Then, on the idea of having true freshmen playmakers being a source of team-wide strength, he answered tellingly.
“It does as long as the program’s set up to where people understand that the best players right now are the ones that are gonna play,” Riley said. “I think, sometimes, in other programs, it’s a little more of a balancing act, where you’ve got maybe some [upperclassmen] that maybe feel like they’re entitled.”
Because if that kind of mentality holds, internal competition alone could keep OU on its edge, getting better and better after wins, failure never being required to refocus.
Of course, just as Riley couldn’t have known Parnell Motley, CeeDee Lamb nor Trey Sermon would be so good, so fast, immediately upon their insertion into the lineup, nor can he know in advance every little move required to keep the train on the tracks.
He’s figured it out so far, anyway.