NORMAN — There are no good answers.
There are reasonable guesses. There are the kinds of things coaches and football players have been saying since the beginning of time.
“We’ve had a strong start to the week of practice,” Lincoln Riley offered during his weekly teleconference on Tuesday. “The team is really fighting hard.”
Things like that.
It’s Texas week and the bus ride into the stadium will be different because of COVID-19 and the atmosphere inside the stadium will be different because of COVID-19 and nobody’s really quite sure what it will feel like in the middle of all of it, down on the field, because of COVID-19.
Perhaps that’s interesting, but does anybody really care?
Such curiosities feel incidental, uninteresting and meaningless because the Sooners have lost one game they never should have lost and another they probably should have, and one-plus-one equals two, both of them coming in the conference, eliminating OU from reaching a fourth straight College Football Playoff and likely edging it out of the Big 12 race, too, and it’s hard to talk about the pageantry of the Red River rivalry when neither team about to engage in it is special.
So there are no good answers, even if Riley and a couple of his players, Creed Humphrey and Charleston Rambo, gave it a whirl.
“We can’t really think too much of what this could do for our season,” Humphrey said. “Just have to think this is the game we’re playing and we’ve got to be ready for this game.”
That, actually, is a wise and right answer, a truthful answer, though hardly satisfying, because there can be no satisfying answers, not with two losses when you’ve only played three and the win came over an entrant from the mighty Missouri Valley, a basketball conference that plays football for grins and paydays.
Nobody wants to hear Riley tell them how close the Sooners might be, how he still likes the talent level of his team, how lots of good things are happening despite losing two of three.
Yet, it’s all he’s got the same way it was all Bob Stoops had in 2005, 2009 and 2014, campaigns in which OU lost four, five and five games.
Not that a look back at those lean seasons doesn’t offer healthy perspective.
The Sooners were due to be in this fix. What it was, exactly, that had them ranked No. 5 this preseason is not so much a mystery as it was so clearly flimsy: a simple nod to the past and the blind faith their head coach could put together the nation’s best offense despite rolling out a redshirt freshman quarterback, a group of unproven running backs and receivers and a well-anchored but retooled offensive line.
OU was not supposed to blow two 21-point leads to Kansas State, nor was it supposed to be special and Riley is allowed to not be special for a season. As painful as it is true, it happens everywhere but Tuscaloosa.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Charleston Rambo, about the man who throws him passes, Spencer Rattler, asked if OU’s quarterback is capable of leading amidst adversity. “We just need to be there for him and we just need to trust each other.”
No good answers.
They sound sunny, but they’re not, because nothing can be sunny when the Sooners have already suffered two losses prior to walking down the Cotton Bowl ramp.
The sky’s not falling.
However, for the first time in, what, five years — 2015, Riley’s arrival? — it’s a rebuilding rather than reloading project and Baker Mayfield's not around to work miracles.
A new narrative.
Saturday, it can change, get better; depending how it goes, it could even become exciting again.
“If you’re not playing the way you want to and not finishing games that you feel like you should finish, there’s no magic pills,” Riley said. “There’s no easy way out of this.”
No good answers.
Just hard reality.
As long as this team’s lost more than its won, it’s all there is.