NORMAN — Oklahoma has won four straight Big 12 championships.
The Sooners have been to three of the last four College Football Playoffs, horrendous defense and all.
Should OU fail to make it five straight conference crowns, the season will be deemed lost. Should the Sooners claim the crown again, their 13th in the conference’s 24-year history, yet not reach the playoff, it may still be lost.
In the seasons since Lincoln Riley hit campus, OU has won 11, 11, 12 and 12 games, not reaching the playoff only in 2016, a reality that left the Sooner Nation feeling robbed and perhaps it was.
It has become the standard upon which the program is measured. It’s not fair and likely unsustainable and yet that’s where we are, waiting for OU and Houston to kick off Sunday night.
And that’s the point.
The best way to measure the strength of the program is to internalize the shock that would be created if, say, the Sooners dropped three of their first 12 games.
Heck, it might not move them out of the top 10, but disappointment would be colossal and mammoth, leaving a hole in the heart of the Sooner Nation the size of the Grand Canyon.
Where is OU as the 2019 campaign begins?
It’s what Riley’s built since taking over the offense and what Riley’s overseen in full since becoming the man.
He is fairly fascinating.
The only time Riley’s ever sounded defensive has been when sticking up for his defense once or twice the past couple of seasons.
Aside from that, nada.
He’s the first to blame himself when things go wrong and the last to lose his cool, preternaturally comfortable in his own skin even as he feeds the monster Barry Switzer used to describe.
As OU mounts a season toward the goals it will be ridiculed for failing to reach should it fail to reach them, it’s worth taking a moment to fully comprehend the magnitude of success that created the equation.
Final four: good enough.
Not reaching it: failure.
There was a question on Twitter last week asking for Bob Stoops’ most impressive streak or accomplishment.
I went where I always go, to the five seasons from 2000 to 2004.
The Sooners won a national championship, played for two others, and though they oddly let two conference titles get away, they averaged 12 wins per season and 12 wins per season over five seasons is insane.
Almost quietly, the program is back in that rarefield place.
Quietly, sort of, because OU has yet to reach the CFP’s championship game and quietly, a bit, because the Big 12’s not what it used to be, when Texas and Nebraska saw themselves the same way OU sees itself, Kansas State and Texas Tech were super dangerous and Missouri, Texas A&M and Colorado were typically quite good.
Talk about a conference. Even though it’s not the same, where the Sooners find themselves is very much the same.
The impossible standard is in place only because it’s been earned.
Riley said a few cool things at his season-opening press conference Monday that might explain a little about how we got here.
“It’s still kind of the thrilling daily fight,” he said.
Explaining the program’s processes, he offered this gem.
“The one answer … I hate is, ‘Let’s do this because this is the way we’ve always done it,’” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything. You either do something because it’s the best or you don’t.”
The appetite for battle exemplified by the first quote is huge and the discipline required to live by the second is fantastic.
One temptation is imagining what a lost season under Riley might look like.
Stoops suffered three: four losses in 2005, the Rhett Bomar season; five in 2009, when Landry Jones was pressed into service for a battered and broken Sam Bradford and other injuries plagued, too; 2014 when OU didn’t have an offensive identity and still it was the better side of the ball.
Hard to see 2005 happening to Riley. Riley would have gone with his best quarterback and that quarterback would have been Paul Thompson, who QB’d the Sooners to a conference championship the next season. Hard to imagine 2014 either, when nothing worked.
That leaves 2009, which could happen. Heck, it could happen next year, when the Sooners should unveil a quarterback who’s never been there before and injuries can always occur.
If that happens, the Sooner Nation’s response will be shock and disbelief, panic and fear, because nobody will have seen it coming.
Well, unless it happens this season. Only it’s not happening this season.
It couldn’t possibly.
The program’s far too strong for that.