NORMAN — You’d think Sooner football is in the midst of an unprecedented season and you’d be right if the implications of COVID-19 were the topic.
Just one non-conference game, 10 regular-season contests in all, taking the field before three other Power Five conferences, not knowing if two of them were going to play at all.
It’s not normal.
Let’s hope it doesn’t repeat.
Nor is it normal that Oklahoma lose two games before walking into the Cotton Bowl.
Like, maybe it happened Bob Stoops’ first season, right? But it couldn’t have happened since and, but for the John Blake seasons, hardly before.
Barry Switzer lost twice before the Texas game only once, 1982, Marcus Dupree’s freshman season, to West Virginia and Southern Cal.
Unbelievably, his successor, Gary Gibbs, for all the success he could never quite produce when handed the program’s reins, never lost twice before waking into the Cotton Bowl.
Three times the Longhorns handed the Sooners their second loss of the season under Gibbs and twice their first.
Gibbs greatest failing?
His squads took at least two more losses after every Texas loss and the only year he beat the Longhorns, three losses followed.
It happened three times.
None of them his first season.
In 2005, OU fell to TCU and UCLA before getting to Dallas; in 2009, it was BYU and Miami; in 2015, Houston and Ohio State.
The only thing entirely unique about this season is both losses came in the conference.
Also, on the off chance Lincoln Riley can use last Saturday’s four-overtime Red River rivalry triumph into a table run that does not require a Flying Wallendas high-wire act come with it, well, that will be entirely unique, too.
One hopes what happened at Fair Park was not simply a thrilling win for a storied program, but an actual turning point, a marker, a deliverance.
If the Sooners win out this season, it’s hard to figure how that doesn’t include a trip to the Big 12 title game. Like, are Iowa State and Kansas State really going to beat everybody but each other?
Hard to imagine.
Should OU do that it’s equally hard to imagine the conditions by which it return to the College Football Playoff.
What’s left is being the the Sooners are supposed to be, whatever that is. And, as vague as that sounds, should they do that, we’ll know it, because we haven’t seen it in a long, long time.
Stoops had this way of producing clunker seasons in between runs of big seasons: 8-4 in 2005, 8-5 in 2009 and, though OU began 2014 5-1, 8-5 that season, too.
In Stoops’ final year, Riley’s second as offensive coordinator, OU lost two of its first three games only to win its next 10 and feel robbed when left out of the playoff.
It shouldn’t have been so difficult. Those games live on in memory, but their actual scores remain staggering to look at: 52-46 at TCU, 45-40 over Texas, 66-59 at Texas Tech.
In the midst of three straight trips to the playoffs, nobody’s played nail-biters like the Sooners have played nail-biters.
In 2017, after losing to Iowa State: 29-24 over Texas, 42-35 at Kansas State, 62-52 at Oklahoma State.
In 2018, after losing to Texas: 51-46 at Texas Tech, 48-47 over Oklahoma State, 55-40 over Kansas, 59-56 at West Virginia.
Last season, after losing at Kansas State: 42-41 over Iowa State, 34-31 at Baylor, 28-24 over TCU, back-to-back-to-back.
Perhaps OU’s been the third or fourth best team in the nation each of the last three seasons — the CFP committee would have you think so — but what the Sooners have really been good at is not losing.
Playing quality football, turning in complete games and achieving consistency are entirely different matters.
It’s 2020 and OU lost twice before the Texas game, but the season need not be a clunker like ‘82, ‘05 or ‘09.
Following an heroic and epic overtime victory over its most storied and historic rival, this could still be the season OU quits playing down to its opponent, whoever it is, finally pays up to itself, whatever it is and lets the chips fall.
It’s been a while.
So long, it might even feel unprecedented. That, and it’s a blueprint with legs, bound to pay dividends long after this crazy and strange season.`