Anxious. Anxious for the off-season, anxious for next season, anxious for another chance at a championship, just anxious.
Anxious is what a lot of University of Oklahoma Football fans and players felt after they watched Clemson rattle off three straight second half touchdowns in the Orange Bowl. That is what they felt after they watched their Heisman candidate quarterback and Big 12 Champion football team get beaten by nearly every measure. A team that many felt had turned the corner after a heartbreaking loss to Texas, just felt anxious.
Maybe the only thing they felt before anxiety was heartbreak. Their Orange Bowl loss was tough. They were beat up on both sides of the ball, even though at half time many people thought they had taken control of the game. They entered the off-season knowing they had one of the best teams in the country, but did not achieve their ultimate goal. Now fans have to wonder, does Baker still have some magic left?
Ever since the Big 12 re-voted to change a rule that would give a select group of players (Baker Mayfield) an added year of eligibility, there has been one focus in Norman. The focus has been on getting back, but being better. With Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Oklahoma among the shortlist of title favorites, Oklahoma’s expectations are clear: get back to the College Football Playoff.
While beating Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, and winning the Big 12 are likely prerequisites to that goal, they are not what OU is after. This team -- Baker Mayfield’s team -- has already achieved that. The task is much taller than that, though.
While OU returns 14 starters, a quality second team, and the coaching staff that turned around the team after their abysmal 2014 season, there is still a lot of work to be done. The schedule is tougher. On top of their regular conference schedule, which is becoming increasingly tougher with the rise of Texas, they play 2 of the hottest teams in the country.
In one of the more notable mid-season, non-conference games in recent memory, they host Ohio State on September, 17. This is not the same Ohio State team that won the championship two years ago, but there is still a ton of talent on the roster and they have Urban Meyer on the sideline. Meyer owns 30% of the national championships from the past decade, so he’s pretty good.
Not to mention, while other teams might just be playing their first tough opponent in mid-September, Oklahoma will be facing their second. The Sooners opens the season against the University of Houston, who has the best up-and-coming coach in the nation, Tom Herman. The game is a “neutral-site” game in Houston, so it won’t be easy, but if OU can overcome their own tough schedule to reach the College Football Playoff then it will be well deserved.
As long as the team does not lose late, an 11-1 finish should be enough to reach the College Football Playoff and it’s more than achievable for Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley (the Offensive Coordinator). Their mix of coaching genius and roster talent is enough to be good team, but they will need more "Mayfield-magic" to be great. And this team wants to be great, otherwise they will be feeling the same way on New Years Eve this year.