NORMAN – Optimism has escaped its banks in Soonerville. The state is flooded with belief that Oklahoma football is back in the butt-kicking business.
You can’t blame anybody for feeling that way. We all watched the Sugar Bowl. Sending Alabama to bed without its supper will make anyone stand a lot taller.
Then our man Jason Kersey blogged the other day, ranking the 10 best Sooners going into the 2014 season.
His list was solid. In order, he had Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker, Charles Tapper, Frank Shannon, Daryl Williams, Trevor Knight, Zack Sanchez, Geneo Grissom, Dominique Alexander and Michael Hunnicutt.
I might have listed Quentin Hayes instead of Sanchez, and I would have tried to find someone in place of Hunnicutt, who has a solid foot but isn’t Russell Erxleben. But no obvious omissions.
Interesting list. Tapper is the lone all-conference honoree. Not exactly the ’74 or ‘75 Sooners, whose 10th-best player was somebody like Jimbo Elrod or Billy Brooks or Mike Vaughan.
And it struck me. Sooner euphoria exists with a team that is virtually starless. OU is counting on a quarterback, Trevor Knight, who has started and finished three games in his career. Counting on a defense that gave up plays of 53, 63, 67 and 61 yards to ’Bama.
When a Sooner season like this arrives, it usually comes with a Schooner full of All-Americans and established stars. Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams and G.K. McCoy in 2009. Jason White, Jamaal Brown, Mark Clayton and Dan Cody in 2004. Roy Williams, Rocky Calmus and Frank Romero in 2001.
Does this OU team have that kind of star power?
Mike Stoops is ready to defend his defenders. Striker and Tapper, Phillips and Grissom, Hayes and Jordan Wade. I promise you, OU’s defensive coordinator isn’t trying to squash the optimism. He’s more fired up than anybody.
But Stoops admits that he turned on the tape from the previous OU-Alabama game, in 2003, and saw a Sooner defensive line of Tommie Harris, Dusty Dvoracek, Cody and Jonathan Jackson.
“That was pretty good,” Stoops said. “But we’re getting back to that … they’re just younger. But we have more impact players than we’ve ever had, the last three years for sure. We’re starting to recruit to that. We’re developing back to where we’re going to have more guys” of star quality.
The Sooner offense is in the same situation. Shepard is a good player who could be great. Knight’s potential is limitless, but that’s based on one magic night in New Orleans. OU returns some good linemen, but the Outland Trophy doesn’t seem Norman-bound.
So the glee that consumes Sooner Nation isn’t individual-based, it’s results-based, because of the way OU finished out the 2013 season. A good win in Manhattan. A great win in Stillwater. A monumental win in New Orleans.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Star power is not an automatic predictor of team success. The Sooners were great in ’01 and ’04. They cratered in 2009, thanks to injuries.
And once upon a time, OU went into a season with so little individual star power, just one Sooner made the preseason All-Big 12 team. Calmus was given that status in summer 2000. That season, the Sooners went 13-0 and won the national title. By December, nine Sooners made All-Big 12, three made All-American, Josh Heupel dang near won the Heisman Trophy and the team of no-names became a team that will never be forgotten as long as Oklahomans play with pigskins.
So go ahead. Let the optimism flow.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.