NORMAN — Bad news mounts for the 2012 Sooners. OU has lost four offensive linemen in the last week. Two who had proved they could play and two who hadn't proved they couldn't.
This after an off-again, on-again waltz with knucklehead receivers, plus transfers galore last winter, some via invitation, some not.
The early returns on Bob Stoops' 14th Sooner season (can you believe it?) show one of those maddening years when good fortune takes a detour around your campus.
But Stoops isn't giving in. He won't admit to plagues descending upon the land, even in the form of Ben Habern's neck issues and Tyler Evans' major knee injury.
“Just depends on how you look at it,” Stoops said. “We've got some good news, too.”
That would be Penn State evacuee Justin Brown, who on the solid stage of the Big Ten has shown he can catch passes and return punts. The former is big for the Sooners and the latter is bigger, if you saw all those bouncing punts in the spring game.
I don't necessarily agree with Stoops that one Penn State passcatcher makes up for two burly blockers. But I will say this. Offensive line is the least important unit on the field.
I know every football purist from Tuscaloosa to Iowa City just tossed their lunch, but it's true. At least it's true in the second decade of this century and in this gizmo league we call the Big 12.
The Sooners weren't all that great at running the ball the last couple of years, even with a cupboard of healthy linemen. That's why the Belldozer rode to the rescue.
And while OU likes to still pretend it's a power-running team, the Sooner passing game is spread-it-out, air-it-out. An OU lineman's pass-blocking job is just get in the way. Mike Leach taught us that in his 10 Lubbock seasons. Landry Jones is going to have to get rid of the ball quickly, and the same would be true if Evans and Habern remained on the line.
“I don't see anything here so far that should hold us back very much,” Stoops said not defiantly but with that Youngstown matter-of-factness that is his most defining personality trait.
“In the end, every year when you're dealing with 105 guys, you're going to have some of that. Who doesn't? Everybody has a guy hurt. Everybody has a guy quit. Everybody has a guy transfer. I don't think we're much different than everybody else.”
I don't think a dented offensive line is going to cost the Sooners the national championship. I didn't think the Sooners were going to win it in the first place.
Heck, I picked West Virginia to win the Big 12 even when OU's line was at full strength.
But this remains true. The Sooners on paper still have the Big 12's best combination of offense and defense. West Virginia has massive defensive questions. Texas has no quarterback. OSU has a true freshman quarterback. Kansas State has to go to Norman and Morgantown.
Anyone who picked OU before last week — and the majority did — should continue to pick the Sooners to win the conference. The national flag? That's a crapshoot on all counts. Win your conference and take your chances. That's the best plan.
Sure, OU will miss Habern and Evans. But Habern's loss is tempered by the presence of Gabe Ikard, an excellent center in his own right. The Sooners take a small step back at both guard positions — Adam Shead replaces Ikard and is a known and solid commodity; Bronson Irwin replaces Evans and is an unknown.
Now, if more injuries occur, if the plagues continue, it's a different story. But you want me to write off OU's championship hopes over offensive guards? Not going to do it.
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.