Saturday launched Bob Stoops' 15th OU offseason. And maybe his most important since taking over John Blake's mess in December 1998.
Stoops on occasion has had to address offensive stagnation or quarterback change. But rarely.
Stoops on occasion has had to address defensive deficiencies. But not often.
Now, after a 41-13 Cotton Bowl beatdown by Texas A&M, Stoops must do both.
In typical Stoops fashion, the calamity in Soonerville is relative.
Yes, the debacle Friday night moved this OU season into the disappointing category. Yet in no way is the Schooner on fire. OU was 10-3, tied for first place in the Big 12 and beat both of its bitter rivals, one by 42 points and the other with a memorable rally that long will be remembered on Owen Field.
So the idea that Stoops' program has rotted at the core is silly. But clearly, OU has slipped from its lofty status as a perennial national championship contender.
“We got to make some improvements in the offseason,” Stoops said.
Here's the task facing Stoops. His 2012 defense wilted in the second half of the season (and the second half of the Cotton Bowl).
Offense clearly carried the Sooners. Yet against OU's three toughest opponents — Kansas State, Notre Dame and A&M, all of which figure to finish in the top 10 — the Sooners scored 17, 13 and 13 offensive points. Four touchdowns total.
And now Landry Jones is gone, and Stoops apparently will trend toward a more mobile quarterback. That's a good way to go, but the chances are remote that whoever emerges as the 2013 QB will be more productive, efficient or dependable than Landry. The Johnny Football saga is the exception, not the rule.
Heck, not even Kevin Sumlin knew what he had on his hands with Johnny Manziel, who didn't win the Aggie starting job until mid-August. Maybe Trevor Knight or Blake Bell or even Kendal Thompson quickly blossoms into a star. It's more likely they struggle while showing flashes, ala Rhett Bomar.
Meanwhile, OU's defensive problems are mounting. The chic theory in midseason was that the Sooners were woefully lacking elite defensive line talent.
But after West Virginia, OSU and the Brazos Valley brothers, Baylor and A&M, lit up the Sooners, Alabama-style defensive tackles don't appear to be the immediate need.
Guess who had Bama-style interior linemen? Bama. And Johnny Football zapped the Crimson Tide for 29 points.
Truth is, the Sooners are stunningly shy of linebackers who can run and tackle. That hasn't been the case in Norman in forever, but it is now.
Surely that's what the Brothers Stoops had in mind with their talk after the game.
“We had guys plenty of times in position to make a play,” Bob Stoops said. “Couldn't make a play. That's just where we are.”
Where we are. Seems like code for who we've got.
So OU is going to get an offensive personnel makeover and needs a defensive personnel makeover.
But unless another Johnny Football or Roy Williams drops out of the sky, there are no quick fixes. Stoops tried that last offseason, bringing back his brother to coordinate the defense, at the expense of longtime lieutenant Brent Venables.
The result? The 2011 Sooners were torched by Seth Doege, Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin III. The 2012 Sooners were torched by Nick Florence, Geno Smith, Clint Chelf and Manziel. Turns out Mike Stoops was not the panacea his brother expected.
“We've got to make improvements in all areas, run defense, pass defense, pressures, whatever we're doing,” Bob Stoops said. “But again, some of it, too, our players have got to make some improvements.”
Again, two straight 10-3 seasons is not disaster. In fact, it's a sign of strength, to have that much success in what is viewed as turbulent times.
However, the most disconcerting development of the last two years is that neither team improved down the stretch.
Stoops' teams historically get better and better as the season progresses, be they Big Bowl or rebuilding seasons.
But in 2011 and 2012, OU peaked in October and gradually slid back. Who knows why. But we do know who's responsible.
Which means Stoops has his work cut out in his most interesting offseason since his first.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.