NORMAN — For 12 games and 14 weeks, we've watched this Oklahoma football team, the one with big expectations that went unfulfilled. What if you had to bottle the Sooners' season in one word? What's your word?
I dare you to come up with one better than this: Inconsistent.
That's it, isn't it? There were moments, weeks even, when OU looked the part of the preseason No. 1. Then there were those other times, like Saturday night in Stillwater, when the Sooners played Blake-years football.
And you just scratched your head, dizzied from the carnival ride of being spun and jostled back and forth from greatness to something far from it.
But now what?
Bowl games are all about motivation. How motivated can you expect the Sooners to be for the Dec. 30 Insight.com Bowl against Iowa?
Many Oklahoma fans would have considered this season a disappointment if it played in Phoenix — in the Fiesta Bowl. But how about that organization's second bowl game, a flip-flop of the end of the 2007 season when OSU was in the Insight and OU played in the Fiesta?
OU administrators couldn't even hide the fact late Saturday that they hoped for some other fate, even the Holiday, to avoid having to share the desert spotlight with a rival that had just clubbed the Sooners. But, no, it was unavoidable. The BCS couldn't even bail out OU by taking Kansas State to the Sugar.
Here's the good news for Oklahoma: Iowa isn't very good. It went 7-5, 4-4 in a pretty bad Big Ten. The Hawkeyes did beat Michigan; but they lost to Minnesota. So.
Here's the bad news about that: Texas Tech wasn't very good, either, and it didn't stop the Red Raiders from ending OU's 39-game home win streak. OU hasn't done such a great job of getting up for teams that it's supposed to be better than.
The Sooners are a flawed football group. That's no secret, after those 12 games. There's no Ryan Broyles to serve as a safety net. Ronnell Lewis, with an eye toward the NFL, might not play in the bowl game. The pass defense is so shaky that the free safety often plays 30 yards off the line.
Probing deeper than X's and O's, there has just been something off with this team. Something that's difficult to figure and on which to put a finger.
Example: Trailing 44-3 in the fourth quarter Saturday night, linebacker Travis Lewis, a senior captain, started strutting around and pointing that it was OU's possession after OSU's Jeremy Smith inexplicably fumbled on what would have been a sure touchdown.
Lewis briefly preened and celebrated … down 41 points.
It's going to be a long month. No doubting that. But perhaps this program gets more out of this month, under these adverse circumstances, than if it beat the Cowboys and backed into the Fiesta Bowl.
Perhaps the Sooners and Bob Stoops needed a season-long reality check, a kick in the teeth to get the program in gear. It's really up to them, the players and coaches, to decide during the month of December.
By doing what it should against Iowa, OU would at least carry some momentum into the recruiting season and the spring. Another toe-stump, and the woe-is-us sense will permeate through the program until it gets a shot at redemption in 2012. Oh, how agonizing January-August would be.
The Sooners, for one, think it's possible to get off the mat for the bowl – and beyond.
“We're going to have to get things fixed,” said offensive lineman Gabe Ikard, who, important to note, is a sophomore, “be more disciplined, get tougher … whatever it is.
“You've still got a bowl game to go to. You've still got a lot to prove for those things, playing for your pride.”
OU OPPONENT BREAKDOWN
What: Insight.com Bowl
When: 9 p.m., Dec. 30
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten, defeated Tennessee Tech 34-7 on Sept. 3; lost 44-41 (overtime) at Iowa State on Sept. 10; defeated Pitt 31-27 on Sept. 17; defeated Louisiana-Monroe 45-17 on Sept. 24; lost 13-3 at Penn State on Oct. 8; defeated Northwestern 41-31 on Oct. 15; defeated Indiana 45-24 on Oct. 22; lost 22-21 at Minnesota on Oct. 29; defeated Michigan 24-16 on Nov. 5; lost to Michigan 37-21 on Nov. 12; won 31-21 at Purdue on Nov. 19; lost 20-7 at Nebraska on Nov. 25.
Best player: WR Marvin McNutt
Why the Hawkeyes could beat OU: Because the Sooners aren't interested in playing in a lower-tier bowl game, they have often played down to opponents and the offensive issues continue without Ryan Broyles.
Why the Hawkeyes will lose to OU: Because the talent levels are not even close to being equal. Iowa cannot match OU's speed.