Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills heading to the NFL leaves a void.
No way around that.
Oklahoma can't lose its leading tackler and leading receiver without feeling some adverse effects. We learned for certain with a statement from Sooner coach Bob Stoops on Monday that Jefferson and Stills are skipping their senior seasons, so the Sooners will be looking for even more playmakers at a time when it already seems short on them.
But the holes that Jefferson and Stills leave aren't all bad.
In those voids are opportunities, especially where leadership is concerned.
By all accounts, Jefferson and Stills were solid leaders for the Sooners. They played hard. They even played hurt. Those are always good traits to have in two of your best.
But there was always a California cool vibe with these guys. The swagger. The hair. The tattoos. They come by it naturally, of course. Jefferson and Stills are from the Left Coast, California bred and proud of it.
There's nothing wrong with Cali cool.
I'm just not sure it's the kind of leadership this team needs heading into next season.
The Sooners are coming off a season that fell well below lofty expectations. They were out of the national championship hunt before November. They were forced to share a Big 12 title. They were bypassed for a BCS bowl, then torched in the Cotton Bowl.
Now, they face the most uncertain offseason in the Bob Stoops era. New quarterback. Offensive funk. Defensive faults. Leadership questions.
That last one was bound to happen with the departure of a sizable senior class. Guys like Landry Jones, David King and Justin Brown are gone. Add Jefferson and Stills to the list, and the void of proven leaders is even bigger.
But here's the silver lining — there's a chance to go in a different direction.
For as solid as the character of as Jones, King and Brown were, they weren't fiery. They were more steady-as-she-goes influences. And, of course, Jefferson and Stills have that Cali cool.
What the Sooners seemed to be missing were player who cared passionately about being Sooners. They have plenty of guys who love to play football. They have lots of guys who want to be great. They don't have a bunch of leaders, though, who see wearing the crimson and cream as their life's ambition.
Are those guys around?
You have to think so, with the likes of Sterling Shepard and Gabe Ikard, Aaron Colvin and Bronson Irwin on the roster. Those guys are Oklahomans who grew up with a fire for the Sooners.
Take Irwin, the offensive lineman. There's a great story about him being a third grader in Mustang and finding himself awe-struck the day then-Sooner lineman Bubba Burcham visited his classroom. Burcham's sister just happened to be Irwin's teacher.
That day is forever seared into Irwin's memory.
Irwin sees playing for the Sooners as a dream come true.
For Irwin and players like him, being a Sooner matters in a way that's different.
Think about some of the notable Okie Sooners of the past decade or so. Gerald McCoy. Curtis Lofton. J.D. Runnels. Teddy Lehman. Trent Smith. Rocky Calmus. Those guys weren't just passionate about playing college football. They were passionate about being Sooners. And they infused their teammates with that same fire.
They cared about playing for OU in a way that was different from others. And right now, this program needs guys who care passionately about being Sooners to take the lead.
Had Jefferson and Stills returned, they would've been sure leaders. And they would've done a fine job, I suspect. But they would've come at their roles as leaders from a different spot.
Now with their departure to the NFL, there's a chance for next year's team to have a completely different vibe, to trade California cool for Oklahoma tough.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.