NORMAN — Four days after Baylor routed Oklahoma 41-12, causing widespread panic throughout Sooner Nation, coach Bob Stoops was asked to assess the state of his program.
OU hadn't won an outright Big 12 championship since 2010, didn't have a clear offensive identity and wasn't landing the big-time recruits it once did.
“Seven-and-2 and working to the end of the year,” Stoops tersely responded. “Just co-champs a year ago, right? What else do you want to know? We won it in 2010 and tied it in 2012 and we're going through '13.
“I think there are only 4-5 teams that have won more games over the past five years. I believe that's right. If that's not the answer you are looking for, I'm not sure. It seems like every time you lose a game, it's like ‘Oh geez, the sky is falling.'”
In the less than two months since that statement, Oklahoma went on a four-game winning streak — capped by a stunning 45-31 Sugar Bowl upset of No. 3 Alabama — and now seems like a legitimate 2014 national-title contender. And in the two days after their bowl victory, the Sooners have scored a pair of major recruiting victories.
Five-star running back Joe Mixon announced Saturday that he would sign with Oklahoma, and on Friday, four-star Jenks defensive tackle Marquise Overton committed to the Sooners for next year's recruiting class.
Mixon's announcement came during the fourth quarter of the U.S. Army All-American Game, after which he was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder from Oakley, Calif., is ranked by Rivals as the nation's top all-purpose back, and picked Oklahoma over California, Wisconsin and UCLA.
“Once they won that Alabama game, that sealed the deal,” Mixon said after his announcement on NBC. “Now I'm a Sooner. Let's get it.”
All of a sudden, the 2014 season appears to be Oklahoma's most anticipated since 2009, when quarterback Sam Bradford was returning after winning the Heisman Trophy.
The Sooners spent the entire 2013 season struggling to establish an offensive identity, and the back-and-forth at quarterback between Trevor Knight and Blake Bell didn't help that cause.
Knight won the job out of fall camp because of his mobility and dynamic playmaking skills, but he never fully showcased his passing ability until the Sugar Bowl.
After completing 32 of 44 pass attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the revered Alabama defense, Knight looks like a bona fide superstar heading into 2014.
Many of the Sooners' best defensive players are young, too, like cornerback Zack Sanchez; linebackers Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander; and defensive end Charles Tapper.
Jordan Phillips was the team's best defensive lineman until his season-ending back surgery in October, and Stoops said Friday that Phillips will return next year.
Because the Sooners lose senior backs Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, Mixon should compete immediately for significant playing time. OU also has a 2014 commitment from four-star prospect Samaje Perine of Pflugerville, Texas, and returns Keith Ford, who displayed his tremendous potential in limited opportunities this season as a true freshman.
Stoops is prohibited by NCAA rules from speaking publicly about specific recruits, but seemed genuinely excited about the next few weeks Friday morning.
“I think we are in great shape, from what we are hearing and the way we've been communicating with guys,” Stoops said. “Hopefully that all comes to fruition in a few days.”