MANHATTAN, Kan. — With two regular-season games and a bowl left to play, Oklahoma's loftiest preseason goals are unattainable.
Not all is lost, though. The Sooners can still win 10 games; claim a Bedlam victory; and simply play for pride, coach Bob Stoops said last week.
“Each week you're doing your very best to make the season as positive as it can be,” Stoops said a few days after his team was routed by Baylor.
But there's another intriguing element to the remainder of the schedule, including today's game at Kansas State. Considering the bevy of young Sooners playing significant roles, there appear to be plenty of reasons to be excited about next season.
“We're just scratching the surface, but players are starting to take pride in what we do,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of his young players like defensive end Charles Tapper, linebackers Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander; and cornerback Zack Sanchez.
“These are young guys that are starting to lead and lead in the right way. They'll be the cornerstone of our transition as we move forward with this group.”
Indeed, OU's defensive future looks especially bright considering the unit's performance following significant injuries to key starters.
When sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was lost for the season to a back injury, redshirt freshman Jordan Wade stepped in and has played well.
Senior linebacker and captain Corey Nelson suffered a season-ending pectoral tear in the Sooners' fifth game. But Alexander, a true freshman, replaced him and is now OU's second-leading tackler.
Alexander also had to take on an expanded role in making defensive calls on the field.
“I'm more comfortable now doing that because I've played more,” Alexander said. “I have more experience under my belt. People will listen to me a little bit more than when I first got here. I'm a little more comfortable doing that now.”
Senior cornerback Aaron Colvin has missed two games; sophomore Cortez Johnson and true freshman Stanvon Taylor have shown flashes of their potential in his place.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight is expected to make his first career road start Saturday in Manhattan — and could reclaim the job from junior Blake Bell for good -- making clear the Sooners' intent to move forward with a different style of offense from years past.
Oklahoma coaches also have been forced to prematurely consider life without do-it-all fullback Trey Millard after his career-ending ACL tear in late October.
Still, Bob Stoops insists he's not thinking ahead to next season.
“It's just strictly putting the best out there right now to win,” he said.
Maybe so, but in many cases, Oklahoma's best options for winning now and winning next year are one in the same.