WICHITA, Kan. — Blake Bell didn’t hesitate Thursday evening when asked what he expected for Oklahoma’s 2014 football team.
“National championship,” the senior quarterback-turned-tight end emphatically responded before an overjoyed crowd inside Wichita’s Hyatt Regency.
Following the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl upset of two-time defending national champion Alabama in January, excitement levels surrounding the program entering 2014 couldn’t be higher. One national publication already predicted Oklahoma to finish atop the college football world this season.
An OU gridiron legend who knows a thing or two about winning national championships hopes the Sooners carry their momentum from the Sugar Bowl into next season, but knows they also need to remember how 2012 ended — in an embarrassing 41-13 Cotton Bowl loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
“What’s the best way?” said Joe Washington, who helped carry the 1974 and 1975 Sooners to national championships in his iconic silver shoes.
“Coming in with disappointment and being hungry, or coming in with excitement? Hopefully these guys remember what it was like in (the Sugar Bowl) dressing room, and also remember what it was like in the Cotton Bowl dressing room.”
In Washington’s four-year OU career, the Sooners were 43-2-1, and in an interview with The Oklahoman before Thursday’s OU Caravan event, it became clear that the non-wins still sting all these years later.
In 1973 — Washington’s sophomore year and Barry Switzer’s first season as head coach — OU played to a 7-7 tie with USC in late September.
Then when Washington was a senior, the Sooners lost 23-3 at home to Kansas in one of the more shocking defeats in program history. Although that team recovered to win its second consecutive national championship, Washington is still haunted by the Nov. 8, 1975, loss to the Jayhawks.
“I think I probably could’ve done more, but you just have to live with it,” Washington said solemnly. “We lost seven fumbles, had two blocked kicks, had two interceptions. We shouldn’t have lost the game, but we did.
“And the tie with Southern Cal … We could’ve won three national championships. My sophomore year, we were probably the best team ever. We didn’t know it. It was (Switzer’s) first year. We just didn’t understand how good we were. After that particular game, all bets were off.”
Current OU coach Bob Stoops led the program to its seventh national championship in 2000 — his second season on the job — but hasn’t been able to win another one since then, despite playing in three more title games.
The Alabama victory, to Washington, is a sign that big things could be in store for Stoops’ 2014 squad.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re turning things to the natural order of how it has been and how it should be,” Washington said. “Our guys are experiencing what it has been around here, and what my group was part of. It’s something they hadn’t been able to experience.
“Hopefully this can be contagious to the point where it spills over to every player.”