TEMPE, Ariz. — Oklahoma will play Friday night in the Insight Bowl. That fact, in a year that started with such promise, causes some reflection.
In some respects, this is as much of the hindsight bowl for OU as the Insight Bowl.
In August — or September or October, for that matter — very few would have ever anticipated this sort of outcome for the hotly anticipated 2011 season.
The Insight Bowl? This team? No way. Got to be kidding.
A 9-3 record and the No. 2 bowl game in Phoenix, in the shadow of the in-state rival? Not the preseason No. 1. Not these Sooners, right?
Like it or not, here they are.
“You're lying if you say it wasn't disappointing,” sophomore offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said of the regular season, looking back. “To go from thinking about being undefeated or a one-loss team playing for a national championship, and then turning out 9-3 — and not at the Fiesta Bowl, even …”
Win or lose against Iowa on Friday night, reality is that this team — for a variety of reasons — will go down in OU lore as a mysterious underachiever.
“That'll always be the question: ‘What if?'” sophomore safety Tony Jefferson said this week. “What if we could have done one play better this way, one play better that way. I mean, it's definitely going to be in the head of people here, when you look back.”
Not every Oklahoma team can win a national title, coach Bob Stoops reasoned during a Thursday news conference. But not every group of Sooners starts in the poll position, with a coach revving the engine in August.
“In the end, not every year, things are going to work that way,” Stoops said, “whether it is a certain break here or there or injuries, or whatnot, or you just didn't play as well and you catch a team that's hot.
“That's going to happen.”
Along the way, there were outstanding moments, such as the Florida State, Texas and Kansas State victories. But there were those three uniquely humbling defeats that made the high notes fall flat.
Devastating injuries enveloped the team. So did questions of attitudes and leadership.
As Stoops said Thursday, it was a combination of those things that led to the losses — and subsequently to the team's arrival in a December bowl.
The hindsight view from the Insight Bowl is familiar turf for Iowa. The Hawkeyes were a preseason top-10 team in 2010, a national contender, but they went 7-5 and played Missouri in last year's Insight Bowl. (They did win that game as a fairly big underdog.)
“You just can't predict (the results of a season),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Thursday. “Everybody wants to, and you try to, and you have the evidence. It really gets down to all the twists and turns that take place in the 12-game schedule, or 11-game schedule in those years.
“So many things happen. Disappointing things happen. That's what makes sports, I think, so much fun to follow.”
Sooners fans likely have different adjectives for the season than fun. But there is one more game to play, and it could potentially alter the perception of this season — either positively or negatively.
“You don't want to lose another game,” Ikard said. “You want to go into the offseason with a good taste in your mouth. You want the mood to be a little more positive. Adding more negativity won't help anything.”
After all, bowl games are as much about the following season as the one being completed.
“Hopefully next year,” Jefferson said, “we can do something different.”