For the sixth straight season, the Oklahoma Sooners are out of the national championship picture before the end of the regular season. At a program where it's normally national championship or bust, that's pretty disappointing. As the Sooners begin to prepare for Iowa State this week, the rest of the season is going to be a big test of the resolve and motivations of this OU squad.
“Obviously we're disappointed, but I don't think anyone is down or throwing the towel in,” linebacker Geneo Grissom said last week. “We have a bunch of tough guys. I've said it before. We're a prideful bunch and we hate to lose, but I think things that kind of motivate us and humbles us and lets us know we're not as good as we need to be right now.”
Oklahoma still has five games left on the schedule, all of them winnable. They won't win a single one if they don't believe they can. While a national championship may not be in the cards anymore, pride most certainly is.
“If we go out there and play like we're defeated, we're going to lose the next five games and then what,” cornerback Julian Wilson said. “People will be saying we're the worst team in OU history and so on.”
Senior leaders like Grissom and Wilson, as well as offensive tackle Daryl Williams aren't going to want their legacy to include being part of an extremely overrated Sooners team. Their leadership and example is one of the few things keeping the Sooners' season from turning into a complete disaster.
“If I can keep leading by example and stay positive around the guys and tell them, there were a lot of positive things out of that (Kansas State) game,” Williams said. “We played a good game from what I watched. Just walking around positive and trying to get focused back up and trying to get everyone healthy this week. That's all I can do.”
Imparting wisdom to their teammates, particularly the younger players, is a hard thing to do when it's equally difficult to motivate yourself. But it's something the seniors have to do since they're the leaders of the team.
“We met as a team (after KSU) and let the young guys know the season isn't over,” Wilson said. “We were in the same position last year and people there couldn't really see the light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to focus on what we can control, go out there and try to win out and see where we end up.”
The Sooners have been in this position before. In fact, just a year ago the Sooners had two losses and came out of a 41-12 loss to Baylor looking downright putrid. But the Sooners rebounded. Fueled by the play of Trevor Knight and improvement from the defense, the Sooners rattled off four straight wins including the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. How did they do it? Williams said a lot of the turnaround had to do with Bob Stoops.
“I think Coach Stoops kept us focused on taking it game by game,” Williams said. “It's just weird, we're in the same spot we were last year having lost two Big 12 games. All we can do is keep focused and control what we can and that's beating Iowa State next week.”
The Sooners are competitors to the last man and losing isn't something they want to experience. Grissom said those feelings are motivation enough to finish the season strong.
“Just the feeling in the locker room after the game is a feeling I don't think anyone wants to feel ever again, especially since a lot of guys were really hurt from the game,” Grissom said. “I don't think anyone is going to throw the towel in. If anything, it kind of motivated everyone. It's going to be a long season, so we need to make sure we put our heads together and grind it out.”
Grind it out is all the Sooners can do at this point. While a national championship may not be attainable, perhaps the hope of working their way into one of the Big Six bowl games and simply finishing strong will be motivation enough. It has to be. If not, the Sooners—like Wilson said—have already lost the last five games.