The University of Oklahoma had a noisier offseason than most programs in college football, which is saying a lot considering athletes at all NCAA divisions can now legally make money off of their image and likeness for the first time.
The Sooners, along with hated rivals and business partners at The University of Texas at Austin, accepted an invite to the Southeastern Conference this summer, causing a ripple effect that renders their new conference virtually invincible and their soon-to-be-former conference without its big money generators.
So, in hindsight, we should have known a season opener like this was coming.
Add in an impromptu "away" game in Norman, a morning kickoff, the high Associated Press ranking and baby, you’ve got a stew going.
Did you know Tulane was a founding member of the SEC back in 1933? The past and future of the conference all on one field?? Throw it in the pot!
All the ingredients for a wacky day of football in Norman were there. Because of it, Oklahoma’s 40-35 victory over the Tulane Green Wave didn’t feel like a satisfying way to start the year.
It was a little less than a year ago when the Kansas State Wildcats marched into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff and marched out with a 38-35 win over the No. 3 Sooners. It was K-State’s first-ever AP Top 5 road win.
Entering Saturday, Tulane sported a 0-37-1 all-time record against teams ranked in the AP Top 5. However, on a fourth down and 13 play at Tulane’s 44-yard line with just over two minutes to go, Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt scurried for a 12-yard run but ultimately failed to extend what could have been an insane game-winning drive.
There was the ballgame.
First Takeaway: The Hype Machine
Among the regular College Football Playoff contenders like Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State, the Sooners had their starting quarterback return in 2021. Spencer Rattler is talked among the best – if not the best – quarterback prospect in next year’s NFL Draft.
After a rough and tumble start to 2020, OU finished the season with one of the best defenses in America. Experienced QB? Check. Improved defense? Double check.
Two problems: The game didn’t start or end the way any Sooner fan wanted. One play after completing a dumpoff pass to Eric Gray for -5 yards, Rattler forced a pass into triple coverage that was promptly picked off on OU's second offensive play of the season.
Pratt picked apart the Sooner defense early and often. During the TV broadcast, Oklahoma Ford Sports Blitz football analyst Dusty Dvoracek noted that the defense was already feeling fatigue three and a half minutes into the game. The wide open spaces in the Sooner D stayed wide open, and OU found itself facing a deficit.
The Sooners got off the deck, finishing the first half on a 30-0 scoring run, but they became complacent. There was enough time late in the fourth quarter for the Green Wave to make a move, and it made a serious one.
Coming close to winning it all with Sam Bradford and never sniffing a title game in the College Football Playoff era has to have caused some anxiety among Sooner fans. They want to talk title game and they want to talk about it NOW.
Talking isn’t wrong, in and of itself, but the talk has to be rooted in reality. The reality is: Oklahoma is about as close as it gets to the Alabama’s, Clemson’s or Ohio State’s of the world without actually being any of those programs.
What has held the Sooners back in recent years is poor showings in the playoffs and poor showings at home to unranked opponents. Those other programs have a cold, almost predictable ability to perform well when the lights are brightest or dimmest. You know what you’re getting when these teams step out on the field.
Things could change for the better for Oklahoma in 2021, but until then, the Sooners reminded us Saturday that they are still not there yet.
Second Takeaway: Team No Sleep
It is possible that members of the Tulane roster and coaching staff woke up Saturday morning, wondering, “Where are we?”
Hurricane Ida made its expected landfall Sunday in Louisiana, devastating the state and the City of New Orleans.
Athletic officials at Tulane had the task of figuring out where to operate an entire Division I athletic program on the fly just days before its football program's season opener was set to kick off.
Not only was their eagerly-anticipated game with a national football power relocated, the entire Tulane athletic department – athletes included – relocated to a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama.
The University of Alabama also opened up its Tuscaloosa practice facility to the football team to prepare for its trip to Norman.
Maybe breathing the same air Crimson Tide players breathe every day is what breathed new life into the Green Wave.
Perhaps the moment emblematic of Tulane’s Never Give Up mantra involved its quarterback Michael Pratt.
With just over two minutes to go in the first half, Pratt took the snap, looked as if he were going to gun a throw 50 yards and then decided to make a run for it.
Pratt earned the first down and crossed midfield. While he attempted to slide safely, Pratt was hit in the same area as his pads and helmet by OU’s Key Lawrence. Pratt’s helmet flew off and his head jerked back and hit the field. It looked bad in real time.
The play was reviewed for targeting, but the referees decided not to go through with the initial call.
Pratt had to leave the field with his helmet coming off on the field for one play, but he was right back out there the following play. He had far from a perfect game, but Pratt’s presence made a real difference for the Green Wave.
This is part of what boggles the mind with the Sooners. How close were they to losing to a team currently without a home? How close were they to losing to a team that had every excuse to be weary, tired and listless?
The Green Wave played like they had nothing to lose. The Sooners played not to lose.
Third Takeaway: I’m Only Human, Or Am I?
It was generous of the Sooners to allow the Green Wave to keep all ticket revenue from Saturday’s game, but one of the enjoyable moments of the week included OU’s efforts to make Saturday “feel” like a Tulane home game.
Their efforts included a painted Green Wave logo on the field in Norman.
Look at the eyes on that wave and its curled, little wavy fists! That thing is looking for a fight and I’m not the one to give one out.
There are a lot of things wrong with college sports, but chief among them are a stunning lack of inanimate objects with human characteristics.
Those that are – Otto the Orange at Syracuse, the creepily-grinned tree at Stanford and Big Red at Western Kentucky (the GOAT) – are among our greatest innovations in college athletics.
Image Provided By: AP
Image Provided By: AP
Image Provided By: AP
Somehow, we lost our way.
We’ve turned our collective backs on innovation, and frankly, we are worse off for it.