If you were buying the Oklahoma Sooners as national championship contenders heading into this season, I don’t blame you if you’re looking for a refund after Saturday night’s unsettling 31-24 win in their opener against the Utah State Aggies.
Before you go digging for your receipt, though, kindly indulge Homerism for a few moments.
Opening games for the Sooners under Bob Stoops traditionally have been an adventure. Following Saturday night’s game, OU is a measly 3-6-1 against the spread in the first game of the year. For every 60-point blowout, the Sooners have had a dogfight. In fact, if history is any indication, this game could have turned out much worse (see 2009 and 2005).
A multitude of whys and wherefores lie behind OU’s slow starts, but in the end, it probably boils down to focus and motivation: OU’s underdog opponents have had it; the Sooners haven’t.
At places like Oklahoma and Florida, the reality is that players feel like they have bigger fish to fry than Utah State and Miami (Ohio). Truth be told, the coaches probably think the same way. The elite programs can talk all they want about taking it one game at a time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their eyes on far greater prizes – conference championships, national titles, individual awards. In that sense, the first game of the year is a de facto dress rehearsal, whether they want to admit it or not.
Meanwhile, in the Logan, Utahs of the world, they’re prepping for a mini-Super Bowl. (Note that OU has Florida State coming up this weekend, while USU will be facing Idaho State.) That definitely showed up last night, as Utah State coach Gary Andersen’s team came in with a clear game plan aimed at picking on the Sooners’ new cornerbacks and allowing shifty senior quarterback Diondre Borel to improvise and buy time in the pocket. Borel averaged 20 yards per completion, a product of his ability to elude OU’s pass rush with his scrambling and find lanky receivers on jump balls downfield.
Also, the Aggies are probably a better team than they’ve been given credit for. They returned a total of 16 starters, eight a piece on both sides of the ball. Looking back at ’09, six of USU’s eight losses came against solid opponents: Boise State, Utah, Texas A&M, BYU, Nevada and Fresno State. Is this a great team? Far from it. Yet, it should end the season with a respectable record.
In the aftermath of what could have been a disaster for OU, maybe it’s most important to focus on the “could have been” part. The scrappy Aggies gave OU a gut check, and the Sooners got through it. Instead of riding high after pasting a pansy, this game should have proved to the Sooners that they have to get better. Hopefully, if they didn’t before, the Sooners now know they have a long way to go to truly be considered one of the nation’s top teams.