NORMAN — It was just one victory, but Oklahoma fully understood its Sugar Bowl victory would carry future positive ramifications.
No longer would OU coach Bob Stoops have to spend an offseason answering questions about the state of the program. Players wouldn’t have to talk about a talent gap any longer. The Sooners, who cherished the opportunity to play like underdogs late in the season, wouldn’t have that card to play any longer.
The way the Sooners closed 2013 means all the historical expectations for the program are back on the table for the 2014 season. A Big 12 Conference title is at the top of the list. Of course, if you’re going to win that, you might as well win a national championship, too.
Such expectations are not out of bounds. Fifteen of the starters from the Sugar Bowl victory will be back next season, including nine on defense and quarterback Trevor Knight.
“When you’re at practices every day and scrimmages every day and everything that we do, we very much know what he’s capable of,” Stoops said. “Now everyone has had a chance to see.”
The way Knight played over the final four games, but especially at the Sugar Bowl, offers every indication that he gives the offense something to build around.
This past season was a transitional one in many ways for OU. It has spent the last two recruiting classes building to take advantage of a mobile quarterback. OU’s has bulked up its offensive linemen, sought more between-the-tackles running backs and brought in bigger wide receivers to run the ball better and better to set up play-action passing opportunities.
Look for that evolution to continue next season.
Knight’s ability to pass from the pocket against Alabama was a game-changer. He didn’t appear comfortable doing that early in the season or in his starts against Kansas State and Oklahoma State late in the year.