NORMAN — Here we are.
Once again, even as Bob Stoops is sure to play down the history, history is in the air.
Once again, even in a season nobody’s thought to put Oklahoma into the national championship race, a game approaches with zero Big 12 implications yet feels so much bigger than a conference game.
Once again, ghosts may be vanquished. Once again, the Sooner Nation, at least in this one series, awaits its deliverance, wishing OU to beat Notre Dame for only the second time in 11 tries and, against a reasonably good Irish team, the first time, period.
Once again, it seems like everything. Once again, it just might be.
If it’s not quite as tangible as last season, it’s only a matter of location. This time the Sooners and the Fighting Irish will meet at Notre Dame Stadium, in front of Touchdown Jesus and a college football nation.
This time, though OU’s in the middle of the top 25 and the Irish own one of the last spots, there may be more at stake than last time.
Last time, the Sooners had already fallen awfully at home to Kansas State and, though, it wasn’t yet entirely clear, the Sooners were soon to become a defensive mess.
But OU hasn’t lost yet.
Defense has been strong.
Should the Sooners claim their first Irish victory since 1956, a 40-0 win over a bad Notre Dame team that won only two games, they will not only have vanquished the ghosts and turned the historic Irish tide, but they’ll be 4-0 with TCU, Texas, Kansas and Texas Tech to play, a quartet of should-be wins before traveling to Waco, Texas, quite likely to face the Big 12’s most dangerous team.
And if that were OU in the national championship conversation in the long term, a Saturday victory would vindicate the Sooners in the short term.
OU shut out Louisiana-Monroe opening day, a non-name opponent, yet a perceived-to-be-dangerous team. But Baylor had its shot against ULM Saturday and crushed the Warhawks 70-7.
The Sooners held West Virginia to a single touchdown, but Saturday it was not-so-mighty Maryland rolling the Mountaineers 37-0.
OU’s best day to date, a 51-20 victory over Tulsa, came at the expense of a Golden Hurricane team that fell 34-7 at Bowling Green and that only topped one-win Colorado State by a field goal.
Notre Dame may not be great, losing to Michigan and only beating Michigan State 17-14 with the help of several pass interference calls Saturday, but the Irish are ranked, they’re still Irish and they always beat OU except when they’re terrible.
Already this season, Stoops, answering a question about some thing else, referenced how the Sooners and Irish were tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter last time around. But that kind of reference does nobody any good.
What matters is Notre Dame beat Purdue by three, Michigan by seven, Stanford by seven, BYU by three and OU by 17 (and the next week Pittsburgh by three).
There are no moral victories or helpful references available in playing Notre Dame close until the dam breaks.
Besides, the Sooners shouldn’t arrive in South Bend looking to win a close game. For one thing, the Irish are better at it than they are. For another, any OU loyalist, up less than seven points against any Notre Dame team, knows something very bad is about to happen because it always has. For yet another, this is a week to think much bigger.
Blake Bell wrote the perfect first chapter to his career as a starting college quarterback two Saturdays ago, but now he has a chance to make beating Notre Dame the second chapter and he’ll have a shot at Texas less than a month since moving into the lineup. He shouldn’t go out to win, but crush.
Ditto for the Sooner defense, clearly revitalized in its second season under Mike Stoops. Beating the Irish would be enough, but why think that way? Why not shut them out, too.
It’s all right there.
OU seems like a different team, like a team that might make some old goals relevant again, goals that haven’t been approached since 2008.
Maybe the Sooners are that kind of team this year and maybe they aren’t. But if that’s not clear, this is: one team stands in the way.