By John Shinn
The college football season is still two months away, but the buildup is well underway. For a program like Oklahoma, anticipation comes with major expectations.
Each summer, college football publications fire out their preseason Top 25s months before August’s first practice.
Fans and media love the overkill of speculation and OU has received its fare share of the spotlight. OU coach Bob Stoops, on the other hand, would prefer never to hear any of the preseason accolades.
“No, I am not comfortable. But for us, as a staff and a program, we are used to it,” the Sooner coach said. “We really pay no attention to it. Our guys are fairly young still and hopefully they are smart enough to realize that we have by no means earned that position yet.”
Ignoring the hype is going to be hard, though.
Athlon Sports tabbed OU as its national championship favorite earlier this summer and just about every prognosticator has projected the Sooners to be a top-five team.
There’s no reason not to. When practice begins in a little more than a month, OU will have most of its starters back from last season. Linebacker Rufus Alexander and running back Adrian Peterson have already been mentioned as Big 12 Player of the Year candidates and Peterson is among the early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
There’s a lot to be excited about. That’s what worries Stoops. And he has a history lesson ready for anyone who sings his team’s praises before they’re earned.
At this time last year, OU was expected to compete for its fourth Big 12 championship in six years. It seemed like a pretty safe bet. Since winning the national championship in 2000, the Sooners have routinely been a front-runner to win the Big 12. Only late-season losses in 2001 and 2003 had knocked them off course.
But something changed last season. OU uncharacteristically stumbled early, losing three of its first five games.
Stoops said one of the reasons for the early-season struggles was players believing they would win because it was owed them, not because of the effort.
OU rallied and finished the season 8-4 with a victory over Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. It helped remove the bitter taste from the first five games.
“Going through winter and going through spring finishing that way, I think, gives the players the added belief and confidence that they can do it, that we were not as far off as people wanted to say we were all year,” Stoops said. “Now we have grown through a lot of this and we should be stronger for it. We have another full year to be even better if we train in the right ways. We have through the winter and we had a good spring. I can’t tell what they are going to do this summer, but to me that will be the biggest factor.”
Peterson said the message was received loud clear.
“That’s one thing that’s hit this group the most,” he said. “They understand what it takes to be like that 2000 team in the fall. Like I say, a lot of guys have impressed me with their attitude. It will be real nice to see how the season comes.”
But just in case there’s any deaf ears around the Switzer Center, Stoops can always put last season into evidence.
“It shouldn’t take real long when I look at what we did a year ago, and where we were projected,” he said. “If they have any sense whatsoever, that should be pretty simple for them to understand.”