It’s just … different.
For three straight seasons prior to this one, the Sooners were (sort of) the little engine that could.
Three straight seasons they put themselves in a horrible bind. Three straight seasons they ran the table when it was the only way to reenter the College Football Playoff discussion.
Two of those seasons, they got there. Now, this one.
Yes, Oklahoma must do what it’s done in the past. It must run off four straight wins to close the regular season and, just guessing, beat Baylor a second time and hope for the best when the CFP committee lays down its final rankings.
Yet, what we can’t know now is what kind of a team is being charged with making that happen.
We know which team.
Yet, we don’t know what kind of team it is. We thought we knew. Now we don’t.
There’s a character question.
How will the Sooners respond?
All of us thought they were a juggernaut. Did they think so, too? Could knowing they may not be, be self-fulfilling.
If running Jalen Hurts has been masking real issues they were once in denial about, does knowing those issues are real get in their head?
More interesting, presuming character is not in question, who are they really?
Because if they’re the dominant team we thought they were, just one that took a loss because sometimes you get beat, produce a dud, lay an egg, they ought to roll through the rest of their schedule.
Oklahoma State beat Iowa State in Ames two weeks ago. Iowa State beat Northern Iowa in triple overtime opening day.
Yes, the Cyclones topped TCU and West Virginia back-to-back away from home, but that might make them good, not in position to slow down a dominant Sooner team that returns to itself.
If OU’s even close to what we thought it was, lay the two touchdowns and bet the house.
If the Sooners aren’t?
If they’re not, don’t bet the house. Also, settle in for a bumpy ride because, if they’re not, three losable games dot the rest of the schedule.
Next Saturday at Baylor, which will be unbeaten if it can only get past TCU in Fort Worth today, and OSU, which somehow lost at Texas Tech one week after beating Kansas State.
For most of eight weeks to begin this football season, seven of which OU was active, we thought this conference was the Sooners and the nine dwarves.
Now we wonder if it’s like it used to be in the old days, so many good teams, with Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State all capable of beating anybody on any day.
Lincoln Riley, who’s always saying interesting things if you’re really listening — even when he doesn’t seem interesting at all at first glance — did it again this week.
“It hits you hard. This one was no different,” he said of losing to Kansas State before segueing to the good stuff.
“The opportunities after it are no different either. It’s a chance to really rally as a team. We know the opportunities that are in front of us.
“We know what we can do if we play our style of ball and play to the level that we expect regardless of what the expectations are on the outside.”
It’s interesting because if you know what playing “our style of ball” entails, congratulations, you may be the only one.
It’s a defense, though improved, built on taking the ball away that hasn’t taken the ball away in more than a month, so there’s that.
It’s an offense run by a savant head coach, who’s still fine calling his scheme an “air raid” even though it would appear two things are true about it: one, he doesn’t want to turn it over to Jalen Hurts, the passer, nor does he want to turn it over to his offensive line and running backs.
Hurts is completing 73.9 percent of his passes, yet he’s thrown it more than 24 times only twice all season and not once 30 times.
Kyler Murray eclipsed 30 attempts five times last season. Baker Mayfield eclipsed 30 attempts 21 times over three seasons. And, for much of that time, the Sooners were sporting a better and more experienced offensive line than this one.
If the question is what’s the truth about this offense, no answer is clear, but it feels like one that’s expertly masked its deficiencies until it played more than two quarters in Manhattan, Kan., and scored only six points.
So, who are the Sooners?
Dominant would be wonderful. Being the little engine that could might still get them to the playoff. And yeah, if they can just mask those deficiencies for another six games, that might be pretty great, too.
The good news?
We’re bound to find out.