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John E. Hoover: OU’s defense improved, especially late vs. OSU, but it ultimately got the Sooners left out of CFB playoff

John E. Hoover: OU’s defense improved, especially late vs. OSU, but it ultimately got the Sooners left out of CFB playoff
Oklahoma State's Justice Hill finished with 99 yards rushing against Oklahoma in OU's 38-20 Bedlam victory Saturday, but had only 7 yards in the second half. (PHOTO: Ty Russell/OU media relations)

Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill finished with 99 yards rushing against Oklahoma in OU’s 38-20 Bedlam victory Saturday, but had only 7 yards in the second half. (PHOTO: Ty Russell/OU media relations)

So, it’s another Crimson and Cream party on Bourbon Street.

A national championship? No. A College Football Playoff trip? Not this time.

But all in all, a return to the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2 in New Orleans against 8-4 Auburn, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff) and a 10th Big 12 championship trophy is a pretty solid consolation prize for a fan base whose football team lost two of its first three games this season.

After starting 1-2 with losses to Houston and Ohio State, OU went 9-0 in Big 12 play, capped off by Saturday’s 38-20 victory over Oklahoma State.

The College Football Playoff selection committee ranked the Sooners seventh in its final rankings, well out of the four-team playoff consisting of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington.

Bob Stoops said Sunday he understood the committee’s rankings and had no complaints. Sure, Stoops said, a good strength of schedule rating is important, but at some point a team has to beat either the Cougars or the Buckeyes if it wants to play for a national title.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, however, might have a different perspective on OU’s regular-season finish.

Asked Sunday by ESPN’s Rece Davis why the Sooners were not considered for the playoff, selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt didn’t hesitate.

“The defensive side of the ball, Rece,” Hocutt said. “Oklahoma, a terrific year, conference champion. We talked about how impressed the selection committee was with them on the offensive side of the ball. But they weren’t as much of a complete team as those we were looking at in the top six this football season.”

Hocutt should know. He’s the athletic director at Texas Tech. He was there the night Patrick Mahomes and the Red Raiders hung 59 points and 854 yards on Mike Stoops’ defense in in OU’s 66-59 victory. Surely Hocutt left Jones Stadium that night with the certainty that OU was not a championship-caliber team.

Mike Stoops’ fault? Maybe so. It’s easy to point that finger. His boss (and brother) took away some of his coaching duties last year and moved him off the sideline and into the coaches’ box. The argument can be made that Stoops’ defense is frequently overwhelmed and he often has no answers. For the third time in four years, the Sooners set a school record for most yards allowed.

But it’s also a fact that during the season, Stoops’ defense lost four starters who weren’t even with the team down the stretch in Tay Evans, Matt Dimon, Charles Walker and Michiah Quick. Another starter, Jordan Parker, went down Saturday.

Progress since that Tech game has been evident, despite a continuous stream of injuries. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Mike Stoops said the second half of the OSU game was his team’s best half of the season. The Sooners yielded just 31 rushing yards, 143 total yards and three points after halftime.

“I’m just really proud of this group to endure what we’ve had to endure all year,” he said. “For everybody to tell you everything you’re not, but we’re Big 12 champs again. So that’s for all the naysayers or whatnot. This was a challenging year, for a lot of different reasons that people will never understand. I couldn’t be prouder of them to overcome all of that, and to do it in in the fashion they did. So, all the credit goes to them.”

The Stoops brothers have celebrated a lot of conference championships, but never one on their own field before. Surely this celebration felt special.

The Oklahoma football team celebrates its 10th Big 12 Conference championship, this one on Owen Field. (PHOTO: Ty Russell/OU media relations)

The Oklahoma football team celebrates its 10th Big 12 Conference championship, this one on Owen Field. (PHOTO: Ty Russell/OU media relations)

“I don’t know if it could have felt any better,” Mike Stoops said. “Just for us to overcome so many things we’ve had to overcome that the normal person wouldn’t understand. You know what I mean? And for everyone to constantly belittle you and berate you is hard. And our players, you know what? They didn’t say anything. They just kept with it.

“We know we are capable of playing better. This has been, like I said, a very challenging year. But I just think it makes it feel that much sweeter to have that kind of vindication on our home field against our rivals and to outplay them in a lot of ways. That’s what it’s all about. I challenged them at halftime, and they responded. To me, that’s what it’s all about. I really feel good for those guys.”

Here it is, then, an opportunity for Mike Stoops to open up a bit about his coaching acumen in a tense situation — so what did he say to the players at halftime?

“We didn’t want them to come in here and take our trophy,” he said. “You know what I mean? You can’t let a team, your rival, come down here — I just didn’t like it. I thought they were outphysicaling us at the point of attack, I thought they were outexecuting us in the run game. We knew we were gonna have to stop the run. That’s uncomfortable when people can run the ball on you like that. It’s not a good feeling.

“So, really excited we were able to regroup and finish the game better than we have throughout the course of the year — against a team like that, another top 10 team. Makes you feel good, without question.”

The Sooners never really harbored any hopes of going back to the College Football Playoff, not after that 1-2 start.

“Not a little bit of a disappointment,” Bob Stoops said during his segment on the ESPN broadcast. “Very disappointed in how we started the year.”

But still, to hear the selection committee chairman tell America that the defense was the reason for OU’s bracket omission has to hurt.

“It’s hard to be bellyaching when you’re 5, 6 or 7,” Bob Stoops said. “The bottom line is, you’ve got to do what’s necessary to be in the top four.”

That includes playing defense.


Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.

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Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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