Senior College Football Columnist

Sooners kick it into high gear a week too late


MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A quick reminder after one of the best days in recent Oklahoma history: It came a week after one of the worst.

Take a whiff. That Texas Tech loss by the nation's former No. 1 left an odor like a varmint that crawled up into the attic and died.

You know why? It's clear after a 58-17 win over Kansas State the Sooners are still thinking about it.

"I felt like it [started] back in the lockerroom," said OU linebacker Corey Nelson who was talking about last Saturday's 41-38 loss to the Red Raiders which, for the moment, remains the biggest upset of the season.

"We didn't have that edge. It seemed as if we felt too relaxed. We weren't as focused as we were supposed to be ... The execution wasn't there. The mindset of being able to dominate our opponent wasn't there."

So what changed on Saturday? Oklahoma rebounded nicely, but we always knew it was capable of a complete evisceration like this. After K-State took a 17-14 lead, the Sooners scored 44 consecutive points. That proved what a lot of us were not-so-secretly thinking: K-State had crawled into the top 10 on a combination pluck, luck and Bill Snyder's coaching magic.

The purple balloon burst when Oklahoma decided it was bigger, better and faster. That makes it doubly difficult figuring out how the Sooners were capable of last Saturday night.

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"To be honest with you, some of the guys bought into the hype," Nelson said. "It also comes from not being focused in practice, feeling like we got this thing in the bag. Just being honest, we weren't humble. That loss humbled us a lot."

Ryan Broyles may have set the Big 12 career receiving record Saturday (4,499 yards and counting). Landry Jones may have set the school's single-game passing record (505 yards). The defense that looked so defenseless (and clueless) just seven days ago may have made Kansas State's Collin Klein look like Calvin Klein.

But Oklahoma's championship future is cloudy. It needs help. A lot of it. It came into the day No. 9 in the BCS. The Sooners’ fortunes swayed in both directions Saturday. The list of unbeatens shrank when Clemson lost to Georgia Tech. But that Texas Tech loss looks worse after Iowa State clubbed the Red Raiders.

That is part of what voters will have to consider if OU does somehow climb back into contention. Big 12 title? Been there, won that -- seven of them over the last 15 years. They’re painted on the back of the Sooners’ equipment truck.

But big-time success can be as fleeting as another image on the rear end of that tractor trailer -- former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe presenting the conference championship trophy 11 months ago.

There was at least one player saying that just another conference title won't quite be good enough.

"The goals haven't changed," OU linebacker Travis Lewis said. "Everybody keeps saying, 'Ya'll can still win a Big 12 championship.' That's not the goal. Of course, that's part of the process but we want to win a national championship."

The question is whether the voters will agree if it comes time to decide if a one-loss Oklahoma should get in over, say, an unbeaten Boise. Those voters will first want to read those quotes about buying into the hype and lack of focus.

Is this OU team even worthy of playing for a national championship?

"Not all champions are perfect," Nelson said. "That's where it all starts. Just to be able to have a loss on our record humbles us a lot. It shows were not invincible."

LSU got to the championship game in 2007 with two losses. This doesn't seem to be one of those years. The day began with eight unbeatens. OU wiped out one of them. It plays another, at Oklahoma State to finish the season on Dec. 3.

At the moment, any rational college football observer would have to consider the Cowboys favored in that game. Also at the moment, that means Oklahoma State, after bombing Baylor, is the best team in the league. That wasn't the perception a week ago.

On the same day Klein was sacked seven times and Jones threw five touchdown passes, Oklahoma also completed what was arguably the worst six quarters of the season. The four against Texas Tech and a sketchy first half against the Wildcats.

At halftime Jones had pitched two interceptions, Klein had run for two touchdowns and OU led only 23-17. Maybe that's nitpicking because in the second half the Sooners made it look like it was 80s rewind weekend. For those of you who weren't born yet, that was when K-State was suck-out-loud bad. The 58 points were the most scored by Oklahoma here since 1987.

"We'll have a lot of people telling us how great we are," Lewis said. "Some will get back on the bandwagon. Defense only gave up 200 yards [actually 240]. Offense looked like [a] video game. "Last week we were a bunch of jokes."

But why? How?

"I think sometimes we become a little complacent playing at home in front of our fans," Lewis continued. "We let it slip. I didn't expect it ... When we have this mindset, this attitude, we're one of the best in the nation."

But that's the whole point. Where. Was. This. Against. Texas. Tech?

"Last week's last week," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "That's gone. Next week's a whole new deal for everybody, not just us."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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