Oct 19, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops on the sidelines against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Oklahoma won the game 34-19. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

An opportunity missed, but a lesson learned for Oklahoma football

Today is the one we dread, because tomorrow will be the first day of a long and treacherous offseason. The sweet sensation of waking up to a college football on a Saturday morning will be no more, at least until next fall.

To send off the 2013-2014 season, the Florida State Seminoles will put their undefeated record on the line in Pasadena. Their opponent? The Auburn Tigers.

The Tigers ended all hope for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And if there was any hope left, Oklahoma certainly squashed it.

Regardless, the SEC’s representative in this year’s National Championship Game will be Gus Malzahn’s SEC Champion Auburn Tigers.

The two schools have had sensational seasons that no one could have predicted. Everyone had their sights on the Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes, Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks. Even the Louisville Cardinals were given some thought with Teddy Bridgewater under center.

However, the ‘Noles and Tigers went under the radar and took the nation by storm. And here we are.

Now, not to argue that these two teams are not the best two in the country, because I believe Florida State is no question the best team. However, this season feels like an opportunity missed for Oklahoma.

The win over Alabama was sweet, but the Sugar Bowl showed Sooner fans the potential of this football team at their best.

Nov 23, 2013; Manhattan, KS, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight (9) runs the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How in the world did THAT football team lose to the Baylor Bears and more importantly the Texas Longhorns?

Trevor Knight was on a different level Thursday night. He was throwing dimes to his plethora of receivers. He had all the time in the world to make the best throw. You could not have asked Knight to play a better game.

However, the Sooners did not have Knight for Texas. And they stuck with Blake Bell for much of Baylor.

Not to say Blake Bell did not give Oklahoma a good chance to win, but the Trevor Knight we saw Thursday was out of this world.

The Johnny Manziel comparisons became more reasonable. The starting job he earned in August was definitely justified.

That was the Trevor Knight coaches saw and wanted as OU’s quarterback.

But let’s not give all the credit to young Knight. There was also a defense that played with more fire than I have seen in about a decade from Oklahoma.

They gave up 31 points, but let’s be honest here. AJ McCarron is a damn good quarterback, and Derrick Henry, the hulking tailback who ran right through OU’s defense, was unstoppable.

The story here is that the defense did enough to contain the Heisman runner-up and forced him to throw, but that boded too well for this Sooner D.

Eric Striker practically lived in the back field. It was almost like the offensive line did not even account for him.

Geneo Grissom was huge as well, who had his way a lot of times with an Alabama offensive line that could not hold Oklahoma’s pass rush.

The way these Sooners played Thursday was the best coaching job out of Bob Stoops—well, ever.

Don’t get me wrong, the national title game in 2000 was important, but this was a team given no chance by anybody. Every one doubted Oklahoma could even make this a ball game. Some did not believe Oklahoma belonged on the same field with the almighty Alabama Crimson Tide, who claim every National Championship since the dawn of football.

However, it just seems if this mentality and coaching was there all year, it might be Oklahoma playing tonight. Maybe it could have been a rematch between Oklahoma and Florida State.

Let’s just get this straight. The Sooners should have never lost to Texas. They had no business winning that game, but the Longhorns cashed in on a Sooner team unable to answer to a career game for Case McCoy. Who I’m still convinced had his big brother Colt take his jersey that day.

And Oklahoma had the same opportunity Oklahoma State took advantage of against the Baylor Bears.

The Sooners had a slight lead early and held the Bears offense for much of the first half. However, the offense could produce any results, and the defense could only hold Bryce Petty for so long.

Not that OU could beat a Florida State with the way they performed against Alabama, because no one will really know how good a fight Bama could have even given the ‘Noles.

Though, it just seemed like in the midst of a huge celebration, it makes you wonder what could have been.

The same could be said for a lot of past OU teams.

2009, Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham endured season-ending injuries that left Oklahoma with an inexperienced freshman out of Artesia, New Mexico to run the offense.

A few years before then in 2007, Sam Bradford, went down in a crucial game against Texas Tech that the Sooners loss and a win could have put Oklahoma back in the National Title hunt.

Oct 12, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Blake Bell (10) against the Texas Longhorns during the Red River Rivalry at Cotton Bowl Stadium. The Texas Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 36-20. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Those are just a few examples. Mainly, because I remember them more vividly than other seasons.

Regardless, Oklahoma has something to look forward to now. They aren’t “Oklahoma the team that dominates the Big 12″ anymore. The conference has grown in talented football teams.

I’m not saying they did or did not get complacent with the Red River Rivalry. After three straight blowout wins, maybe Oklahoma thought they had Texas’ number. But now, they have a reason to pay back the Longhorns for embarrassing them after Oklahoma had been the huge favorite.

They also owe Baylor. The Bears come to Norman, and the Sooners do not exactly lose at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The Sooners have to redeem that humiliating loss to Baylor, and hopefully, Trevor Knight will get his true opportunity to see if he can do any better than Bell.

Oklahoma has a lot to play for next season. They have gained the country’s attention, but are more open to ridicule than ever.

One slip up and it’s back to “well, there’s the Oklahoma team we know and love.”

Oklahoma does not exactly need to win the title next season, but they need to sustain their success.

Beating Alabama has returned them to the national spotlight, but the next step is to reclaim the Big 12 and get back to another meaningful bowl game.

This season was not a rebuilding year. It was a learning one.

While injuries played a huge part in some of the losses, Oklahoma’s younger guys got much needed experience and the valuable reps they received will only help them next season.

Oklahoma learned it can trust in Trevor Knight. OU knows now their defense is getting back to Mike Stoops form. And Oklahoma can rely on Bob Stoops in a big game.

Maybe they could have competed for a title this year, who knows. However, it is all the more motivation to take a stab at 2014 and claim the first title in the new playoff era.

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