OU football: Stoops era may be over, but Sooners’ run of success isn’t

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield /

Oklahoma football has been at or near the pinnacle of the college game for the better part of the past 70 years. No school has won more games in the modern era of college football (1946 to present) than the Sooners.

Bob Stoops’ teams have been responsible for 190 of the 628 victories the Sooners have put in the books since 1946, or the end of World War II. That equates to 30 percent of Oklahoma’s total number wins over that time span.

The Sooners have been extraordinarily successful and remarkably consistent in the 18 seasons that Stoops has been at the tiller of the OU football program. But now that the 56-year-old Stoops has stepped aside, there are some who question Oklahoma’s ability to maintain the same momentum going forward under 33-year-old, first-year head coach Lincoln Riley.

There is no question that Oklahoma will miss Stoops leadership and his presence on the field and in the locker room. You don’t replace someone with that kind of track record. On the other hand, it is extremely rare that a head coach steps aside when a program is considered strong enough to be legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff in the coming season.

The Sooners have no choice but to move forward, and their new head coach couldn’t be stepping into a better situation.

It can’t be easy, though, to follow an extremely popular head coach who will go down in OU football history not only as the winningest but one of the three most successful of all-time, alongside the legendary Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.

That trio will find their faces on the Mount Rushmore of Oklahoma’s greatest figures in an illustrious, 122-year gridiron history. But now it is Riley’s team, and his predecessor left the cupboard loaded with talent and a top-10 incoming recruiting class.

To begin with, the Sooners have once of the best quarterbacks in college football in fifth-year senior Baker Mayfield, who will be operating behind arguably the best offensive line. All five starters on the offensive line return in 2017, bringing with them a combined 97 career starts.

Phil Steele, college football sabermetrician and editor of the popular college football preview magazine that bears his name, ranks the Sooners’ O-line, which averages 6-foot, 5-inches and 323 pounds, as the best in the country coming into the 2017 season, and Orlando Brown, the Sooner junior who mans the all-important left tackle position, one of the best in the college game.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

An outstanding quarterback, operating behind an equally outstanding offensive line, are two of the biggest elements in a high-octane offensive attack.

The better and more experienced the offensive line, the more time an All-American caliber quarterback like Baker Mayfield to perform his magic and find open receivers. Outstanding offensive-line play also opens up wider rushing lanes that can make a good-but-not-great running back exceed expectations and achieve big numbers.

The Sooners won’t have All-Big 12 running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon or Biletnikoff Award-winner Dede Westbrook as offensive weapons in 2017, but believe me, there is plenty of talent at both positions to keep Oklahoma’s high-powered offense rolling down the tracks.

And don’t forget, the architect of the Sooners’ dynamic, high-scoring offense the past couple of seasons is still around and expected to continue directing the offense. Riley’s offense the past two seasons has been one of the most explosive in the college game. OU’s Air Raid attack, put in place when Riley came on board in Norman in 2015, finished 10th in the nation in total offense in Riley first season as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, and No. 2 nationally last season.

What about the defensive side of the ball, you might ask? Happy to report that the only change on defense should be improvement. With seven key starters back, including defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and all of the defensive coaches, the Sooners are expected to be much stingier on defense in 2017, and this is music to the ears of the new head coach and the Sooner Nation.

And one more thing: How many times do we have to repeat ourselves before somebody stops to actually listen? The pervasive lament about this being the Sooners’ new head coach’s first go-round in the first chair and his young age should be a non-starter as far as OU fans are concerned.

I remind you that the great Bud Wilkinson was just 31 when he was named the 13th head coach of the Sooners in 1947. All he did was stay in place for 17 seasons and win the third most games of any Oklahoma head coach (145), including three national championships and 14 conference titles.

Barry Switzer was 36 when he took over as head coach in 1973, moving up from the offensive coordinator’s role after introducing the vaunted Wishbone offense. Bob Stoops was a little older, at 38, but it was also his first head-coaching job, and the rest is recent history.

Oklahoma City Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel offered some words of encouragement for Sooner fans who are worried about the football team losing momentum with the transition in head coaches:

“The Sooners are riding high, and Riley is a big part of that,” Tramel writes. “In the same way that Bud Wilkinson obviously played a part in the 1946 turnaround and Barry Switzer was paramount in the Wishbone revival of 1971, Riley is no small part of the Oklahoma uptick (the past two seasons).

“From 2011 through 2014, OU went without an outright Big 12 title and had one good quarterback season (Landry Jones in 2012),” he reminds us. “Riley arrived and the Sooners produced two straight Big 12 championships, with Baker Mayfield posting two Heisman-caliber quarterback seasons.”

There’s only one Oklahoma, folks, and things are going to be OK there.