Oklahoma football: The Grinch Effect

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 01: Sam Ehlinger #11 of the Texas Longhorns is tackled by Tre Brown #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners for a safety in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 01, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 01: Sam Ehlinger #11 of the Texas Longhorns is tackled by Tre Brown #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners for a safety in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 01, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

One of the biggest story lines heading into the 125th anniversary season of Oklahoma football is the Grinch Effect, referring to the impact new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will have in turning around a defensive unit that ranked among the worst in college football the past couple of seasons.

The Big 12 announced its 2019 preseason awards several weeks ago. Many were expecting to see an Oklahoma player as the Offensive Player of the Year. After all that, that’s been the case the two previous seasons. Instead, they gave the early nod to University of Texas quarterback, Sam Ehlinger.

An OU player did win one of the top preseason awards: Kenneth Murray was named Defensive Player of the Year. The junior linebacker is coming off a 155-tackle season, yet it’s still surprising to see an OU player earn this top recognition after, even it is just a preseason projection, after the disaster that has been the Oklahoma defense the past couple of years.

This is the most recent example of the hope new defensive coordinator Grinch brought with him to Norman.

Enough is enough; Sooners are too good to have a defense this bad

Grinch was hired to do what he did at Washington State: Transform a broken defense and turn it into an attacking defense that gets stops and creates more possessions and opportunities for the offense.

When Grinch was hired at Washington State (by former OU offensive coordinator Mike Leach). the Cougars boasted the 12th-worst scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. After just two seasons, they had improved to the 50th-best scoring defense. Moving up 67 spots in two years is an impressive feat, anyway you measure it.

Now that Grinch is the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, fans are expecting the same type of turnaround, if not one more dramatic. The amount of hype and hope behind this year’s defense is almost unheard of for a team coming off one of the worst defensive seasons in team history.

This Sooner defensive unit does have talent, as the latest recruiting classes have been strong on both sides of the ball. It is also a widely held belief in Sooner Nation that Grinch’s plan to be more aggressive on defense should fit this roster and this conference.

Not all the hype is unwarranted, but expecting to see a top OU defense this season, while not out of the realm of possibility, is not that realistic. If the Sooners could go from 114th in total defense to the top 75, that would be a great turnaround. Even if that isn’t the level of improvement Sooners fans ultimately are looking for, it would improve Oklahoma’s chances of legitimately contending for an eighth national championship.

Learn to walk again before you run

The hope and promise are understandable, Grinch’s hiring was the biggest thing to happen for this defense in recent history. Fans know and recognize that. The only problem with this polarizing hope is that some people may have turned this hope into sky-high expectations.
Many fans are no longer hoping for an improved Oklahoma defense; they are expecting a top defense. They expect to see our defense as the best in the Big 12 and competitive with the best teams in the country.

That expectation is bold to say the least, and it could be good for the defense by making the unit feel the need to work hard and prepare smarter to live up to the expectations. But fans may need to change their idea of what would make a successful year for Grinch and the defense.

Instead of focusing on being the top defense in the Big 12, maybe focus on seeing any appreciable improvement. Will it be a failed season if the defense is still outside of the top 50 in total defense? Or will any improvement be enough to classify as a good season?

Most fans who have been sucked into the polarizing hope will believe the first scenario, while the “realist” fan base will believe the latter. What every fan should agree on is any improvement is positive.
It’s interesting how the Grinch hire has changed the mindset of an entire fan base. Last season’s 114th-ranked defense is now expected to be one of the best in the Big 12 because of Grinch and the belief that he will transform this talented, yet underperforming defense into the steel curtain of the Big 12.

But who knows, maybe the Grinch will help steal the national Championship this season.