Oklahoma football: It’s been difficult slog toward a season like no other

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 3: Punter Jack Steed #38 of the Oklahoma Sooners takes the field before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers October 3, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated West Virginia 44-24.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 3: Punter Jack Steed #38 of the Oklahoma Sooners takes the field before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers October 3, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated West Virginia 44-24.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) /
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At one point in time, the 2020 Oklahoma football season was set to kick off today.

Oklahoma had requested an NCAA waiver to change from the original Sept. 5 date to allow an extra week between each of its three nonconference games as a precaution and to create extra time between games because of COVID-19 concerns.

All of that became superfluous  when the Big 12 announced a nine-plus schedule that allows for just one nonconference game and made it unnecessary to start the season as early as Aug. 29.

The Sooners and Missouri State are still going to open up this most unusual college football season, now on Sept. 12 instead of Aug. 29 or Sept. 5. Oklahoma will then have two weeks before its second game of the season, a second consecutive home game, with Kansas State coming in as the opponent.

After the Sept. 26 game with K-State, the Sooners will not play at home again until Nov. 7, taking to the road for the entire month of October. You have the revamped Big 12 schedule to thank for that abnormality. Originally, OU was scheduled to host a couple of home games during October — Baylor on Oct. 3 to kick off the conference season, and in-state rival Oklahoma State for Bedlam on Oct. 24.

Instead of day-before final game preparations, which would have been the case for an Aug. 29 opener, head coach Lincoln Riley and the Sooners on Friday chose to march with arms locked in a show of solidarity against social injustice and racial inequality.

The Sooners began voluntary workouts nearly a month after most major programs out of concern for COVID exposure. The  players were allowed to return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning July 1.

Oklahoma was permitted to commence preseason training camp on July 31 because of the scheduled season opener with Missouri State the weekend of Aug. 29.

When the season kickoff date was changed a week after the opening of training camp, Riley decided it wasn’t fair to hold his players in training camp for six straight weeks, so he paused practice for a week and allowed the players to go home if they wanted. Seventy-five percent of the roster elected to stay in Norman.

When the team reconvened for resumption of training camp a week later, nine players tested positive for COVID. For four consecutive weeks previous to that the team and staff members had recorded zero positive tests.

A week after the nine positive cases were reported, five more Sooner players tested positive for coronavirus, and the five new cases nearly wiped out an entire position group.

Riley did report during his weekly press conference last week that eight or nine of those players who had tested positive after the week pause in preseason camp had returned to practice.

There are programs within the other conferences that are moving forward with plans to play a fall football season that have reported many more positive COVID cases than the Sooners, and now with students returning at a number of those places, including Oklahoma, for on-campus classes, the teams are faced a new challenge insofar as preventing COVID exposure.

The national media  over the past week has reported disturbing news of large COVID outbreaks on college campuses. It’s hard to believe OU would be immune to the rise in positive cases, all of which makes it increasingly more difficult to protect the student-athletes in the football program and other varsity sports.

“I have more confidence in what we can control here,” Riley said in his Zoom press conference this week as he sat inside the football facility. “I know that works. I’ve seen that work. And so, I’m confident that it’s possible (to have a football season this fall).”

Sports columnist Jeni Carlson of The Oklahoman had an apt description of the current state of college football and the challenges that still lie ahead in this most difficult year:

"“For as tight a ship as Riley and the Sooners ran this summer. these past few weeks are proof of how fast you can start taking on water, how fast you can start listing and wondering if you’re going down.“College football is walking a tightrope,” she continued. “Doesn’t mean it can’t get to the other side Doesn’t mean a season can’t happen. But a lot can go wrong.”"

The irony of this weekend is Oklahoma isn’t ready to kickoff the season, or at least not as ready as it would hope to be. Let’s hope all those contingency plans Riley talks about can remain on the shelf collecting dust and that fans will get to enjoy Sooner football again this fall.