Tramel: Will this OU football team go the way of 2005 mediocrity or 2016 championship?
DALLAS — The Sooners arrive at a crossroads as they enter Fair Park on Saturday morning, and I don’t mean the avenues of Haskell and Fitzhugh.
For 134 years, revelers have descended upon East Dallas and cast their fortunes one way or another.
The Midway or Big Tex’s Farmyard? Corny dogs or fried Oreos? Car show or African American Museum?
The Sooners have such a Y on Saturday at a pandemic-stricken fairgrounds that will be void of the fair.
2005 or 2016?
OU plays Texas with already two defeats on the Sooner ledger. Perhaps you heard.
OU lost inexplicably to Kansas State 38-35 and quite explicably to Iowa State 37-30.
Only three times since Bethlehem — Bob Stoops’ hiring in December 1998 — have the Sooners entered the Texas game with two defeats. In 2009, an injury epidemic (starting with Sam Bradford) gave the Sooners some slack.
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But in 2005 and 2016, OU just wasn’t good enough to get to Dallas without multiple scars. TCU and UCLA inflicted the blows in ‘05; Houston and Ohio State did the same in ‘16.
Now here we are in 2020, with the Sooners in last place of a conference they’ve ruled for a half decade. Victory means OU at least mounts a charge to defend its crown. Defeat means the Sooners slide into an unmentionable abyss.
“We can’t really think too much of what this could do for the season,” said OU center Creed Humphrey.
Creed — you’ve got to go first-name basis with a name that cool — is right. Just blocking and tackling the Longhorns requires all of the Sooners’ energies.
But that’s why the rest of us are here.
To point out that in 2016, after that discouraging start with a veteran Baker Mayfield at quarterback, the Sooners ran the table in the Big 12. Won the league with a 9-0 record. Leaving Owen Field after Ohio State thrashed those Sooners that September, no one foresaw such a finish.
Those 2016 Sooners beat Texas 45-40 and went on to become the lone team of the decade to go unbeaten in Big 12 play.
But also we must point out that this season is more like 2005, when the Sooners were coming off a glorious five-year domination (60-7, with a national championship and two other appearances in the national-title game) but were playing with a redshirt freshman quarterback.
That ‘05 team lost to Texas 45-12 and finished 7-4 before a Holiday Bowl upset of Oregon.
The 2005 Sooners were quarterbacked by Rhett Bomar, a recruit no less ballyhooed than the current office-holder, Spencer Rattler. Bomar had his moments but also struggled mightily at times. Rattler’s transgressions are mild compared to Bomar’s.
The College Football Playoff now seems a lost cause, but making playoff noise was a lost cause even before this season started.
OU’s defense was mediocre last season, and the Sooners opened 2020 without their four best players off that unit — Neville Gallimore, Kenneth Murray and Parnell Motley, all in the NFL, plus the suspended Ronnie Perkins. So this team always had a ceiling against elite teams.
But the Big 12 title? That was doable. Still is, although the Sooners would need some help, considering both Kansas State and Iowa State have virtual 2 ½-game leads on OU, counting the tiebreaker, and OSU also is 2-0 in the league.
You never know. It’s a long season, it’s a COVID season, and the Sooners have the blueprint of 2016 to follow.
“There is still a lot of opportunity out there for us,” said linebacker DaShaun White.
The 2016 Sooners found their footing after Dallas. They still had that 66-59 monstrosity in Lubbock, and Iowa State played OU tough in a 34-24 game in Ames, but the Sooners mostly sailed through the Big 12 schedule.
“If you're not playing the way you want to and not finishing games that you feel like you should finish, there's no magic pills,” said Lincoln Riley, Stoops’ offensive coordinator that season. “There's no easy way out of this. You've gotta grind your way out of it and you've gotta work and you've gotta push and you've gotta stay together.”
The grinding and the working, the pushing and the togethering, must start Saturday at Fair Park, where the Sooner season reaches a crossroads.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.
OU vs. Texas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas
TV: Fox (Cox 12)
Radio: 107.7 FM, 1560 AM