The name Stoops is synonymous with the Oklahoma Sooners football program. Between former head coach Bob Stoops and current defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, there has been a Stoops coaching the Sooner defense for the last 19 years. Mike teamed up with current Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to give Oklahoma their seventh national championship in 2000. Although the Sooners have been close, Oklahoma has fallen short of championship number eight. A big reason for that has been lack of production on defense.
Recruiting and NFL Draft Picks are Lacking
Fundamentally, a big part of measuring the success of a program is the level of talent that you recruit and how that talent is developed. Early in the 2000’s Oklahoma was getting some of the elite talent every year. According to 247 sports, between 2001 and 2009 the Sooners fell out of the top ten in recruiting rankings just once. Conversely, beginning in 2010 they only landed in the top ten once. Spanning a period from 2012 to 2016, the Sooners peaked at number 12 in 2012.
Great recruiting classes and five-star rankings can be subjective. However, if the best talent isn’t heading to Norman then player development is critical. Under Mike Stoops eye that area has been rather poor as well. In the last six years, Oklahoma has only had one defensive player selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. That was Jordan Phillips in 2015.
Many time the development of a student-athlete and an early NFL draft pick does not go hand in hand. Perhaps a kid’s game doesn’t translate to the NFL, but they are tremendous college players. When Stoops returned as defensive coordinator hopes were high in Norman. Under his watchful eye from 1999 to 2003, Oklahoma produced 12 All-American selections. In his current stint, which has been six seasons, there have only been four such selections. Clear evidence that not only recruiting, but player development has continued to trend in a negative trajectory.
Let the Records Show…
Over the past six seasons, Oklahoma has set records in four of those six seasons. But, it’s not the type of records that a team should be proud of. These records consist of allowing single players and teams to boast season and career highs in touchdowns and yardage.
Mike Stoops first season back in Norman was in 2012. That season saw a record-breaking performance against his defense. West Virginia wide receiver turned running back for one game Tavon Austin went wild against the Sooners. Austin carried the ball 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns. The Mountaineers would go on to score 49 points against the Sooners that evening.
In 2014, a receiver would once again victimize the Sooners. This time it would be in a prototypical way. Baylor receiver Corey Coleman had 15 catches for 224 yards and one score for the Bears. The catches and yardage would be a career high for Coleman in the 48 point outburst for Baylor. Also important, this marked the game where Sooner defensive back Julian Wilson was involved in a shouting match with Mike Stoops on the sideline. The two had to be separated and led to Stoops moving to the press box the following year.
Patrick Mahomes is a name that still haunts Sooner fans to this day. in 2016, Mahomes had the greatest individual game that a Quarterback has ever seen. The statline is incredible and extremely video game like. Mahomes went 52 for 88 for 734 yards passing and five touchdowns through the air. If that wasn’t enough, he also ran for another 85 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. This was a season, career, and NCAA record high that still stands.
Finally, let’s look at the current season. Oklahoma started the year off in encouraging fashion. The went to Columbus and held the high-powered Buckeye attack to just 16 points. Maybe Stoops had righted the ship. Perhaps this season would be different. But, that would not come to fruition as Oklahoma would go on to give up 38, 41, 52, and 54 points on the year. The last culminating in a College Football Playoff loss to Georgia. The game left many scratching their heads around what could be done with this defense.
The proposition of playing defense is not the same discussion now as it was even ten years ago. A defense cannot win a championship on its own. But, in order to win a National Championship, the defense must be complimentary. There are always games where the offense is better than you are. Consistency is always key when looking a how well a unit can play. Looking at how many times a defense gave up 30 points or more is a key attribute in defining that consistency.
When looking at the data, it is quite staggering. Since 2012, Oklahoma has given up 30 points or more in 31 games. That consists of 40% of the time they have lined up, the opponent has eclipsed the 30-point barrier. Those statistics are staggering.
Now, when looking to compare those point totals with the rest of the country we need to have some context. Oklahoma is a blue-blood program through and through. This is a program that sets goals for National and Conference Championships. So, they should be compared against teams with the same aspirations each year. Oklahoma’s defensive statistics were compared to those such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Wisconsin, LSU, Notre Dame, USC, just to name a few.
It’s important to realize that maybe 30-points could be the new normal. Perhaps, it’s acceptable to be in that company. But, in comparison with 20 blue-blood programs the 30-points given up was only surpassed by two schools. Tennessee had 35 such occurrences and Oregon had 34. No other school had more than the 31 that Oklahoma possessed. Which leads to the next point of what is next.
College Football can be a bizarre sport, at times. One of the most interesting points around preparing for this article is how many of these games that Oklahoma actually won. More times than not, the Sooners were able to overcome the challenge that the defense put them in. But, Baker Mayfield is heading to the NFL. He will not be around to save the Sooners next time. This begs the question, “Is Baker Mayfield‘s career a waste because he couldn’t overcome Clemson’s 37 points or Georgia’s 54 points?”
Lincoln Riley is in an unenviable position. In June of last season, Bob Stoops handed him the keys to the Ferrari. Could he dare part ways with the brother of one of the most beloved Sooner coaches of all time? Riley is trying to make his own mark on the Sooner program. He did that when he was hired by bringing in a friend and mentor in Ruffin McNeill. Also, he has invigorated the recruiting for the Sooners the last two years. Oklahoma was so close to winning a National Championship this year. An average defensive performance would provide conventional wisdom that Oklahoma could very well be celebrating National Championship number eight. Now, with great power comes great responsibility. Do you settle for mediocrity or do you become bold and make a program-defining move? The time for a change is now.