Sooners accustomed to high expectations
MORGANTOWN - In a lot of ways, Oklahoma football is no different than college football anywhere else.
Fans have the same sort of questions and, to a degree, the same sort of expectations.
The questions tend to veer toward the usual. Throughout the summer and into August, for instance, Sooner fans were obsessed with the question of who their team's quarterback would be. Landry Jones was gone after four seasons and three relative newcomers were fighting for the job that redshirt freshman Trevor Knight would eventually earn.
It didn't matter that Oklahoma had plenty of talent elsewhere. No one wanted to talk about that.
Take Gabe Ikard, for instance. There might not be a better center in the country, the fifth-year senior having been a named to just about every preseason All-America team out there.
But even when Ikard was asked on the street or around campus or by the media about the coming season, seldom did anyone want to know anything about him. It was all about the quarterbacks.
Not that he was surprised by that.
"I know,'' Ikard said. "Shocking, isn't it?''
Then again, if there was another topic of conversation that crept up nearly as much as the quarterback battle, it was the same one that crops up annually at Oklahoma. And it's the one that separates programs like OU and really just a handful of others - Alabama and the like - from those that make up the vast majority of the 125-member FBS:
What about that national championship?
"We're never taken aback by their expectations and what they want us to do,'' Ikard said of Sooner fans. "I mean, really we've got the same expectations ourselves.''
The fact is, though, it's been a while since Oklahoma was even in a position to win a national championship - or at least a while in OU terms. The school has won seven of them, but the most recent was 13 years ago. Eight times since then, coach Bob Stoops' teams won at least 11 games and lost three BCS title games.
But since that last title-game appearance - a loss to Florida after the 2008 season - Oklahoma has been to just one BCS bowl. In none of those seasons have the Sooners been in the national title hunt beyond late October, which means that even an average of 10.7 wins over the last three seasons has been a disappointment to some.
Which begs the question, are expectations simply too high?
"No,'' said Ikard, whose Sooners host West Virginia Saturday night. "That's how they're going to be.
"It's not like we don't have the talent. We were a couple of plays away last year from going undefeated.''
Well, it was more than a couple of plays, given that one of the two regular-season losses last fall was by 17 points to Notre Dame. Ikard's point, though, is well taken. Seven times in the 13 years since the last national championship, Oklahoma has finished the season in the Top 10, four times in the Top 5. Yes, a play or two in many of those seasons would have made a big difference.
"Sure, but that's what college football has become,'' Ikard said. "You lose a game and then your season might be over, at least as far as what you expected might happen.
"But that's why we came to Oklahoma. If we wanted to win seven games every year, we should have gone somewhere else.''
It's been 14 years since Oklahoma last won only seven games, in Stoops' first season. In 11 of the 13 since then, OU has won at least 10 and five times won 12 - without winning another title.
Still, the expectations remain the same. Always.
"We expect to go undefeated and go play for a national championship,'' Ikard said. "That's the talent level we have with our players. We put the time in. We work extremely hard to get ready for the season and then throughout the season. So we have the same expectations they have.
"We're expecting, every single year, to play for the Big 12 championship and be in the national title hunt. We haven't done that in the last couple of years and that's probably why people are so disappointed.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.