Football Brings Oklahoma’s Favorite Season
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
BIG THREE QBS: From left, OSU’s Mason Rudolph, OU’s Baker Mayfield and TU’s Dane Evans.
Few words in any Oklahoman’s conversational vocabulary can move the emotional needle more swiftly than “kickoff.”
The mere utterance of the word conjures up vivid visions of bountiful tailgating, splendid autumn afternoons and high-definition televisions and jumbotrons.
It could be that “kickoff” is actually Oklahoma’s fifth season.
Some might make a case for “kickoff” being Oklahoma’s first season.
Smack in between the summer solstice and the winter solstice resides the football solstice, a period when the sun shines brightest on every gridiron in Oklahoma.
The football solstice is just a flip of a calendar page away. If it’s September, it must be time for kickoff.
Football has been a vital part of Oklahoma’s history, going back more than a decade before statehood and just a few years after the Land Run.
As Oklahoma has matured and prospered, football, too, has developed and evolved, becoming the state’s most passionate pastime, the state’s foremost source of energy.
From the high-school playing fields to the multi-leveled university stadiums, football in Oklahoma is a rite of passage, a cultural phenomenon.
Boys become men. Spectators become fanatics. Sport becomes religion.
The next chapter in the Consecrated Book On The Meaning of Football And Life begins to unfold in September.
High schools across the state will generally launch their seasons on the first Friday of September.
On the first Saturday of September, state-wide attention will turn to the three universities playing at the highest level of competition: The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. All three played in post-season bowl games in 2015.
Here is a capsulized look at the 2016 season for those three programs.
University of TulsaGolden Hurricane
The second season under head coach Philip Montgomery kicks off at home with San Jose State (6 p.m., H.A. Chapman Stadium). He guided the Golden Hurricane to the Independence Bowl in 2015, finishing with a 6-7 record.
Senior quarterback Dane Evans returns, bolstered by a breakout performance last season (25 TD passes, 4,000-plus yards). He was at the controls of a high-octane, hurry-up offense that put up 34 or more points in 11 of TU’s 13 games.
In the backfield, he will be complemented by running back D’Angelo Brewer while Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson lead the receiving corps.
With six wins in Montgomery’s debut season, TU surpassed its total of victories (five) from the previous two years combined.
TU traces its football history to its origins as Henry Kendall College and its first game in 1895.
In the second week of the 2016 season, TU will experience football at its highest historical level. On Sept. 10, the Golden Hurricane will travel to Columbus, Ohio, and the home of Ohio State University. The game will be played in 94-year-old Ohio Stadium, with a seating capacity of 104,944.
Considering Ohio State’s recent success and solid, loyal fan base, it is likely the game could draw a sellout crowd, or close. Regardless, the largest crowd ever to see a Golden Hurricane team play football was 85,260 at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium in 2011.
As the regular season ends on Nov. 25, TU will have played six home games. Perhaps TU’s most attractive American Athletic Conference game, with league favorite Houston, is on the road.
University of Oklahoma Sooners
Expectations of OU football seem to always run in the hyperbolic range.
The Sooners as a team, and the Sooners as a fan base, expect to be in the hunt every season for a national championship, or, at the least, a conference championship.
Last season, the 17th under head coach Bob Stoops, OU won the Big 12 Conference title en route to a spot in the national semifinals and an 11-2 record.
With quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine headlining a nationally ranked offense, the Sooners have their sights set on being once again in the national championship picture.
But to reach that level, the Sooners must navigate through a schedule that includes the season-opener at Houston, a home game with Ohio State and the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas in Dallas.
That represents one of the most anticipated schedules OU has approached since it first kicked off a football season in 1895. It was another five years, 1900, before OU and Texas met on the gridiron for the first time, and nine years, 1904, before OU first took on in-state rival Oklahoma A&M.
Since that time, OU’s football fortunes have soared. In the two decades following World War II, the fervor connected with OU’s success began to be viewed as outright devotional, if not pious.
OU’s six-game home schedule concludes with the annual Bedlam game with Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
The Sooners have been installed as favorites to repeat as Big 12 Conference champs. Much will depend on a defense that graduated an experienced core.
The aforementioned “expectations” involving the Sooners include appearing in another bowl under Stoops. He has not failed to play in the post-season since his arrival in Norman in 1999.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mike Gundy, alum and quarterback record-setter, is kicking off his 12th season as head coach. He has put the Cowboys in 10 straight post-season bowls.
Coming off a 10-3 season in which Mason Rudolph emerged as a game-changing quarterback, the Cowboys can get off to a rollicking start with three consecutive home games.
If they can put together a run from the outset, they might be able to withstand a closing schedule that finds the Cowboys on the road for four of their last six games.
Gundy has enjoyed quite a run at the helm of his alma mater, and now sits as the winningest coach in school history, a span that began in 1901.
To extend that success, Gundy is looking at Rudolph operating behind an offensive line that returns intact. Additionally, Rudolph has four receivers who averaged 11 catches per game last year.
There always is talk of outstanding running backs at . The new talk this year focuses on an old name.
Barry Sanders Jr. has transferred in from Stanford, upon his graduation.
The son of OSU’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, he will command much of the offensive spotlight as a complement to Rudolph’s passing game.
The Cowboys kick off their season with Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 3 and close things out on Dec. 3 at Oklahoma.
Bedlam can be expected to be one of the spotlight games on the schedule. A year ago, in Stillwater, the Cowboys dropped a 58-23 decision, but in the previous three meetings, the game was decided in the final seconds.