While the sky seems to be falling on Oklahoma football, there is going to be one more test for the program on December 29, against Clemson in Orlando, Florida at the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Oklahoma began the season ranked in the top five in the preseason. A large part of those lofty expectations could be attributed to the one-game wonder for QB Trevor Knight and his game against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
As the season progressed, Sooner fans continued to have high hopes for the team. There were many indications that they could build of the momentum that started against the Crimson Tide.
When Oklahoma traveled to Morgantown, the Mountaineers fought to the finish. RB Samaje Perine started showing his talent against West Virginia with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Meantime, the Mountaineers leader in rushing yards, RB Rushel Shell, finished the game with just 60 yards and 1 touchdown. That victory propelled OU to 4-0, and kept them in the top-5 of the polls. But, the bright future that the Sooners had imagined fell apart in the fifth week against TCU.
The momentum that had been created against the Crimson Tide faded and the confidence in a well-practiced team was gone. While the Sooners were blown out by Baylor 48-14, their other three losses to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State were by a combined 8 points.
Either way, the Sooners are now preparing and hoping for a repeat their bowl game performance against Alabama from last year. The Clemson Tigers are going into the game ranked 17th in the country, with 3 losses against Georgia, Georgia Tech and Florida State.
Advantages for the Tigers include the passing game. Clemson has used two quarterbacks on the season, Deshaun Watson and Cole Stoudt, with both passing for over 1,400 yards. But, according to ESPN, Deshaun Watson, the Tiger’s starting QB, is going to sit this game out due to a scheduled ACL surgery for Friday, December 18. So, the senior Stoudt is going to start against the Sooners. Stoudt had a sporadic season. He began the year as starting quarterback, lost the job to Watson, before regaining it later in the season when Watson went down to a second injury.
It will be interesting to see how the Oklahoma defense attacks Stoudt, who at the time of kickoff, will have only started one game in the past 7 weeks. Oklahoma is going to start QB Trevor Knight, who has been out due to injuries sustained from a concussion earlier in the season against Baylor.
The Sooners offense has been carried by a strong running game, led by Perine. The bad news for the Sooners: the Tigers currently have the best ranked defense in the country.
It is possible that the Sooners could bring another bowl win back to Norman. But with the performance against Oklahoma State, there are admittedly many concerns that should make fans uneasy. After letting the Cowboys tie up the game in late in the fourth quarter and then missing a field goal that ended OT early, Oklahoma’s mindset and motivation can be questioned as they prepare for Orlando.
The game is going to be a coin toss, and even Vegas isn’t sure what to do, considering there is currently no line on the game. The Sooners have the stronger running game, while the Tigers have the better passing game. But, like it typically does in these bowl games, the game rarely comes down the stat sheets. They come down to who is more motivated, focused, and determined. This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl will be no different.