Oklahoma entered the season as the favorite to win the Big 12 for the seventh consecutive season and no one batted an eye. And heck, why would they? The Sooners have (had?!) a Heisman contender at QB in Spencer Rattler, an improved defense led by a star NFL prospect in Nik Bonitto, a respected coach and as much momentum as any non-Alabama/non-Clemson program in America.
It’s not wild to think OU should win the league and do so running away.
And maybe it still will.
But four games into the season, the conference looks as open as it has in forever. OU’s offense has sputtered significantly against the likes of Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia. And across the state, OSU’s offense has not looked much better, scoring 23 on Missouri State, 21 on Boise State, and 28 on Tulsa over the last month before pouring it on for 31 last week in a season-high output.
For OU and OSU, it has been defense that has won football games. OU came up with big stops late to thwart what would’ve been a stunning upset at home against a no good, very bad Nebraska team. Ditto for tilts against West Virginia and Tulane. OSU’s defense has done the same all season, winning three of four by a single possession and relying — heavier than ever — on a unit that frequently has been a distant second in strength under Mike Gundy to the offense.
It’s weird times we’re living in, when there’s enough defense to go around but neither state school can score at will. But a month into the season, it seems clear that both OSU and OU have very good defenses and struggling offenses with real holes. Blocking for both teams has been questionable at times and bad at others. Decision-making at the quarterback spot has been bad at times and horrific at others.
We’ve become so accustomed to both these programs running high-powered offense that perhaps we didn’t — and still don’t — fully appreciate how much it takes to field fabulous offenses on an annual basis. OSU’s schemes have stood the test of time under Gundy in the most successful era of OSU football. Same for OU under Lincoln Riley. Yet entering the meat of the conference schedule, how much offense OSU and OU can muster — and how much of the past glory it can channel and replicate — may ultimately decide who wins the league.
OSU has the best defense in the league. OU is probably not far behind. But neither right now look capable on offense enough to be considered a runaway favorite to win the conference. It’s going to take growth and consistency from Spencer Rattler or Spencer Sanders to make the offense hum at normal levels. It’s going to take skill players emerging into reliable threats akin to the Tylan Wallaces, CeeDee Lambs and Justice Hills of yesteryear. And, ultimately, it’s going to take just enough offense to sprinkle with already-good defenses to emerge as conference contenders.
Neither team has it yet, but in a wide-open Big 12 race early in the year, it seems the only significant hole for the two Oklahoma schools who have avoided bad losses and emerged — thus far — unscathed by winning in ways neither has typically done: with defense.
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