Published February 05, 2015
Oklahoma is in an unfamiliar situation, seemingly out of Big 12 Conference title discussion in October.
Two missed field goals, a blocked extra point and an interception return for a touchdown by Kansas State hurt the Sooners in a 31-30 loss on Saturday. The result almost certainly knocked No. 17 Oklahoma (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) from national-title contention and most likely from conference championship consideration.
As they entered a bye week Monday, the Sooners said their focus should be on winning the rest of their games because in the roller-coaster ride that is college football, stranger things have happened than for a two-loss team to win a league title and reach a prime bowl game.
Senior cornerback Julian Wilson said Sooners' veterans "met with the team and let the young guys know that the season is not over" after the K-State loss.
"We were in the same position last year," he said. "We had lost two games and people couldn't really see the light at the end of the tunnel. But really, we just have to focus on what we control - go out there and try to win out and just see where we end up."
Oklahoma's second conference loss in 2013 didn't come until Nov. 7, but the Sooners bounced back to win their final three regular-season games to earn a Sugar Bowl bid, then beat Alabama 45-31 to finish 11-2.
In 2010, Oklahoma started 3-2 in league play before dispatching Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl to cap a 12-2 campaign.
Getting back into conference title contention won't be easy. Entering this week, the Sooners trail Kansas State (5-1, 3-0) by two games in the loss column in the Big 12 race, while West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Christian all have one conference loss each. Of that quintet, the Sooners have games remaining against only Oklahoma State and Baylor.
"In college football, anything can happen on any Saturday," Wilson said. "The teams ranked above us could lose, get upset or anything. So really, we just have to go out there and focus on what we can control, and that's playing football on Saturday."
Coach Bob Stoops said he thought the Sooners "played smarter" and were "more consistent" against Kansas State than they had been in recent weeks, "but we had several critical errors that we couldn't overcome."
Those mistakes included not only the missed kicks by the normally reliable Michael Hunnicutt and the interception return for a touchdown after quarterback Trevor Knight threw an ill-advised pass from his own end zone, but a missed opportunity on a trick play, when wide receiver Durron Neal threw an interception in the end zone to end what looked to be a promising third-quarter drive.
"When you are giving up points and you are giving points, you aren't going to be able to overcome it," Stoops said. "We were one point away from overcoming it and weren't able to do it. We needed to be a series better on defense as well, not have the turnover in the red zone, make the field goals, whatever it could be, not throw the pick - any of those situations, you have a chance to be on the plus side of it. We weren't."
Senior linebacker Geneo Grissom said the Sooners now must fix those small errors.
"We're going to focus on getting better every week," Grissom said. "The feeling around Oklahoma is national championship or bust. We're not down by any means, but right now, we just need to make sure that we can win out. That way, everything will be better."
Stoops said he expects his players will have sufficient motivation for the rest of the season, even after two losses so early in a season that began with legitimate national-championship hopes.
"Play Iowa State, be better, hopefully not make a mistake or two that costs us and keep improving," he said.