NORMAN, Okla. — OU’s Sept. 7 Big 12 Conference opener against West Virginia this Saturday will mark the earliest it has ever played a league game.
Only once in the last 27 years have the Sooners opened conference play by their second game; never have they done so in their first. The other time came back in the first year of the Bob Stoops era when they took on Baylor on Sept. 18, 1999. Before that, one has to go back all the way to OU’s 1985 National Championship season to find such an occurrence.
So, to say this is a rarity for an early conference game is an understatement.
But nonetheless, the Sooners will welcome the Mountaineers to Norman for the first time since 1982 and this time as conference mates when the two battle it out on Owen Field this weekend.
“It’s a little bit different to have a conference game this early in the season,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops. “But because of the bye weeks through the rest of the year, this kind of worked out best for us. I’m sure for them agreeing to play it, it must have worked out schedule-wise the best for them as well.”
The one obvious thing that comes to mind is neither team is necessarily ready for the grind of conference play yet, having played just one game against lesser competition.
It’d be difficult, then, to believe either side is fine with playing it so early.
But Stoops wouldn’t go there.
“Sure, I do. We got one, right?” Stoops said, when asked if he was OK with the prospect of starting conference play so soon. “So, why am I going to complain about it here on Monday? But both of us must. Otherwise why would we have moved it? For the whole schedule it fit better.”
Another concern is switching back-and-forth between conference and non-conference play, another concern he’s not worried about.
“I don’t think so, you’re gonna play at some point,” Stoops said.
Still, it’s different and the players recognize that.
“I was really surprised once I really started thinking about it,” said running back Brennan Clay. “I was really focused on Louisiana-Monroe, so once I figured out that we were playing West Virginia, I was really surprised and I was like, ‘Dang, we’re already in the Big 12.’ So, we just got to buckle down and this is one of our goals is to win nine conference games, all of them, and then win all the Big 12. You know, so we’re just itching to win.”
Said center Gabe Ikard: “Yeah, it’s different. But all the conference realignment that took place, you know, a couple years ago, it’s how the chips fell. So, it’s one of those things where you got to be ready to go. It doesn’t matter who’s coming in to play in week two. Whether it was a non-conference game, it wouldn’t matter. You still got to prepare the same way.”
And that’s with toughness, both physically and mentally, and mid-season execution in practice.
“I feel like guys just got to try to get on it early,” said running back Damien Williams. “This is a conference game. The defense we’re going against is way better than the last defense we played, but it’s football. You got to just prepare. That’s what we’re doing.”
So, they will and they’ll open up league play with the hopes of becoming 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big 12 when Sunday rolls around.
But there’s no question it’s strange, of epic proportions really.