At long last, here we are: game week in Oklahoma.
On Saturday at 11 AM, football season will be officially back in Norman. No more quarterback controversy, no more watching preseason Browns games to get your fix, no more need to gobble up any bit of information during preseason camp and no more watching the Rose Bowl game while drunk at 1:36 AM for absolutely no reason.
On Saturday, we’ll have the real thing again. Not only will we see real football again, we will most likely see the Sooners face a real test in the FAU Owls.
Kickoff: 11 AM (Doors Open at 9 AM)
Watch: FOX (Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt)
Listen: 107.7 The Franchise (OKC), 97.5 KMOD (Tulsa)
Meet the Owls
To the casual observer, FAU fits the mold of the standard opening opponent showing up to Norman for the sole purpose of getting slaughtered and collecting a mammoth pay check for their noble sacrifice. Let’s go down the checklist:
- They are a directional state university (check)
- They have a weird mascot (check)
- They play in a Group of 5 Conference (check)
It would be easy to discount the Owls if you haven’t been paying attention. But make no mistake; this team isn’t the Akron Zips, the Louisiana Tech Ragin’ Cajuns or the UTEP Minors. This is a real football team.
Lead by head coach Lane Kiffin, FAU is in the midst of a football renaissance. After starting the 2017 season off 1-3 the Owls got hot, going undefeated the rest of the way en route to a conference championship and a win in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Who to Watch For:
#5 Devin Singletary, RB
Remember how bad the OU run defense looked in the Rose Bowl? Well that glaring weakness will get its first test week one as Devin Singletary comes to town.
While that name probably doesn’t scare you, it should. The man was an absolute beast in the backfield last season, rushing for 1920 yards and 32 touchdowns. While these performances were against the likes of North Texas and UTEP, he presents an opening season challenge for the Sooners.
If OU can make a statement and shut him down, it’ll be a good day in Norman. However if he gets loose often on Saturday, expect the “Fire Mike Stoops” mob to be as loud as ever.
Why You Should Be Excited
Aside from the obvious answer of “FOOTBALL IS BACK GET HYPE”, there is a lot to look forward to football wise on Saturday. It’s the beginning of a bold (if not brief) new era with Kyler Murray taking the reigns at quarterback. At long last, we get to see what the full Kyler experience looks like.
While watching highlights of him dominate kids at Allen High School is fun, what we hope to see is a more refined Kyler Murray, a Kyler Murray who has spent the last two years soaking up knowledge from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time like a sponge. There were always murmurs that perhaps he was even better than Baker Mayfield last season, a statement that seems laughable even now. On Saturday, we’ll see how much accurate those murmurs actually are.
What Happened Last Time?
Even though this is the first meeting between the schools, there is a significant link of shared history between the programs. That link is none other than Howard Schnellenburger and the opinion of him could not be more different between the two schools.
For FAU, Schnelly represents somewhat of a football god. After a long coaching career, this is where Schnellenburger made his final and probably most difficult stop; he would have the change to create a program from scratch. While the Owls haven’t come close to fulfilling their “national championship destiny” by any means, they are undoubtably notable.
For Oklahoma, the Schnellenburger era is widely known as the lowest point in the program’s history. If you ask anyone who followed OU football at that point what their Mount Rushmore of hated figures in history was, I think Schnellenburger would firmly be on that list.
For one season in 1995, ol’ Howard set out to rework historical OU football in his image. The jerseys had shoulder stripes, making them look oddly like Louisville, Schnelly’s last coaching stop. He was notoriously hard on his players, to the point that he wouldn’t give them water in practices. Players were going to the hospital for heat exhaustion in droves. When then-President David Boren demanded that water be allowed at practice, Schnellenburger himself was rumored to dump it out.
Then there was the drinking. From almost the instant Schnellenburger arrived on campus, there were rumors of him drinking heavily on the job (or otherwise) and some whispers that Norman P.D. had to drive him home on several occasions. He was fired later that year when a staffer produced hard proof to Boren of Schnellenburger’s on the clock drinking.
I wasn’t even a year old back when Schnellenburger wore the crimson and cream. However, I have heard countless tales of his infamy, both from my Dad (who still refers to him as Howard Smells-of-bourbon) and my former Intro to Sports Journalism teacher, the legendary radio host Al Eschbach (the poor guy had to host Schnelleburger’s coaching show; apparently Schnelly brought pictures of himself to the public recordings to pass out as autographs).
Things have been great for OU football in near quarter decade since Schnellenburger left. While no books or movies will be written about his year in Oklahoma, he will forever be a reminder of how important it is to cherish the good seasons. Like most things in life, one day this program will collapse, leaving Sooner Nation with nothing but L’s and empty whiskey bottles.