<
>

SAE video scandal could galvanize Sooners

It rained in Oklahoma on Friday, a fitting end to a trying week for the Sooner State.

A 10-second video surfaced last Sunday that featured members of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity singing a racist chant. Left was a dark cloud enveloping the entire campus.

Yet out of the darkness peeked a little light.

In the aftermath there was the Oklahoma football team, locked arm-to-arm, holding short protest vigils on its practice fields instead of scheduled spring workouts.

Unified in person. Unified in spirit.

"Every one of us had a lot of conflicting emotions," center Ty Darlington told a group of reporters after Thursday's demonstration. "I think very quickly, we realized that whatever we do, we have to do it as a team, or else it was gonna divide everyone."

The Sooners haven't been divided. White or black, they've been united in a cause to bring awareness to the issues of racism on college campuses. A worthy social aim, which began with the powerful images of one team dressed head to toe in black.

Yet the upshot of this scandal could lead to powerful repercussions in the fall, as well. Away from the TV cameras, the video has also forced the Sooners to get closer than they would have otherwise. Devoting hours to debating, discussing, talking. Linebacker Eric Striker joked the team's leaders have spent so much time together in the past week it's "like we were married."

A close team with a singular mission can be a tough one to beat.

And born out of this adversity, the Sooners could become a galvanized unit come September.

"Our main goal through all of this is that we want what's best for our group," quarterback Trevor Knight said. "Not for individual people, not for whites, not for blacks, but for the entire group as a whole."

On the field, lately, the Sooners have looked anything but whole.

In December, Oklahoma completely no-showed in the Russell Athletic Bowl, falling to Clemson, 40-6, in one of the most embarrassing losses of the Bob Stoops' era. The bowl debacle was preceded by late-season defeats suffered at home to Baylor and Oklahoma State. Thanks to such a poor 2014 finish, Oklahoma could open outside the Top 25 of the preseason polls for the first time since Stoops' first season in Norman.

The talent to win big at Oklahoma, however, is still there.

Samaje Perine is one of the top returning running backs in the country, and he figures to be even more lethal after rushing for more than 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Sterling Shepard is an All-American-caliber receiver, when he's not battling the groin strain that plagued him much of last season.

Defensively, the Sooners haven't boasted much cohesion lately, underscored by a Baylor touchdown drive to open the third quarter of the Bears' 34-point rout, which left cornerback Julian Wilson and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops screaming at one another on the sidelines. Still, Striker, defensive end Charles Tapper and cornerback Zack Sanchez have all earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, giving Oklahoma a potential standout at every level of its defense.

Tangibly, the Sooners haven't lacked. Intangibly, they have.

That's why they capitulated so easily to Baylor and Clemson. And why they couldn't produce the big fourth-quarter play in narrow defeats to TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

Yet last week, the Sooners had a different feel to them. They didn't speak out as a collection of individuals. They spoke as one unit with a focused message.

Adversity has roused teams to outperform expectations many times before. Look no further than Ohio State, which fought through a series of tribulations to claw its way into the inaugural College Football Playoff, then win it.

Adversity could forge the Sooners into one tough team, as well.

Inside the locker room.

And out on the field in the fall.