FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The last time Oklahoma stepped off a plane in Florida, its team chemistry, as the players describe it, was in total disarray. The disheartened Sooners had four losses going into the Russell Athletic Bowl, where they got thoroughly destroyed by Clemson last December.
"Everyone was just ready for the season to be over," said defensive end Charles Tapper.
This week, the Sooners are back in the Sunshine State preparing for a rematch against the Tigers in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl. But this time, they're a different team with a different mindset on a ride they wish would never end, fashioned through a national controversy, a makeshift locker room and an eight-hour travel delay.
"There are so many things that have built this team up," said fullback Dimitri Flowers. "Turned us into a brotherhood."
It's not easy to quantify what exactly has turned the Sooners from Russell Athletic Bowl embarrassment into national championship contender. These Sooners don't have a single consensus All-American. They don't boast a surefire first-round NFL pick. They probably won't even have an underclassman declare early for the draft.
Oklahoma, however, has more than made up for that with gritty play and a hard-nosed mentality that has shined in the fourth quarter. And the forging of that makeup began with a firestorm that descended on Norman in the spring.
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