With a late push in November and an improbable January bowl win, Oklahoma finished the year way better than most expected.
A season that began with a new quarterback, a new defense, and new coaches on the offensive and defensive lines resulted in the Sooners' best bowl win since beating Florida State for the 2000 BCS title.
OU wrapped up an 11-2 year by slugging Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Despite losing to Texas and Baylor, the Sooners finished on the highest of highs and because of it they'll start the 2014 season ranked in the top three in the country.
Here's a quick look back at what Oklahoma did and some grades, too.
Head of the Class: Jalen Saunders, WR; Trevor Knight, QB; Brennan Clay, RB
The season started slowly from an offensive standpoint, getting just 16 points in a win against West Virginia and then only 20 against TCU – both home games. OU switched from Trevor Knight at quarterback to Blake Bell in that stretch and never had much consistency, outside of Bell's two games and two wins against Tulsa and then Notre Dame.
But the Sooners finished off the year by scoring 48 points against Iowa State, including 38 in the second half with Knight at quarterback. They scored 41 with Knight again at quarterback at Kansas State, had 33 in a win against Oklahoma State and finished with 45 against Alabama. OSU was ranked No. 7 at the time and Alabama was No. 3.
Knight deserves a lot of the credit, running well against Iowa State and Kansas State, but it was his passing that beat Alabama.
The offensive line was much improved, thanks to All-American center Gabe Ikard as well as new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who helped transform the Sooners from a finesse passing team to an aggressive running team. OU had 400 yards rushing against Iowa State and then more than 300 against Kansas State. Some of that credit goes to Brennan Clay, who finished a remarkably consistent four-year career at Oklahoma by running for 5.5 yards per carry this season a team-high 175 carries for 913 yards. Clay averaged 73.6 yards per game in Big 12 play, getting 200 against Kansas State.
Then there was Jalen Saunders. A season ago, he returned a punt against Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter. He did it again this year, averaging 15.3 yards per return, ranking him among the top 10 in the nation. At receiver, Saunders was the most dependable and finished the year with a team-best 61 catches, 729 yards and eight touchdowns. He capped it all by scoring twice in the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama and finishing up with five catches for 75 yards.
Head of the Class: LB, Eric Striker; DL, Charles Tapper; CB, Aaron Colvin
First of all, this wasn't supposed to be a good year for the Oklahoma defense. It was supposed to be a big question mark.
While defensive coordinator Mike Stoops wasn't exactly new to the program, the personnel was. Meanwhile, the team had major injuries to deal with, losing linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive linemen Michael Onuoha and Jordan Phillips.
But the defense was better than expected; it allowed 3.4 points less per game than in 2012, 49 yards per game fewer, 55 yards less rushing and improved from 2012 in sacks, tackles for losses, interceptions and third down percentage.
Linemen Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom improved significantly and Eric Striker turned into one of the best rush linemen in the Big 12. Tapper ended up an All-Big 12 first team selection. Grissom wound up with his best game coing against Alabama, scoring a touchdown and recording two sacks.
Colvin finished his career as a consensus All-Big 12 pick and finished his career with 234 tackles and five interceptions.
Striker scored a touchdown against Oklahoma State and had three sacks against Alabama and 6.5 for the season.
Let's face it, Bob Stoops did an amazing job this year. Now, a lot of that is due to the fact the Sooners won their last four games of the season, three coming away from Norman and three coming as underdogs.
Stoops gets credit for not just winning those games, but for mixing and matching quarterbacks, offensive styles and adding and changing his coaching staff.
OU ran different offenses and different points this year, started with Knight, finished with Knight, but had Bell and Kendal Thompson take snaps, too. The Sooners ran it better than they had in 2012 and passed when they needed to, like in the Sugar Bowl.
Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, new to the team this season and special teams coach Jay Boulware improved a team that wasn't good in either category from the previous season.
Oklahoma went 11-2 in a year they very well could have been 8-5. The Sooners won at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State, Kansas State and then Alabama. That's a successful season.