In previous years, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops heard the offensive play call in his headset, looked out at the field and wondered why one back or another wasn't in the huddle. This season, Stoops would hear the play and never give a second thought to which of his top three backs would get the ball. Whether DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown or Mossis Madu carried, Stoops had equal confidence in each.
"I feel as good with one as the other," Stoops said after Brown and Madu carried the load after Murray partially ruptured a hamstring tendon in his left leg early in the Big 12 title game. "And that tells you the quality of those guys."
And that's why the Sooners shouldn't miss a beat despite Tuesday's news that the injury will require surgery and will keep Murray from playing in the BCS title game against Florida. Few teams could handle the loss of a guy who provided 1,002 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, but Oklahoma can. Brown and Madu, who combined to run for 236 yards and six touchdowns in the Big 12 championship, might each be 1,500-yard rushers at a lesser school, but Oklahoma's trio seemed to have no trouble sharing the carries.
Brown, the junior who led the Sooners this season with 1,110 yards and 20 touchdowns, was under-recruited out of Alexandria, La. Stoops knew he'd found a gem. He played in 2006 behind Adrian Peterson and Allen Patrick while Murray and Madu redshirted. Murray, the burner from Las Vegas, could have chosen any school in the nation - but he never acted like a prima donna when asked to wait his turn. Madu, the hometown guy from Norman, also has waited patiently for his chance. Last year, the trio played behind leading rusher Allen.
Perhaps the toughest part of coaching an elite program is keeping all the elite athletes happy in spite of the fact that there is only one football. Stoops and his staff have managed that well, and that will pay off Jan. 8 when the Sooners run their offense with no noticeable dropoff in the running game.
Whether Oklahoma's opponent runs its high-powered offense so well is another question. Florida coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that he expects Dan Mullen - the Gators' offensive coordinator who was named Mississippi State's head coach last week - will call plays in the national title game. That probably made quarterback Tim Tebow happy, but it probably caused some furrowed brows among Florida fans who snickered in January 2001 when Florida State offensive coordinator/Georgia head coach Mark Richt guided the Seminoles to exactly zero offensive points in a 13-2 Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
Mullen has double-dipped before. He, Meyer and two other offensive assistants remained with Utah even after signing up to go to Florida, and that staff led the Utes to a 35-7 win against Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Of course, this time, a lame-duck Walt Harris won't be standing on the opposite sideline.
Meyer said he expects Mullen to rejoin the Gators after Christmas. Meyer didn't seem worried that Mullen might be distracted. Meyer made clear that the offensive game plan is a collaborative effort.
"This is not a dictatorship or a one-man circus," Meyer told reporters Tuesday. "The plays are scripted. Dan did a tremendous job. It's like taken on a life of its own. What's going to happen? We'll be OK. It's the same offense.
"He's the third coordinator I've had. All three have turned out to be head coaches and very good coaches. Probably the fourth one will and probably the fifth one and probably the sixth one if I'm still alive."