Last November, a downtrodden Sooners’ fan base sauntered in to Gaylord Memorial Stadium. The mood, melancholy to say the least. Oklahoma’s season was already doomed by this point.
OU had already had their hearts broken against TCU, hair pulled out against Kansas State, and rendered broken after Baylor. What was a season of promise in August and September, was left in tatters before December. Oklahoma had no shot at the College Football Playoff.
It was an early kickoff. Another 11:00 A.M. start time, for what had become college football’s equivalent to the Mudville-9. The dejected Sooner-faithful entered a half-empty football stadium. It was raining and the temperature was only 50 degrees or so.
The Kansas Jayhawks had come to town. Not only was the weather depressing enough, so was the opponent. Things were bleak in Norman. Oklahoma fans felt more like Kansas fans, useless, and morose.
Suddenly, greatness appeared. A freshman arose to become a household name in the realm of football fandom. One young man had become the face what appeared to be a formidable backfield not seen in Oklahoma since the days of the wishbone. On a cold, wet, muddy day, a star was born.
Samaje Perine ran into the record books and forever endeared to the people of the Crimson and Cream. The Pflugerville phoneme dashed his way to fame, breaking record after record in one afternoon, including the record for most rushing yards in a single game, set by Melvin Gordon the week before.
A true freshman set an NCAA record with 427 yards in one outing. Perine became the symbol of hope for Sooner nation. A genuine, good-hearted, class-act. He was the hero that Oklahoma needed, but possibly not the one that Oklahoma deserved.
There is one problem with Samaje Perine’s early legacy, and it has nothing to do with him, sadly. Perine wasn’t the chosen one. Samaje Perine was not supposed to be the one getting the national accolades. Sooner Nation held that for freshman running back Joe Mixon.
Oklahoma fans will all tell you that they always knew that Perine could be something special, but never record-setting special. Now a sophomore, the record-breaking back enters the 2015 season as a possible Heisman candidate. Still, OU fans will tell you ‘Our backfield is loaded. That Perine kid is a bona fide stud… But Mixon… that kid is going to be special. We’re loaded at running back!’or ‘Just wait until Joe Mixon gets to touch the ball too!’
Mixon was a highly touted five-star recruit out of California. He was boasted as one of the best all-purpose backs in the country coming out of high school, and ever since his arrival to Norman fans have been anxious to seem him in action.
Joe Mixon might become a star on the field, but this begs the question, can he really be a star?
Before Mixon could get on the field his freshman year though, he became famous for a whole other reason. Well, infamous anyway. You’ve probably already heard about the incident that occurred just before the season started last year, and left a female student knocked out on the ground, and in need of facial reconstruction surgery. Oklahoma punished Mixon, barring him from any sort of team related activity for the 2014 football season, including team meetings, practices, and training. All this, at a heavy price for the university. OU has taken a barrage of criticism on the issue that Mixon should have probably been dismissed for good following the altercation. Now both Mixon, and the Sooners will have to play with a black mark for the 2015 season and beyond.
In the world of controversy following star athletes like Ray Rice and Jameis Winston, can Joe Mixon save his name? Put me in the camp that believes Joe Mixon should not be at the University of Oklahoma. Yes, I believe in forgiveness, first and foremost. I believe in second chances, absolutely. However, he could have gotten his second chance somewhere else. He gets his second chance at Oklahoma though. So be it. This is the world we must live in. These are the circumstances. So what next?
Can Mixon Still Become A Star?
In order for Joe Mixon to become a star, Mixon and the Sooners must do three things.
AN UPHILL PR BATTLE
People are going to root for Mixon’s failure. It is the honest truth. Even OU fans will cheer with mixed emotions as he crosses the goal line for the first time, knowing that yes, Joe Mixon is a talent that OU can use, but at what cost? No matter what he does, anytime he touches the ball, his past will always be in the back of their minds. Especially when you have that “good guy” in Samaje Perine who is more that capable of handling the carrying load. A likable player who deserves the ball.
All of this also begs the question as to what kind of person Joe Mixon really is. No person should condone violence in any circumstance. The actions of the altercation are despicable, true, but how do we forgive Joe Mixon, or is that even possible? Does Joe stand a chance in the public eye to ever, honestly redeem himself off the field? Only time will tell.
Something else to consider is the reportedly graphic video tape of the incident. A judge ruled against the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters and their efforts to obtain a copy of the tape through an open records request. In a world captivated by video that’s a huge break for Mixon and the school. You don’t even have to leave the campus to see how much stronger the backlash is when the public can witnesses the offense. A disturbing six-second video of a freshman SAE fraternity member was enough for the chapter to be permanently closed at OU, and two students were expelled from the school. President Boren was criticised over how differently he handled the two incidents, but the reality is the nation as a whole handled it differently too. Now, it’s a bit of a catch-22 for Mixon. Should the video ever be released, especially while Mixon is still at OU, the public will come calling for a toll he’s already paid.
We have to remember that we do not know these athletes, and most of us never will. Mixon has been given a second chance. There is no changing that, but will people allow him to make the most of it? By no means am I stating that Mixon is a victim in any circumstance. I’m simply pondering if smashing in someone’s face, regardless of gender or circumstance, is ever forgivable in the court of public opinion.
CLIMB THE DEPTH CHART
As it stands physically, Mixon is bigger and stronger than ever. After working by himself all season, Joe Mixon elected to stay in game-ready shape, Bob Stoops has already commented on how pleased he is with the physical state of Joe Mixon. Mixon will sit behind Samaje Perine, Keith Ford, and Alex Ross on the depth chart. That is a pretty tough group to jump, especially considering that by this point, these guys are college veterans, and Mixon is not.
A NEW OFFENSE
So how might a running back fit into an air-raid attack offense like new Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley will bring with him? Simple, use Mixon’s versatility. Joe Mixon is an all-purpose back, and Riley’s dream back. He presents a threat in the backfield in both the running and passing game. Mixon is fast, powerful, incredibly shifty and has gifted hands. Ford, Ross, and even Perine don’t have the talent that Mixon supposedly has in that area. Which makes many OU fans and analysts think that OU will use a split back system that constantly rotates the four backs, giving defenses a different look depending on which pair is on the field.
Mixon was getting comparisons to Adrian Peterson when he arrived on campus, but that comparison is completely unfair for a plethora of reasons. One being, that if we are going to compare him to an Oklahoma running back, Mixon is more like a Demarco Murray, and to honestly delve into what he really is, Joe Mixon is closest to Reggie Bush. Weather it works remains to be seen. 2015 will be a fight for the Sooners, and Mixon. There is certainly no guarantee that this experiment will be a success. Oklahoma is unbelievably stacked at running back. Joe Mixon is an honest-to-god wildcard.
Despite how I feel as to if he should be a Sooner or not, Joe Mixon deserves a second chance, and will get one. Make the best of it, Mixon. For our sake, and especially for yours.
– Cover Photo Credit: Joe Mixon in 2014 Army All-American Bowl | Flickr | Army Recruiting