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Where it all began: How Clemson, SAE changed the face of the Sooners

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MIAMI, Fla. – It seems almost serendipitous that the Sooners are preparing to take on the Clemson Tigers for a bid to the national championship.

Last year, Sooner fans were stunned when OU suffered one of its worst bowl losses in history to the Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Following the 40-6 loss, nearly everyone called for a change.

Head coach Bob Stoops announced major changes to the coaching staff just days after the team’s disappointing performance.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was moved from the sidelines to the box, giving him a bird’s-eye view of the game and a barrier between him and the players on the field.

“I feel like I’m in a cage sometimes…. it’s probably good for me,” he said. He added that the change has made him less emotional and helps him see what is happening in the game easier.

Another change to the staff was more drastic than simply moving seats.

Jay Norvell and Josh Heupel, Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinators, were let go.

Less than a week later, university officials announced that Lincoln Riley would be the new offensive coordinator.

At the end of the regular season, the Sooners had one of the most explosive offensives and stifling defenses in the country. That combination earned them a bid to the College Football Playoff.

While preparing for the Orange Bowl against Clemson, Stoops addressed the media about the series of unfortunate events that ultimately led to their playoff berth.

Stoops says it all began with last year’s bowl loss, followed by the staff changes.

He also mentioned an event many Sooner fans may never contribute to the team’s success: the racist SAE video.

“You never think something like that could happen, you don’t expect anything like that to  happen. You just know it does, but not to the magnitude it happened at our school, and I think it brought us that much closer together as a team. You know, it’s obviously helped us get to this point we’re at right now,” said Zack Sanchez.

After the video made its rounds on social media, several members of the football program joined protests and decided to cancel several days of practice in response.

“We’re strong enough to do something about it,” Stoops said.

He said the team had heated discussions without coaches, which ultimately led to them getting to know one another on a deeper level.

“Guys come from different walks of life, but everybody put down their own beliefs for the betterment of the team and what the leadership thought, so that was huge for us,” Sanchez said.

Players say that, teamed up with being in close quarters in the locker room, has had a drastic impact on how they relate to one another.

During Wednesday's news conference, Stoops says a mishap with a plane forced the team to get even more acquainted before the Kansas State game.

After their plane failed to arrive, the team was huddled in one conference room for 10 hours, waiting on a flight.

Stoops says he told the guys to go out and buy 10 of a food item to share.

"I came in with two buckets of chicken and it went crazy," Stoops said.

And now, in a strange turn of events, it ends where it all began.

The team's quest for a championship takes them back, to face the foe that started this transformation.

OU will take on Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31.  Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. (ET.)