By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
Happy New Year!
The New Year means big-time bowl games. Just ask Arkansas State and Ball State as they prepare for the Jan. 5 GoDaddy.com Bowl.
OK, so early January is no longer the exclusive domain of the big bowls, but the good news is two of the bigger, more tradition-laden bowls will have Oklahoma facing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oklahoma State taking on Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
The Cowboys, of course, are led by Enid native son Clint Chelf at quarterback, and if you were watching the Dallas Cowboys on Fox this past Sunday, besides witnessing Kyle Orton doing his best Tony Romo impersonation, you may have heard Fox’s promo for Friday’s Cotton Bowl that led with a tip of the 10-gallon hat to Chelf.
“Clint Chelf leads the high-powered Oklahoma State offense ...” it started off and Enid folks had to feel a sense of pride to hear that.
Now, all that’s left is for Chelf to help deliver a Cotton Bowl win for the 10-2 Cowboys over SEC runner-up Missouri (11-2). It’s the second straight post-holiday trip to Dallas for Chelf and the Cowboys. Last year, the former Enid High School standout was the MVP in Oklahoma’s 58-14 win over Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which also is played in the Cotton Bowl.
Though he and the Pokes may be back in the same stadium, the stakes are a little higher and the spotlight a little brighter. Sure, the Cotton Bowl isn’t part of the BCS monolith, but a matchup against the Tigers, formerly of the Big 12, is one of the more attractive postseason games on the slate.
OSU’s offense should be salivating at a chance to get at the Tigers, who surrendered 59 points to Auburn in Missouri’s loss in the SEC title tilt
No matter the outcome, the game will bring to a conclusion a successful collegiate career for Chelf, a fifth-year senior, but a win over the slightly favored Tigers would put an exclamation point on it, especially considering Chelf had to persevere through starting, not starting and then starting again throughout the regular season.
It also would erase the lingering pain of the Bedlam loss to Oklahoma when Chelf was poised to be the game’s hero after he led a drive that put the Pokes up 24-20 with 86 seconds left before OU staged its comeback win. But Chelf believes that’s already forgotten about.
“The coaches did a good job of kind of getting us away from the game for a few days after we played OU and letting us all relax and get that game out of our minds,” Chelf said Monday. “After that, we came back and we knew we were going to play a tough opponent in Missouri and so we had to move on quickly.”
Prediction: Chelf for the win. Oklahoma State 48, Missouri 41
• Did you hear Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t buy Christmas presents this year? He was afraid they would be returned.
After all, it was one very unwanted return that cost the Crimson Tide a shot at a third national title when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal attempt 100-plus yards for a touchdown that sent Auburn to victory over Alabama as time expired.
That’s bad news for Sooners fans as ’Bama is looking for redemption and payback can be swift and ugly, much as many are expecting Thursday’s Sugar Bowl to be a blowout as the 11-1 Tide are 15-point favorites over the 10-2 Sooners.
OU head coach Bob Stoops is hoping playing coy over whether Trevor Knight or Blake Bell will be the starting quarterback will cause some consternation for Alabama. It won’t, but credit Stoops with trying to find an edge, any edge.
The Sooners are going to have a tough task against one of college football’s premier programs, against whom they appear to be outmanned at nearly every position across the board.
Hats off to OU for a great season and a spot in a BCS bowl when most had them pegged for a lesser postseason bowl berth.
However, the irony is that by winning Bedlam with a comeback for the ages, the Sooners may also have played their way into one of the bigger bowl mismatches of the season. But, the Sooners have been counted out this season on more than a few occasions and have surprised people. A Sugar Bowl win, though, would be a stunner.
Prediction: No returns needed. Alabama 35, Oklahoma 14
• But fear not, according to a recent poll, a loss in the Sugar Bowl shouldn’t cost Oklahoma any support among Sooner Nation.
The 2013 Discover Fan Loyalty Poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports placed OU at No. 1 as having the most loyal college football fans among the poll’s top 20 teams. According to the poll, the Sooners aced out Auburn, last year’s most loyal fans (guess those fans were that loyal after all). OSU didn’t make the top 20. Nebraska was second, followed by Ohio State. Alabama was ninth, Missouri was No. 13.
Of course, winning helps fan loyalty. Records for the poll do not go back to the John Blake era at OU.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.