By John Shinn, CNHI News Service
NORMAN, Okla. —
The time to rest began for Oklahoma this past weekend. Practice is over until the Sooners reconvene prior to leaving for New Orleans Friday for OU’s Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl contest against Alabama.
The Sooners are excited about playing the Crimson Tide, but they’re also well aware of what can happen if they’re not completely focused.
“I don’t want to finish anything like we did last year,” said OU cornerback Aaron Colvin.
Last season’s ending was an abysmal 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. It was a game in which the Sooners appeared to be overmatched and uninspired throughout the second half.
That lasting impression was something OU had to carry throughout the entire offseason and it didn’t really start to fade until the third game of this season when OU defeated Notre Dame 35-21 on Sept. 28. A strong argument can be made the 33-24 victory at Oklahoma State to close the regular season removed it. OU’s been able to improve and keep figuring out ways to win despite an injury-plagued season.
OU coach Bob Stoops said the finish to the regular season was a testament to his team’s ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
“We do same things daily, monthly and on a yearly basis in how we work our program,” Stoops said. “The guys in the locker room and coaches, we never lost faith. We thought we could finish the year strong. We had areas, whether it was inexperience or injuries, we didn’t manage them as well. But as we went on, we started to manage them in a better way. That’s gonna happen from time to time.”
It doesn’t make this team different from many of the others Stoops has coached during his 15 seasons at OU. You don’t reach nine BCS bowl games during that span without being able to close the regular season playing well.
However, carrying it over into January is the problem. The Sooners are 1-6 in January bowls games since winning the Rose Bowl to close the 2002 season. They’ve lost in three BCS championship games, two of three Fiesta Bowls and last year’s Cotton Bowl.
The competition tends to be pretty good in those games. But OU’s only win came in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against a Connecticut squad that went 8-5 that season and hasn’t played in a bowl game since.
All those bowl losses are hard to forget. They’ve created the image of a program that doesn’t compete well in big bowl games.
It’s hard to shake because teams are remembered for what they do in big games. The audience doesn’t get any bigger than major bowl games.
“It’s gonna be a tough opponent, so I’m sure everybody is not really slacking off. I’m sure everybody’s working hard right now,” Colvin said.
The only way to change the perception is to win these major bowl games. However, Alabama’s a two-touchdown favorite and one of the biggest bowl favorites of the season.
Of course, there are ample reasons for the Sooners’ underdog status. The Crimson Tide were one play away from playing for a third straight national championship until Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama 57-yard field goal attempt 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown as time expired in their season finale, handing the Crimson Tide their only loss of the season. Another factor figuring in Alabama’s status as a heavy favorite is the fact they haven’t lost a bowl game since the 2010 Sugar Bowl.