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Archive for Monday, December 22, 2003

Sooners stew over criticism of bowl bid

December 22, 2003

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— Oklahoma boasts the nation's stingiest defense, the top-scoring offense, a 15-week stay as the country's No. 1 team and enough postseason awards to fill up a hardware store.

Still, some people don't believe the Sooners deserve to be in the Sugar Bowl.

"Do you want to look at one game," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops asked. "Or do you want to look at the whole season?"

In the Big 12 Conference title game against Kansas State Dec. 6, the myth of Oklahoma's invincibility came to a shocking end following its 35-7 loss to the two-touchdown underdog Wildcats.

The Sooners (12-1) were overwhelmed in their biggest game of the season, playing so badly that both polls dropped them into third-place behind No. 1 Southern California and No. 2 LSU.

But the Bowl Championship Series' computers kept Oklahoma in the top spot and dropped USC into third, sending the Sooners and LSU to New Orleans for the BCS national title game. The top-ranked Trojans will try to win the Associated Press title with a win in the Rose Bowl against Michigan.

That sets up the possibility of a split national championship -- something that was supposed to be eliminated when the BCS was started in 1998.

Some of the Sooners, however, are spinning the predictable outcry against the BCS as an indirect criticism against their spot in the Sugar Bowl.

"All we've heard is negative, negative, negative," defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek said. "I think we're definitely upset because we deserve to be where we're at."

Before the loss to K-State, many were touting Oklahoma as one of college football's most dominant teams.

The Sooners defeated their first 12 opponents by an average of 35 points, winning only one game by fewer than 14 points. Some of this excellence was confirmed by an avalanche of postseason honors during the past two weeks.

Oklahoma tied a record with five AP All-Americans and won more postseason awards than any team in history -- AP Player of the Year, Heisman and O'Brien (quarterback Jason White), Bednarik and Butkus (linebacker Teddy Lehman), Nagurski and Thorpe (cornerback Derrick Strait) and Lombardi (defensive tackle Tommie Harris).

Now some people don't think they're worthy of playing for a national title. What gives?

"I find that funny," said receiver Mark Clayton, who himself was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. "But you know, people's feelings change. They say one thing and the next day, they can say something totally different."

That's probably because Kansas State exposed some flaws that were glossed over as the Sooners rolled their way to the Big 12 championship game.

The Wildcats forced Oklahoma to abandon its sputtering running game, then bounced around the slow-footed White with a relentless pass rush. White threw a season-high 50 times and was hit nearly that many times.

On offense, K-State used screens and play-action passes to negate the Sooners' speed on defense. The Wildcats had four plays go for longer than 60 yards -- the longest plays all season against Oklahoma.

"It was real strange," Strait said. "I'm still lost on how we didn't make some of those plays."

The doubts and criticism since then have left the Sooners plenty upset entering their first week of practice for the bowl game.

That's an ominous sign for LSU: Oklahoma hasn't lost consecutive games in four seasons.

"The sting of defeat," Stoops said, "we don't want to be removed."

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