NORMAN — The easiest way to look at bowl games is by pitting conference vs. conference in some sort of end-of-the-season exam. The league that wins the most bowl games — especially BCS games — wins the mythological title.
OU coach Bob Stoops, perhaps, has the most to gain and lose when it comes to the Big 12 vs. SEC matchup. He hasn’t been able to utter the acronym without setting off a national debate over the last year. Stoops declined to start another one Monday.
“There’s always a lot of talk, because newspapers have to be filled and airtime has to be filled,” he said about the conference debate. “You have to talk about something. We don’t concern ourself with it, really. That’s their job to do. Our job is to get ready to play and to do the work we do.”
However, the idea of toting the league banner has never been something they’ve embraced or really even acknowledged.
Players chose to come to OU for various reasons. Most were geographic with a heavy dose of the program’s successful history. The league it plays in was not an overriding factor.
“That stuff doesn’t matter to me,” OU linebacker Eric Striker said. “Fans are
different everywhere you go.”
But there’s no getting around the fact the Big 12 needs to start winning these BCS bowl games. Whether the schools like it or not, the perception of the conference becomes a bigger influence to recruits every year. Most want to be the best and they want to play against the best competition possible.
Just look at the way SEC teams have flooded NFL draft boards with their players makes a very convincing argument.
But the idea of the conference being anything more than teams OU faces on an annual basis is a foreign concept. Its players do not see the Sugar Bowl as the Big 12 vs. the SEC. They see OU vs. Alabama.
“I think that’s irrelevant,” OU center Gabe Ikard said when asked about the Big 12 going up against the SEC.
But no one in an OU uniform is denying what the SEC has produced over the last seven seasons — seven national championships spread among the Crimson Tide (3), Florida (2), LSU (1) and Auburn (1) with a chance to win another next month.
“Obviously the SEC has dominated college football with how ever many it’s been in a row with being the national champion from there,” Ikard said. “But what it comes down to is two teams playing each other. It comes down to the team that prepares the best and executes the best on Jan. 2 is going to win the game. It doesn’t matter that they’ve played an SEC schedule, we’ve played a Big 12 schedule, that’s irrelevant.”
What is relevant is the third-ranked Crimson Tide. They would’ve needed a rental truck to haul on the praise OU heaped on them Monday.
The Sooners fully recognize the talent, recent success and tradition Alabama possess. The Tide have won three of the last four national championships under head coach Nick Saban, running their total to 10 since 1961.
“It’s pretty obvious what they’ve been able to do to everybody over the last three, four, five years and this year even they’re No. 1 in the country up until the last second of the regular season and deservedly so the way they’ve played,” OU Stoops said. “You see talent everywhere, physical players, Coach Saban and his staff do a great job coaching them. It will be a big challenge but one that our players have earned and will be excited about.”
Is that byproduct of the conference it plays in or simply a tradition rich school that knows how to assemble championship level teams?
That debate goes on year round. But OU doesn’t want to enter the discussion. It’s fine just representing itself.
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