NEW ORLEANS — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his program came full circle Thursday night in New Orleans. The program, which he thoroughly restored to a consistent winner 14 years ago, was standing tall at the place where the foundation started to show cracks.
It was 10 years ago when OU lost to LSU in the 2004 national championship game at the Superdome. That team — quite possibly the most talented of the Stoops era — was upset. It started a string of disheartening bowl performances that elevated the theory that the Sooners could not close the deal. The five straight BCS bowl losses, including three in national championship games, fueled that fire.
A decade later, it was the Sooners doing the upsetting, pinning a 45-31 loss on No. 3 Alabama.
Did it remove all the demons? Probably not if you were playing for the Sooners back then. But if you’re playing for them now or in the future, perception is reality. The way the Sooners are viewed dramatically changed after they outplayed and outcoached the Crimson Tide.
“We put in our minds that were going to come out here and win it and that’s what we did,” said OU linebacker Eric Striker, who recorded three sacks, with the last striping Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron of the ball and resulting in defensive end Geneo Grissom’s game sealing fumble return for a touchdown. “There was no magic to it.”
Maybe there wasn’t. The Sooners were a young team this season. OU had a small, but productive senior class. Only seven starters played their final collegiate game Thursday. Just two on the defense.
It was a team that fought injuries all season and an unsettled quarterback situation. But a light went off in the final six weeks of the regular season and into bowl preparation.
OU settled on Trevor Knight at starting quarterback and the youngsters around him did as well. It showed on the field in road upset wins at Kansas State and Oklahoma State to close the regular season.