The Norman Transcript

November 30, 2008

Sooners are in

John Shinn

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops woke up Sunday morning with a strange feeling. His Sooners had beaten No. 11 Oklahoma State 61-41 a few hours earlier, but something didn’t feel right.

“I had to remind myself that we won last night,” he said. “You play a rival team that’s ranked and at their place and win by 20 and wake up and you have a knot in your stomach.”

The Bowl Championship Series rankings will do that to a man when the entire season rides on how two human polls and six computer formulas decide to rank the best teams in college football.

In the end, OU had nothing to worry about.

It jumped to No. 2 Sunday afternoon in the BCS rankings and will represent the Big 12 South against Missouri in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

A victory would send the Sooners (11-1) to the BCS title game against the winner of the SEC title game between Florida and Alabama Jan. 8 in Miami.

The Sooners put themselves in this position by a margin thinner than a fashion model. They were second in the USA Today coaches poll with Texas one point behind. The Longhorns were one spot ahead in the Harris Interactive poll at No. 3 with OU one spot behind, the difference just six points.

It was a strange turnabout in both polls. OU led the Longhorns in both heading into Saturday night’s games. Texas rolled through unranked and under-.500 Texas A&M; 49-9 Thursday night. The Sooners’ victory over the Cowboys was just as, if not more, impressive.

Luckily for them, the computers took notice.

OU jumped to No. 1 in the average of the six computer rankings — ahead of undefeated and top-ranked Alabama.

Stoops, who has said many times that he doesn’t know how to check e-mail, was praising the computer component of the BCS Sunday.

“They don’t have agendas, they don’t have loyalties, they don’t have the opinions, they don’t have the biases everyone else does,” Stoops said. “If you’re saying no else does I don’t think you’re really being truthful. Like it or not, they don’t have all those things everyone else does.”

There were some strange votes in both human polls. The Sooners received two No. 1 votes in the coaches poll, which is odd considering Alabama is an undefeated team from a major conference.

The Longhorns received a first-place vote in the Harris Interactive poll.

OU’s strength of schedule was the winning formula for the computers. The Bedlam victory gave it wins over four teams — No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Cincinnati, No. 11 TCU and No. 8 Texas Tech — currently in the top 14 of the BCS rankings.

Texas only played four ranked teams all season, going 3-1. But one of those victories was over the Sooners Oct. 11.

“In the end, it’s your whole body of work throughout the year and how you’ve played down the stretch,” Stoops said. “I feel the way we’ve played down the stretch is pretty incredible.”

The Bedlam victory was the Sooners’ sixth straight. All the wins have been by at least two touchdowns and they’ve scored at least 58 points in the last five.

The last two were the most impressive and were what helped OU get the nod over the Longhorns. The crushing 65-21 victory over then-second-ranked Texas Tech made a three-way tie in the Big 12 South a possibility, and the Bedlam victory sealed it.

OU, Texas and Texas Tech all finished the regular season at 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big 12 and 4-1 in the Big 12 South, with each having a win and a loss against the other two.

The release of Sunday’s rankings ended a strange week during which Stoops and Texas coach Mack Brown had the option of becoming active campaigners for their teams.

Stoops did a lot of it following OU’s 65-21 victory over Texas Tech nine days ago, but didn’t spend much time working the national media in the days leading up to the Bedlam game.

He declined an opportunity for a live phone interview during ESPN’s broadcast of the Texas-Texas A&M; game Thursday night.

“I hoped it wouldn’t come back to haunt us. I just feel that there’s some place that’s appropriate and then there isn’t,” Stoops said. “I hope I hung around the appropriate area and didn’t overdo anything. When asked a question, I stated it, just trying to do it the right way and have some principle in what we’re doing. And I’m not saying anyone else didn’t, that’s how I tried to do it. I just think that as a program, you have to have your standards. And again, I am not comparing us. I’m just saying that I feel comfortable with the way we did it and what we had to say, when we had to say it and that we didn’t overdo it.”

Brown did more national interviews and was interviewed for several minutes during the ABC broadcast during the Bedlam game. But he never slighted the Sooners during the process.

In the end, it wasn’t enough for Longhorns. After they blew their shot at an undefeated season with a Nov. 1 loss to Texas Tech, OU had the opportunity it needed to get back in the race.

Coaches and some players gathered around the televisions inside the Switzer Center to find out who led at the finish line early Sunday afternoon. Coaches started getting ready for Missouri even though they weren’t sure they were in the game.

Around 3:30 p.m., they found out the work wouldn’t be for naught.

“They’re excited, absolutely,” Stoops said. “They were fired up and excited about it. Again, we’re looking at it as another challenge.”

John Shinn