By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The time to rest began for Oklahoma this weekend. Practice is over until the Sooners reconvene prior to leaving for New Orleans Friday.
The Sooners are excited about playing Alabama. 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,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said.
Last season’s ending was an abysmal 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. It was a game were the Sooners appeared to be overmatched and uninspired throughout the second half.
The lasting impression was something OU had to carry throughout the offseason. It didn’t really start to fade until this season’s victory over Notre Dame. A strong argument can be made that the victory at Oklahoma State to close the regular season has completely 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 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. The guys in the locker room and coaches, we never lost faith. We thought we could finish the year strong,” he said. “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 going to 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.
Carrying it over into January, however, is the problem. The Sooners are 1-6 in January bowl 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 it does for major bowl games.
“I don’t want to finish anything like we did last year. It’s going to 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. Perhaps, the Sooners will benefit from the underdog label they have lacked against most of their predecessors. Alabama’s a two-touchdown favorite and one of the biggest bowl favorites of the season.
There are ample reasons for the Sooners’ underdog status: the Crimson Tide were one play away from playing for a third straight national championship. They haven’t lost a bowl game since the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
“We realize how talented they are,” center Gabe Ikard said. “Obviously we know that no one expects us to win, no one expects it to be a close game but none of that really matters to us. We’re going to prepare the same way, get ready for a great team. We respect them but we’re not scared to play them. They’re extremely talented, we realize that, but you’ve got to be confident going into a football game or else you’re going to get blown out.”
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