Transcript Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Oklahoma has grown accustomed to playing in bowl games with big stakes. Since 2000, the Sooners have played in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game three times, including the previous two seasons.

It would seem this season's trip to the Holiday Bowl, where OU will face No. 6 Oregon at 7 p.m. Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium, would be a letdown of sorts.

After all, what does a team really gain from winning a bowl game when nothing beyond victory comes with winning?

Plenty if you ask the Sooners.

Senior defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will play his last game in the crimson and cream Thursday. He would like it to be one people remember.

"You always remember the last game of the season," he said. "All anybody remembers about last year is that we lost the national championship. The year before that we lost the national championship."

Dvoracek has a point.

In 2003 and 2004, the Sooners went a combined 24-3 and all those teams seemed be remembered for was losing to LSU in the Sugar Bowl and USC in the Orange Bowl.

However, those two teams finished on the biggest stage college football can provide -- the BCS title game.

The Holiday Bowl is broadcast to a national cable audience on ESPN. It's traditionally one of the better non-BCS contests but that's about it.

To OU, that doesn't matter. Winning only breeds more winning.

"They give you some momentum and optimism as you go through the offseason and the next year," OU coach Bob Stoops said.

It's been a while since the Sooners were able to complete a season with a win. They haven't won a bowl game since pounding Washington State 34-14 on Jan. 1, 2003 at the Rose Bowl.

The Sooners want to enjoy their plane ride back home for a change.

Like Dvoracek, offensive tackle Davin Joseph will play his final game at the Holiday Bowl. But he knows how important finishing with a win can be.

He might not be around to enjoy it, but he'd like to leave a going-away present in the form of a win.

"It's very important," he said. "To end the season on a good note will carry us into next year. It will go over into training and spring ball. It's something that will stay with you for about six months. It would be great for our confidence, and it would also help with recruiting."

It would also help the Sooners salvage what is thought by many to be a disappointing season.

The Sooners (7-4) enter postseason play unranked for the first time since 1999 and losing would leave them unranked at the end of the season for the first time this century.

Ask any person connected with the Sooners and you might get a different reason why the Holiday Bowl is important.

"Each individual is taking something personal into this game," linebacker Clint Ingram said. "As a team, we need a win. For the seniors, we want to leave with a big statement. The young guys need to come back next season with a win under their belt. This game is a measuring stick of how far we've come this season."

John Shinn 366-3536 jshinn@normantranscript.com

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