Fiesta Bowl Football

Oklahoma players Rufus Alexander (42) and Carl Pendleton (68) react as Boise State's Ian Johnson (41) scores the game-winning two point conversion during the overtime of the Fiesta Bowl college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2007, in Glendale, Ariz.. Boise State won, 43-42. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Perhaps a season that had more twists and turns than a television miniseries found a fitting end for Oklahoma Monday night.

The Sooners’ 43-42 overtime loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl will go down as one of the most memorable bowl games in history. It also mirrored OU’s season in so many ways.

Early struggles were followed by flashes of brilliance toward the end.

The way practice began with Rhett Bomar’s dismissal, to the controversy of the Oregon game, to Adrian Peterson’s broken collarbone, to Monday’s night wild game.

The 2006 season offered a little bit of everything.

OU coach Bob Stoops chose to remember what his team overcame and achieved rather than the stunning Fiesta Bowl defeat when he met with reporters Tuesday prior to returning to Norman.

“No one’s taking away our Big 12 championship and the way we ran through our league,” Stoops said. “That’s what I told the players (Monday) night. Their picture is going to be on our wall and that trophy’s going to be in our place forever. And they don’t come easy.

“So there’s a lot of momentum and pride in how we played overall that won’t go away.”

OU finished the season 11-3 for its sixth 10-plus win season in eight years under Stoops. It also finished the season in a BCS bowl for the sixth time of Stoops’ tenure.

That has Stoops feeling positive about his team. The possibility Adrian Peterson will make himself eligible for the NFL draft doesn’t bother him.

“I’m perfectly fine with whatever he wants to do, and I’m going to do my best to give him as much information and make sure that whatever he decides to do, he’s well informed with the proper sources,” Stoops said. “I’m for what he wants. In the end, he’s got to satisfy himself.

“He’s got to look at himself in the mirror every day and be happy with what he’s doing. I think too much of the time people don’t give that enough weight. It’s his life to live. He’s got to look out for what he wants for himself.”

Monday night, Peterson said he had yet to reach a decision.

“I got a little time,” he said. “Find some time relax, think over everything. Then I’ll make my decision. No rush.”

He carried for 77 yards on 20 attempts against Boise State. The yards pushed his career total to 4,045 and into third place on OU’s career rushing list behind Billy Sims (4,118) and Joe Washington (4,041).

What has Stoops so enthused is, Peterson or no Peterson, the Sooners will bring back a lot.

Quarterback Paul Thompson, linebackers Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer, offensive tackle Chris Messner and the defensive end trio of Larry Birdine, C.J. Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux are part of the smallest senior class of Stoops’ tenure.

Allen Patrick, who rushed for 700 yards over the regular season and another 61 Monday, is in line to take Peterson’s place as the featured back.

But the focus will be on finding a suitable replacement for Thompson. OU is expected to have a wide-open race to fill the void. Joey Halzle, Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol, an incoming recruit who will enter school the spring semester, will battle for the job.

Unlike 2005, when Thompson waged battle with Rhett Bomar for the starting job, the Sooners will bring back experience on the offensive line and all their receivers.

“With Paul, we were much more capable of handling the situation that happened before the year this year than we were a year ago,” Stoops said. “We’ll be a lot further along next year with the players around that position even than we were at the start of this year.”

Stoops is anxious to see how it all unfolds, but it will be hard for next year’s team to match the drama that unfolded in 2006 and the first day of 2007.

The Sooners never seemed to catch a break. Stoops even joked Tuesday that the best thing that could have happened Monday night was Marcus Walker being ruled out of bounds during his 33-yard interception return for a touchdown. It gave OU a 35-28 lead with 66 seconds left, which turned out to be 7 seconds too long.

“It’s like the breaks again,” he said. “The first thing I think, if Marcus Walker does step out of bounds, we’re going to run the clock out and kick the field goal. So you think you’re getting a break when you’re not.”

Maybe that will change next season.

OU will once again have the talent to compete for a Big 12 and a national championship. And if luck catches up to the Sooners, big things could be in store.

Matching the twists and turns of this season, however, is likely impossible.

“Incredibly fun and exciting journey,” Stoops said. “Heck, even last night. Jeez, it doesn’t get any — well, it gets better than that if you’re on the other end — but it was close to being as good as it gets.

“It was wild.”


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