It doesn’t take a detective to see how important BCS bowl games are to Oklahoma.

Walk into the Everest Indoor Center and the signs are apparent. Banners from the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl are prominently displayed along with the years the Sooners have finished seasons at those destinations.

“They matter,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.

More subtle reminders are found throughout the Switzer Center. Bowls are a big part of the program. This year’s trip marks OU’s 49th bowl appearance. It’s also the Sooners’ fifth BCS appearance in seven years. Only Florida State, which has been to six, has capitalized on the major bowl experience more.

But you can argue what this season’s group of fifth-year seniors will experience takes the cake as far as postseason rewards.

They will have rung in the New Year at all four BCS bowls. It didn’t take them very long to figure it out.

Quarterback Paul Thompson, who is one of those fifth-year seniors, pointed it out to Stoops right after beating Nebraska Dec. 2 to win the Big 12 Championship.

“I didn’t realize it until after the game — Paul Thompson brought it up — but the guys in his class that are fifth-year seniors now have been to all four BCS games to complete the circle,” Stoops said. “That’s exciting to be in four of those in five years.”

It should be. It’s a feat no other program has accomplished in the history of the BCS.

The fifth-year seniors haven’t stopped talking about it and likely won’t until they get out to Glendale, Ariz.

“Calvin Thibodeaux and I sat down and were talking today about going to this bowl game,” safety Jason Carter said. “This will be the fifth bowl game we have been to and we’ve been to every major BCS bowl game. My expectations are really high for what is going to happen down there.”

The journey started with the Rose Bowl — OU’s first-ever appearance — to complete the 2002 season. It wrapped up the 2003 season in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. The end of the 2004 campaign ended in Miami at the Orange Bowl.

They all remember spending a week in luxury hotels at various vacation destinations. There’s also the bowl gifts. Everything from sweatshirts to electronic goods serve as reminders.

But to some the trip itself is the greatest reward.

“All of them are great to me,” linebacker Zach Latimer said. “The free trips I got to go on and they were all to places I’ve never been. I’d never been to California and I’ve never been to Louisiana. It was just an overall great experience and I’m glad I came to Oklahoma to get it.”

The Sooners will arrive in Arizona Dec. 25 and remain there until Jan. 2.

Plenty of time will be spent seeing the sights and taking in all that’s there to absorb.

After all, that’s what bowl trips are about. The team, the coaches and the fans get a nice little fun-filled vacation.

Of course, there’s always the matter of the game. Don’t think the loss to LSU at the Sugar Bowl and to USC in the Orange don’t still resonate.

“Our players, being in so many bowls games, are very familiar knowing that the game is what really matters,” Stoops said. “We’ve all been to nice places, but winning the football game is what makes the biggest difference in the bowl experience.”

It won’t be any different when the seventh-ranked Sooners (11-2) face No. 9 Boise State (12-0) Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.

The trip is a reward for a successful regular season. But the game is the reason for all the hoopla.

“There’s a reason you’re down there,” Latimer said. “If you get caught up in all those other things, you’re going to go out there and lose the game. You have to remember there’s a reason you’re down and a reason you’re riding those rides and seeing all these places, is to win the game.”

John Shinn366-3536jshinn@normantranscript.com

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