Legendary sportswriter Wendell Barnhouse recently left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and is now a correspondent for Big 12 Sports.com. With 30 years experience of observing the college scene, his expertise is unmatched. He will be contributing to the Wiz this week as we prepare for Thursday's BCS title game at Dolphin Stadium.
"That’s the excitement of it, being in this environment," he said while sweating in the South Florida sun during his 45-minute deposition at media day. "But in the end you’re just excited about [this] moment, and what happened in the past doesn't matter now."
In 2000, Stoops was in his second season as Oklahoma's coach. The Sooners were No. 1, 12-0 and an underdog to defending national champion Florida State. Oklahoma's defense frustrated the Seminoles' Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke and the Seminoles' potent offense in a 13-2 triumph in the BCS Championship Game.
A season that saw OU knock off Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska in consecutive weeks was capped by the crystal football and Stoops was christened Big Game Bob.
Four years later, Oklahoma was back in Dolphin Stadium. A year after losing to Louisiana State in the BCS title game, the Sooners were undefeated and back in The Big Game again. This time, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback (Matt Leinart) torched the mistake-prone Sooners in a 55-19 rout that was over at halftime.
Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 Conference, winning six championships in Stoops' tenure. But the Sooners have lost four consecutive BCS games. They followed the USC debacle with surprising losses to Boise State and West Virginia in the 2007 and 2008 Fiesta Bowls. The smart alecks staring at their laptops came up with a new name for Stoops: Big Lame Bob.
"With a loss — especially a bad loss — the Stoops Era takes a significant hit," ESPN.com college football columnist Pat Forde said. "The Sooners need to show us something about their ability to compete at the highest level outside the Big 12. The last four BCS losses have all been embarrassing in some form or fashion."
Thursday night, No. 1 Oklahoma will match 12-1 records with Florida in the BCS title game. The Sooners are underdogs. Stoops has won 83% of his games but if OU goes to 1-3 in BCS title games on his watch, the critics will chirp.
"You know, that doesn't bother me," he said. "I'm not here worried about seeking the approval of whoever. We've won our share. You know what we've been able to accomplish through the years, so it is what it is. Have we won every one of them? No. But not many people have."
Oklahoma is 1-4 in its last five bowl games and OU quarterbacks have seven TD passes and 10 interceptions. The Sooners have to clean that up to win the team's eighth national championship.
"You've got to be able to execute better," Stoops said. "You've got to be able to handle pressure. You've gotta be physical and those kind of things. I think when we've had troubles, protection has been the issue or we've been one-dimensional. That's what I see when our production isn't what we're used to. I think it's the whole team."
Starting in mid-November, Stoops' patience wore thin as he answered questions about the Big 12 tiebreaker and on Oklahoma getting that tiebreaker edge on Texas — the only team to beat the Sooners. Stoops would have rather chewed on tin foil than been part of the endless debate and controversy.
OU scored 60-plus points in an NCAA-record five consecutive games on the way to the Big 12 title and all his players hear is that the Sooners' defense is a sieve and its offense thrives in a defensive-challenged conference.
"We've got a lot of guys going out there with chips on their shoulders," freshman linebacker Travis Lewis said. "We do listen to the media. We do read some of the articles. It's great to see that everybody expects us to just go out there and two offenses show up and one defense [Florida's] shows up.
"I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think this is the best stage we can play on to go out there and prove to the nation that Oklahoma does have a defense. And we're a big part of why we're here right now."
There has probably been more back-and-forth trash talking than any of the previous BCS title games. The Gators haven't been shy in questioning Oklahoma's team speed and the worthiness of the Sooners' defense.
"You get tired of people dogging on our defense like everybody is," Lewis said. "We're gonna show up. I guarantee you that. We would like to think that they're going to score zero. We do have the defense, and we're going out to prove it."
The defensive doubt provides one huge shoulder chip. The four-game losing streak in BCS bowls is the same size and fits nicely on the other shoulder.
Oklahoma senior safety Nic Harris, whose signature phrase when he answers questions is "at the end of the day," believes that all the talk about BCS losing streaks and defensive shortcomings will disappear when one simple determining factor is applied.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it's all about who wins and loses. That's what counts."
For Oklahoma and its coach, Thursday's game counts more than one.