- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | Nobody may need a victory in Thursday night’s BCS title game as much as Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

The 48-year-old coach of the Sooners (12-1) has heard the snickers. He earned the nickname “Big-Game Bob” after winning a national title in just his second season in Norman. Since, his teams have lost four BCS bowl games.

Entering Thursday’s BCS national championship game against Florida (12-1), Stoops isn’t letting the criticism get to him.

“That doesn’t bother me,” said Stoops, whose attacks the question like a linebacker filling a gap. “I’m not worried about seeking the approval of whoever. In the end, what do you do? We’ve won our share, and we’ve - whatever. Have we won every one of them? No. But not many people have. You know what we’ve been able to accomplish through the years, so it is what it is.”

It’s an enigma. That might be the best way to describe the disconnect between Stoops’ regular-season brilliance (105-18) with six Big 12 titles in 10 seasons and his 4-5 bowl record. If the Sooners had played well and lost to superior teams in their last four BCS games, perhaps Stoops’ postseason shortcomings would be easier to dismiss.

But that’s far from the truth, and Oklahoma’s BCS performances seem to have gotten progressively worse.

It’s possible to discount the 2004 Sugar Bowl, which the Sooners lost 21-14 to LSU. Heisman Trophy winner Jason White played with an injured shoulder, and he completed 13 of 37 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions, allowing Nick Saban’s Tigers to swipe a share of the title (with USC) in a virtual home game.

The following season, however, the Sooners lost 55-19 to USC in the Orange Bowl. In hindsight, that Trojans squad might have been among the best college teams ever, but Stoops’ undisciplined troops gifted USC five turnovers in the rout.

Two seasons ago, the Sooners failed to match Boise State’s intensity in a 43-42 overtime loss in the Fiesta Bowl. But perhaps last season’s Fiesta Bowl finale stands as the ultimate indictment: As a touchdown favorite against a West Virginia team with an interim coach, Oklahoma was penalized 13 times for 113 yards, self-destructing in a 48-28 loss to the Mountaineers.

The Sooners were favored in three of those four games. And Stoops, once considered the greatest defensive mind in the college game, watched his defenses yield an average of 41.8 points over those four games.

“Embarrassing, absolutely embarrassing,” Stoops said after the loss to West Virginia. “No discipline whatsoever. That has to be a reflection on me.”

In response to those performances, Stoops made the motto for this season’s team “WTLG” (win the last game). The acronym is inked on the shoes and wristbands of Oklahoma players. And Stoops has changed practice times, reined in curfews and overhauled every logistical aspect of the Oklahoma schedule from meeting times to menus.

“I think he knows how important this game is,” former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said. “Oklahoma has to define itself by winning this football game.”

And Stoops may need to re-establish himself by reversing his BCS fortunes.

This isn’t about job security. Oklahoma recently gave Stoops a $3 million “staying” bonus to celebrate his 10-year anniversary. And why not? Only two active coaches - USC’s Pete Carroll and Florida’s Urban Meyer - have better winning percentages. Few coaches are more revered for their combination of passion and innovation. And perhaps no coach has generated more revenue for his university in the BCS era.

Arguably, this is about legacy. With a win against favored Florida, Stoops would bank his second national title, end Oklahoma’s BCS skein and reclaim his mantle as a big-game master. Another loss, however, probably would add to his reputation as a postseason punching bag.

Said Oklahoma senior safety Nic Harris: “Failure is the best teacher in life.”

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