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December 3, 2006
Season of adversity leads to a Big 12 title
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – University of Oklahoma President David Boren's suggestion that a loss to Oregon be stricken from the record drew laughter back in September.
Who's laughing now?
The Sooners aren't.
Clutch defense, big plays and a pivotal 99-yard drive helped Oklahoma defeat Nebraska 21-7 on Saturday night to clinch the Big 12 football championship and a trip to Glendale, Ariz. But it's a trip that stubborn Sooners fans will claim should be scheduled for the second Monday in January, not the first.
And they might have a point.
The Sooners will play in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State on Jan. 1, but after OU fans are done celebrating they will likely be seething at the thought of not being in the discussion for the national championship game - which will be played in Glendale on Jan 8.
That brings us back to a letter to Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg, in which Boren ceremoniously asked that a 34-33 loss to Oregon – a big serving of home cooking if there ever was one – not be recognized on Oklahoma's record.
As recently as last week Pac-10 replay official Gordon Riese admitted error on a disputed call that gave Oregon possession after an onside kick. The Ducks went on to score the game-winning touchdown.
"I saw the ball laying on the ground, the Oklahoma kid picks up the ball with his knee on the ground," Riese told The Daily Oklahoman last week. "I knew it was Oklahoma ball."
Had Oklahoma (11-2) been awarded the ball – as it should have – the Sooners would be among of a handful of teams that could build a case for deserving a shot at No. 1 Ohio State in the national championship game.
"We can't do anything about it," Stoops said. "For us to sit here and make an issue out of it is not going to come off the right way. We're just going to get ourselves ready to play the next game. We'll have great bowl practices and look forward to the Fiesta Bowl."
Still, they might have looked forward to so much more.
The Sooners' only legitimate loss was to then-No. 7 Texas on Oct. 7. Since then, the Sooners have won eight consecutive games. They overcame the loss of All-American tailback Adrian Peterson to a season-ending injury, and actually averaged more rushing yards without Peterson than with him as their young offensive line matured.
Quarterback Paul Thompson got better as the year progressed. The Sooners' defense did, too. OU allowed an average of just 10.5 points per game over the last eight games.
Few teams - if any - finished the season as strongly as the Sooners. Oklahoma demonstrated that against the Cornhuskers, who entered the Big 12 title game on a three-game winning streak.
With Oklahoma protecting a 14-7 lead, Nebraska reached the OU 25-, 39-, 16-, 20-, 31- and 29-yard lines in the second half. Each time, the Huskers were turned away with nothing.
"I don't know how many possessions they had with great field position and we were able to come up with stops," Stoops said. "They were awesome. It maybe was one of our best defensive games. We gave up some big plays, but boy we came up with a lot of big plays, turnovers and stops when we had to have them.
"We came up with interceptions, pressure was there and we settled in and really defended the run and played it well."
Just as important was Oklahoma's ability to overcome deplorable field position.
The Sooners were facing third-and-10 at their 1-yard line late in the third quarter when Thompson hit tight end Jermaine Gresham for 35 yards. Thompson, who moved from receiver to quarterback in August after starting quarterback Rhett Bomar was dismissed from the team, completed five more passes in the drive. The possession ended with a backbreaking 3-yard touchdown toss to Malcolm Kelly.
"The defense did a great job holding them every time," Thompson said. "We weren't having success moving the ball, so that was a big momentum swing in changing the game."
Added Stoops: "It was the drive of the year."
And what a strange year's it's been. The Sooners lost their starting quarterback, lost their starting tailback and lost a game they shouldn't have, but still won a championship.