As the Bowl Championship Series winds to a close, most would agree that Nick Saban was the most successful coach of the era. Saban has won four national championships in that time period, one with LSU and three with Alabama; no other coach really comes close. However, a close second to Saban’s credentials is arguably the man on the other sideline tonight: Bob Stoops of Oklahoma.
While Bob Stoops has not won as many national titles as Nick Saban (he won one in the 2000 season), his resume has certainly entitled him to more credit than he has received from the college football world. Stoops’s Oklahoma team has appeared in a BCS bowl game nine of the 17 years the system has been in place. His career coaching record is an incredible 159-39, including a winning record against the Sooners’ two biggest rivals, Texas and Oklahoma State. Before he got to Oklahoma, they hadn’t made a bowl game in three seasons. With him, they’ve been in one every year since 1999, an incredible model of consistency no other active coach can claim to. It’s not like Oklahoma’s going to the Beef O’Brady’s bowl or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl either; he’s going to big-time bowl games almost every year. Beneficiaries of Stoops’s tutelage include Heisman winners Jason White and Sam Bradford, as well as seven players on NFL playoff teams this year.
While Stoops has been an incredibly successful coach at Oklahoma, his detractors will point out that his Sooners have not been very good in BCS bowl games, with a record of 3-5. Everyone remembers the 55-19 loss against USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl where Matt Leinart lit up the Oklahoma defense to the tune of five touchdowns. It was the most points a team had ever given up in the Orange Bowl and it was the biggest embarrassment of Stoops’s tenure. Other bad BCS losses were a 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, a feeble loss to Florida in the 2009 BCS Championship Game, and one of the biggest upset in college football history to Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. And while it’s not a BCS bowl, the 41-13 loss to Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M Aggies in last year’s Cotton Bowl continued to plant the seeds of doubt among Oklahoma alumni and fans everywhere. Would Bob Stoops ever win a big bowl game again?
Which brings us to tonight, the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Stoops’s old friend and rival, Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide. This is Stoops’s ninth BCS bowl game and in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of sports today, it may be his most important. A win tonight for the Sooners would be Stoops’s “revenge” against Saban, whose LSU team won when the two coaches faced off for the 2003 national title. It would also be a big upset, with the Crimson Tide 17-point favorites. To illustrate how big of a favorite Bama really is, the 17-point spread is tied with last night’s UCF-Baylor Fiesta Bowl for the largest ever. While Oklahoma-Alabama is hardly a David-vs-Goliath matchup, the Sooners have a giant task at hand.
Can Oklahoma do it? Can they beat Alabama and cement their coaches’ legacy as one of the best ever in the BCS? It’s not probable, but it’s definitely possible. After all, UCF overcame the odds to beat the high-scoring Baylor Bears, so who’s to say Stoops’s 10-2 Sooners can’t beat Saban’s Tide, who are coming off the most demoralizing loss in school history against Auburn? Oklahoma has all the motivation in the world after many experts said all month that they didn’t really deserve a BCS bid this year. Alabama, on the other hand, may not come out with as much motivation because they think they should be in Pasadena preparing to face Florida State in the BCS title game. The “what-ifs” swirling in their minds will be echoed by announcers Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge all night, and this has the potential to be a very dispirited performance for them tonight. If that happens, look for Stoops to take advantage and motivate his team to the win.
Legacies will be on the line. A respectful rivalry between legendary coaches will be settled. Will Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners come out victorious? It’s not probable, but it’s definitely possible.