John E. Hoover: OU, Stoops have been here before
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
11/20/12 at 4:30 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
NORMAN - From Baylor to Texas Tech to Texas A&M, from zany three-way tiebreakers to unforeseen Mack Brown meltdowns, Sooner football fans have much to be thankful for this week.
For once again, Oklahoma goes into Thanksgiving having overcome an early setback, having stayed the course, having ignored the din coming out of other Big 12 Conference outposts, and is right back in the hunt for a Big 12 championship.
OU lost its conference opener to Kansas State and has been chasing the Wildcats ever since. But Saturday, while OU was winning its sixth consecutive league game in dramatic fashion at West Virginia, K-State was drinking from the bitter cup of defeat. The Wildcats had ascended to No. 1 in the BCS standings, but that did nothing to protect them in a 52-24 upset loss at Baylor.
Seems it's not that easy to stay ahead of the pack all season long. Sometimes it's better to play from behind.
"When you're playing from behind and you have something really to play for," OU wide receiver Kenny Stills said Monday, "you feel like you can go and have a little bit more motivation to go play."
K-State's loss and Oklahoma's continued success has created a virtual tie atop the Big 12 standings. If they remain tied, Kansas State would still get the trophy (and automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series) because of its victory in Norman. But if OU wins its final two games - Saturday against Oklahoma State and next week at TCU - and they both finish with 8-1 conference records, the Sooners will claim a co-Big 12 championship.
Then again, if K-State stumbles at home to resurgent Texas in two weeks and OU wins out, the Sooners are outright champs.
There is, of course, the business of winning out. OSU and TCU will have plenty to say about that.
But this is something at which Bob Stoops' teams have had plenty of experience, and it has almost always worked out favorably for the Sooners.
"It has," Stoops said. "What really matters to my guys? Practice today and the game Saturday. So how are we gonna play well? Do what we do, work the process, see what happens. See where we're at Sunday. End of story."
As it relates to this season, yes. But with history on the Sooners' side, there is much more to tell.
The Longhorns, coming off the Vince Young national championship team, were in the Big 12 driver's seat with a 6-0 conference start. But the 'Horns lost 45-42 at Kansas State, then lost 12-7 to Texas A&M - both unranked opponents.
- Remember 2006, when OU lost 28-10 to Texas in the Big 12 opener?
After losing to Texas, OU refocused and won out and passed Texas to win the Big 12 South, then beat Nebraska 21-7 in the championship game.
Texas lost again to Kansas State, then fell to Oklahoma. The Red River rivals would have shared the Big 12 South that year (OU owned the tiebreaker), but another unexpected Texas loss to unranked A&M in the season finale gave the Sooners the South title outright. OU routed No. 1-ranked Missouri 38-17 in the Big 12 title game.
- Remember 2007, when Sam Bradford's first Big 12 start was a disastrous loss at Colorado, and he was smushed by Duke Robinson on the first play at Texas Tech?
Texas beat OU 45-35 and jumped to No. 1 in the polls, but Mack Brown and Longhorn Nation found themselves branding that score into everyone's memory after Texas lost 39-33 at Texas Tech and Tech lost 65-21 at OU three weeks later.
- And who could forget that crazy three-way tiebreaker in 2008?
All that created a three-way tiebreaker that the 'Horns desperately pointed out included 45-35, but brainy computers and clever pollsters realized the deadlock also included 65-21 and 39-33, and gave the advantage to the Sooners, who beat Missouri 62-21 for the Big 12 title and a spot in the national championship game.
Yes, that's all ancient history to the current players. But it does underscore the process of which Stoops spoke. He and his staff have a way of getting players to focus in when they're behind in the standings and not fret about the big picture.
Want more proof? Stoops' teams are 43-10 in November, but the years in which the Sooners were behind in the conference race and within one game of the leader, they're 13-1, the only loss when Bradford went down at Tech.
"I would say it's easier to play from behind," Stills said. "We've been in the spot where people are chasing us, and people get complacent really easily. But at the same time, it doesn't matter. If you've got the right mindset, if you're just paying attention to winning your games, then it shouldn't matter at all.
"But I'd definitely say it's easier to come from behind where people aren't paying attention to you as much."
For his part, Stoops doesn't subscribe to either theory - lead dog or hot pursuit.
"I would think it would be equally motivational to stay undefeated," Stoops said.
What Stoops preaches is boring - winning one game at a time - but it works.
"We're following everything he does," Stills said. "If he doesn't have any interest in it, then we usually don't. All I know is that we have to control what we can do, and that's win Saturday and the next Saturday."
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops argues a pass interference call during their game against of West Virginia. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World