No awards can match Oklahoma's Big 12 run


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Is it too late for the Big 12 to demand a recall on its vote for the conference's Offensive Player of the Year? Ditto for Offensive Freshman of the Year.

And while they're at it, the league's movers and shakers should give serious consideration to renaming the award it gives to the conference's football champion the "Bob Stoops Award."

OK, perhaps they should wait until after Stoops retires or leaves Oklahoma before they permanently attach his name on the championship trophy.

But, hey, the National Football League named the hardware it gives the Super Bowl champions the "Vince Lombardi Trophy." And Lombardi only won two Super Bowl titles with the Green Bay Packers.

Stoops, meanwhile, has now won four Big 12 championships for OU after the Sooners defeated longtime rival Nebraska 21-7 in the conference's title game on a frigid Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here's what is impressive about Stoops' accomplishment -- the Big 12 has only been in existence 11 seasons. Stoops has led OU to the title contest a record five times, and now has a record four championships.

And here's what is really, really, really impressive about Stoops' latest title run. Very few people outside OU's team gave the Sooners any chance of making the 11th championship game when Stoops kicked starting quarterback Rhett Bomar off the team before the first game. And everybody counted the Sooners out of the league's title picture when All-America tailback Adrian Peterson was lost with a broken collarbone in the sixth game of the regular season.

But there Stoops stood late Saturday night on the frozen field at Arrowhead Stadium, hoisting the championship trophy high over his head following the Sooners' victory over the Cornhuskers, before a championship-record crowd of 80,031.

OU's eighth consecutive win on its improbable championship run will send the Sooners to the Fiesta Bowl to more than likely face Boise State. And it was keyed by Paul Thompson, the quarterback nobody truly believed in last August but Stoops.

Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor was named the Big 12's offensive player of the year last Tuesday. But four days later, Thompson decisively out-dueled Taylor in the conference's biggest game of the year.

Thompson had already forever endeared himself to Sooner fans for the way he seamlessly replaced Bomar. But he's certain to become a legend in OU's tradition-rich history for what will always been known as "The Drive."

Thompson was little short of brilliant as he calmly and masterfully directed an 11-play, 99-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. Just when it looked like Nebraska had captured the momentum it needed by pinning the Sooners less than a yard from their own end zone, Thompson put together a drive for the ages.

And that's where the debate about Offensive Freshman of the Year enters this discussion. Texas redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy was a deserving recipient when he was named the winner earlier last week.

But McCoy couldn't get the defending national champion Longhorns to a second straight Big 12 championship game. OU freshman tight end Jermaine Gresham, meanwhile, made the critical play in that 99-yard drive, when a 35-yard reception from Thompson on third-and-10 from the Sooners' own one-foot line ignited "The Drive."

Give a player an award for a single play? You bet. That's why awards shouldn't be voted on until the title game is in the books.

Big-time players make big-time plays when their team's in a desperate situation. It doesn't get much more desperate than when your team is 99 yards from a touchdown and the opposition is breathing fire and primed to completely change the game's complexion.

None of OU's heroics would have been possible, however, without Stoops tricking everyone with his game plan.

Conventional wisdom was that Stoops had lost confidence in Thompson's passing ability after cutting back on his attempts later in the season.

And with the brutal weather conditions Saturday night, the Sooners figured to unleash a rushing attack that had continued to roll after Peterson was lost.

But when the Cornhuskers' defensive line whipped OU's heretofore excellent offensive line, Stoops didn't hesitate to put the ball and the game in Thompson's hands. And the fifth-year senior responded by throwing two touchdown passes while completing 19 of 35 passes for 265 yards. Taylor, meanwhile, was 23 of 50 and had three passes picked off.

Stoops was also the mastermind behind a Sooner defense that hounded Taylor all night while intercepting those three passes. OU's defense, which struggled when the Sooners got off to a 3-2 start, only got its act together after a frustrated Stoops became more deeply involved by adding his extensive defensive expertise.

So Stoops' fingerprints were all over the Big 12 title game, just like they had been in what has unquestionably been the most outstanding coaching effort of his eight seasons at OU.

And late Saturday night, Stoops' fingerprints were all over a trophy that someday just might carry his name.

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