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Oklahoma Sooners try to bounce back from four straight BCS losses

MIAMI — Oklahoma is in familiar territory, which isn't necessarily a comforting thought for Sooner fans everywhere.

How could it be? Lest anyone has forgotten, the Sooners enter Thursday night's Bowl Championship Series finale against Florida having lost their last two title shots — to LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl and to Southern California in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

And for those scoring at home, and there's plenty of those folks, the Sooners also have lost two straight Fiesta Bowls — to Boise State in 2007 and West Virginia last January.

That's four straight BCS losses.

"We think about them," senior receiver Juaquin Iglesias said of the Sooners' BCS busts of late. "It's something we have to live with. It's what we've done in the past. We're trying to change that on Thursday."

Even though you can argue, and rightfully so, that this is a different team, a different season, a different opponent, yada, yada, yada, the perception beginning to ferment about Oklahoma is that it's a bunch that's good enough year in and year out to reach the biggest of games but not quite good enough to win them.

"We've won our share and we've, whatever," said coach Bob Stoops, who guided the Sooners to the 2000 national championship in his second season in Norman. "You know what we've been able to accomplish through the years, so it is what it is. Have we won every one of them? No. But not many people have."

True enough. The Sooners are in a BCS game for the seventh time in the 11-year history of the oft-maligned system devised to match No. 1 and No. 2 in a finale. Only USC and Ohio State have made it as many.

The Trojans are 6-1.

The Buckeyes are 4-3.

The Sooners are 2-4, including a 55-19 loss to USC and 48-28 to West Virginia. And while Boise State was undefeated and higher ranked than the Sooners in the BCS standings, the Broncos' improbable comeback put the tradition-rich OU program in an uncomfortable light.

"We hear it; we watch ESPN, too," Oklahoma senior center Jon Cooper said.

"Obviously we were frustrated with ending our season on a loss," echoed Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, a redshirt sophomore, of the last two seasons. "We want to change that this year so I do think there is an extra bit of motivation for us to come out and play well this year."

There's a reason that this year's unofficial battle cry has been WTLG.

Win The Last Game.

"What did we learn?" senior safety Nic Harris asked rhetorically of those most recent BCS losses. "That it doesn't feel good to lose. … Failure is the best teacher in life. It makes you who you are. Past BCS games have shown us when you're in position to win, take advantage of it."

It's no coincidence that Stoops and his staff have tweaked the team's bowl preparation this time around, including curfews and practice times, and have challenged players to take better care of the football. They had four turnovers against Boise State, for example. To him, it's not just a question of being physically ready but mentally ready.

"(It's about) the importance of being at your best when you have to be," he said.

Stoops insists that that's the true legacy of OU football, which has been handed down from iconic coaches Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer and is now in his and this crop of Sooners to preserve and enhance.

"I'm not shying away from the expectations of Oklahoma," he said. "I look back at the 2000 group when we did win the national championship. I don't know, to be honest, if we had any business winning it. But they thought we did."

That was the Sooners' seventh national title.

They're shooting for an eighth. Again.

"Our big thing is, how do we want to be remembered as a team," redshirt freshman linebacker Travis Lewis said. "It's different for me, this is my first year playing, but to have Oklahoma's name out there saying that we can't win the big game, then it's disrespecting our coach. ... It's disrespecting all of us.

"The only way you can really shut up the doubters is go out there and play well, go out there and win. That's what we have to do."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

.fast facts

Oklahoma in the BCS

Season Game Opponent Result

2000 Orange* Florida State OU, 13-2

2002 Rose Washington State OU, 34-16

2003 Sugar* LSU LSU, 21-14

2004 Orange* USC USC, 55-19

2006 Fiesta Boise State BSU, 43-42 OT

2007 Fiesta West VirginiaW Va., 48-28

* BCS title game

Oklahoma Sooners try to bounce back from four straight BCS losses 01/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 4:43pm]

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