Senior Writer

Sooners can duplicate 2000 title run, but not the aura


DALLAS -- Oklahoma does not shock the world. Not usually and hardly ever. It meets expectations, frequently exceeds them. If championships are wrapped in that football burrito, even better.

But, in general, OU football is not in the business of creating goose bumps. It can be beaten by Boise, but it can never be Boise. Bob Stoops knows that because he'll never have 2000 again at Oklahoma.

That was Stoops' second year, coming off a 7-5 season when the Sooners were still wobbly from the John Blake era. An unproven coach earned his chops. Unproven kids did some extraordinary things. Careers were made. Egos were subjugated. Josh Heupel, the left-handed juco kid from South Dakota, slung it all over the lot. Linebacker Torrance Marshall saved a game against Texas A&M with an interception and later became an Orange Bowl MVP.

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No starter missed a game due to injury. It was perfect and it made OU cuddly. An undefeated season produced the program's seventh national championship. Oklahoma hasn't been that perfect or cuddly since.

"The difference then was we had something to prove," Stoops said at the Big 12 media days. "They had seen all these Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer teams and all these great players on the wall. And this was our tradition. ... We had lost that.

"We were bound and determined to do it, to live up to what we're supposed to do at Oklahoma."

Stoops reminisces now, because shocking the world remains out of the question. His success in 11 seasons at OU has assured it. Conference titles are a given. There have been seven in a little more than a decade. The man is suddenly 29 victories away from becoming the winningest coach in Oklahoma history. By building a grand new home in Norman and turning down offers and interest from elsewhere, he is virtually assured of being a lifer at OU.

Those facts are nice. They are not follow-ups to 2000.

"So I go from trying to convince [players] that we do deserve to do this ... ," Stoops says of that season, "to a few years later saying: 'Wait a second, you haven't done anything.' "

That's half the challenge these days. Banners don't win championships. Heismans don't intimidate Texas.

"Sometimes," Stoops added, "you can get some kids come in and feel entitled."

That problem is not exclusive to Oklahoma, but it is central to its story this year. The Sooners are loaded this year, perhaps more than any year since 2000.

A preseason No. 1 ranking, OU's first since 2003, wouldn't be surprising. Twenty-nine players have starting experience. Two of the biggest stars, receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis, passed up the NFL to return. Quarterback Landry Jones could become the program's fifth Heisman finalist since 2000.

Texas is down. There is no more annoying Big 12 championship game to play. There is every reason to believe OU is about to run away and hide with the conference title for the foreseeable future. Just by watching him happily glide through his media-days duties this week, it's clear Stoops knows this.

"It's just the way he kind of carries himself," Jones said. "Coach Stoops is not a guy who is going to be crazy emotional. But I've been there for four years now and it's definitely a different feeling around the locker room."

Broyles remembered that he, too, once was one of those entitled knuckleheads. Almost four years ago as a freshman, he was arrested for trying to steal gas from a convenience store pump. That now qualifies as a blip on a superstar's résumé.

"I felt like I was invincible, like any freshman would," Broyles said. "I was on my high horse. There's always going to be guys like that, five-star guys and you never see them. Why do you never see them? They don't want to work hard."

Hard work is important to Stoops. His dad taught and coached at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio. Ron Stoops Sr. raised sons and provided for his family. In 1988, he suffered a heart attack on the sidelines while coaching and died on the way to the hospital. He was in his 50s. Bob will turn 51 on Sept. 9.

He might have had his moment of Zen a couple of years after winning that 2000 championship. It came during a party at booster/country singer/Sooners honk Toby Keith's house. Stoops and Barry Switzer were chatting. The veteran coach had won three titles, as well has having his share of near misses.

Stoops had yet to experience having one slip away. This was before the 2003 BCS title game against LSU, the first of three such championship-game losses for Stoops.

He recalled being called a few choice names by Switzer, who then said, "You think you're going to win every one of them?"

"I wish he had never said that to me," Stoops said.

Entitlement is a relatively new phenomenon. It's the reason recruits make Broadway productions out of their commitments or predict multiple championships before they can vote or are named Terrelle Pryor.

"That's why sometimes it is harder to keep doing it," Stoops said. "It's really convincing them to work first."

Sounds simple. It isn't. A couple of years ago, injuries hit OU and the season fell flat at 8-5. A few years before that, Rhett Bomar ruined Oklahoma's season and his career.

It doesn't take much to ruin a season, especially when eight wins is considered "ruined."

The Big 12 is so top heavy and Oklahoma is so good, a BCS bowl is the jumping off point for the Sooners in 2011. OU has been there, done all that. Winning is a given. A total buy-in isn't. But there is hope.

That South Dakota lefty of 11 years ago is now "Coach Hype," calling Oklahoma's offensive plays. Jones is engaged to his longtime girlfriend, renewed spiritually after a mission trip to Haiti. Lewis has more than proven he has got some of the clutch play of Torrance Marshall in him.

But how does the coach package it and not only win, but also get those goose bumps back?

"It's hard to feel that way," Stoops admitted. "Now we're supposed to beat everybody, all the time."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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