Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knows his team is fortunate to be playing for its sixth Big 12 championship. Without having the BCS rankings backing them, the Sooners’ hopes of three straight conference titles—and possibly their hopes of a national title—would be finished.
So while his team prepares for Big 12 North champion Missouri, Stoops understands the feelings of his division rivals.
Rivals, not rival.
“I have empathy for Texas and Texas Tech,” Stoops said. “For some reason, everyone wanted to make this a two-team situation. Texas Tech has identical records as Texas and us. In head-to-head, they beat Texas. I have empathy for both of them.”
What Stoops doesn’t understand is why his team has heard it is unworthy of playing for the Big 12 championship over the Longhorns, considering that Texas lost to the Red Raiders, 39-33, to start November.
Three weeks later, the Sooners pounded Texas Tech, 65-21. In Stoops’ opinion, if Texas’ 45-35 win over Oklahoma matters, so should Texas Tech’s results.
“If you’re going to take Texas Tech out of the mix, the only reason is because of what we did to them, not what Texas did to them,” he said. “You can beat it around all you want, but that’s the case.”
Stoops notably refused to campaign for the Sooners before the BCS standings came out, but he has been more willing to discuss his team’s merits since Sunday.
One of those is the Sooners’ schedule outside the Big 12, which was headlined by Big East champion Cincinnati and a 10-win TCU team. Oklahoma a road game, too, although that was devalued by the fact that it was against 0-11 Washington.
Still, Stoops is convinced that facing tough opponents was important for Oklahoma, and that’s the way it should be.
“It seems like it paid off considerably,” Stoops said. “I’ve said before there should be some kind of incentive. We’re going to Miami next year to play Miami. There ought to be some incentive to do that. Otherwise, why in the heck do we need to go down to Miami?
“If you’re not going to be rewarded for it, you should schedule four softies, and you can schedule a bowl game by getting your first four wins.”
While Stoops was willing to talk about the Sooners’ selection as Big 12 South champions, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford wasn’t interested.
“I really don’t think we’ve paid a whole lot of attention to it,” Bradford said. “We look at it as having the opportunity to go to the Big 12 Championship game, and if we win that game, then we’re probably going to be in the big game at the end of the year, and that’s where we want to be.”
However, Bradford admitted that the controversy surrounding the Sooners’ presence on the sidelines at Arrowhead Stadium will be used as motivation.
“I still think that we have to go out there and prove something to everyone and prove to them that we do deserve to be at this game,” he said. “So I think it felt like it’ll give us some extra motivation this week.”
Outside of the question of whether the Sooners deserve to be in Kansas City, Bradford has other things to worry about, specifically his left thumb.
Against Oklahoma State last week, Bradford tore ligaments in his thumb on his non-throwing hand during the second quarter. After the injury, Bradford fumbled two snaps, which forced Oklahoma to move into a shotgun formation for the remainder of the game.
Stoops said that with a week to deal with the injury, Bradford will be better equipped to deal with the injury. The Sooners’ plan is for Bradford to wear a soft cast on Saturday, then undergo surgery the Monday after the game.
“We’ll be able to prepare for that here through the week,” Stoops said. “I’m sure he’ll be able to take the snap.”
If Bradford is fully equipped to take the snap, Missouri will have the unenviable task of stopping a full-strength version of the Sooners’ offense, which Stoops has called the best he’s ever coached.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Stoops said. “We’ve had 60-some points in the last four games, and 55 at the half against Kansas State. Sam Bradford, in all four of those games (besides Oklahoma State), didn’t play in the fourth quarter. If he did, it was probably one series and out."
The Tigers also have the equally difficult task of ending Oklahoma’s reign atop the Big 12. Last year, the Sooners became the league’s first repeat champion, and will now try to become the first to win three straight league titles.
“We got to play in this game last year and we were fortunate enough to win the Big 12 Championship,” Bradford said. “To have the opportunity to come back and have a chance to win a third straight Big 12 Championship, it really is a dream come true.”