The problem with nicknames is even those given as compliments can turn derisive quickly. When Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was nicknamed “Big Game Bob” in the early 2000s, it was a moniker of respect, earned through several marquee victories–including the 2001 Orange Bowl, that season’s national championship game.
But as more recent Sooner teams fell short of expectations and dropped the marquee games on their dockets, the title was treated more with irony than respect.
Losses to Texas in 2006 and 2008, then another, confounding decision in 2013; the 2012 defeats to Kansas State and Notre Dame; various missed championship opportunities.
It’s difficult to label a run of six Big 12 championships since 2004 disappointing. Yet, the Sooners’ inability to again reach the pinnacle–as it had in that 2000 campaign that earned Stoops’ his nickname–could qualify.
However, a bevy of returning defensive talent and the development of what could be the program’s next great quarterback should spark expectations for 2014. With how the Sooners closed out 2013, the magic that christened Stoops “Big Game” just might be back in Norman.
Indeed, Oklahoma’s last two outings of the 2013 campaign were vintage Big Game Bob.
Rival Oklahoma State was in the rare position of favorite in the annual Bedlam Game. With home-field advantage and an opportunity to claim the Big 12 championship, the Cowboys seemed primed to take advantage of the Sooners’ carousel of quarterback injuries.
On-again, off-again quarterback (and now tight end) Blake Bell led the Sooners on a game-winning drive that confirmed their place as the state’s preeminent program, and Bob Stoops of today looked like the Bob Stoops of old.
The win was enough to help book Oklahoma an at-large berth into the Sugar Bowl. But paired opposite two-time defending national champion Alabama and head coach Nick Saban, the revival of Big Game Bob Stoops appeared to be short-lived.
BCS bowls were unkind to Stoops. After dismantling Washington State in the 2003 Rose Bowl, Oklahoma went on a losing skid in BCS bowls that only ended when the Sooners drew 2010 Big East champion Connecticut–arguably the worst team ever to reach the BCS.
For those needing a refresher:
2004 Sugar Bowl (BCS Championship Game): L, 21-14 vs. LSU
2005 Orange Bowl (BCS Championship Game): L, 55-19 vs. USC
2007 Fiesta Bowl: L, 43-42 vs. Boise State
2008 Fiesta Bowl: L, 48-28 vs. West Virginia
2009 BCS Championship Game: L, 24-14 vs. Florida
Drawing Alabama and Nick Saban was the perfect storm. Saban’s LSU team started the Sooners’ BCS woes, and ostensibly created the first cracks in Big Game Bob’s armor.
Bob Stoops was also among the more vocal critics of the widespread and all-too-often uncontested fawning over SEC football that emanates from the conference’s coaches, administrators and national media.
Oh, and Oklahoma was a 15-point underdog.
All the Sooners did was come out playing with fearless tenacity and employing a game plan that kept the Crimson Tide back on their heels.
Quarterback Trevor Knight put on a clinic against the vaunted Alabama defense, operating the Sooners’ sped-up offense with precision.
Knight’s performance had elements reminiscent of the show Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel put on against the Sooners in the previous year’s Cotton Bowl. In fact, Knight looked an awful lot like Jonathan F. Football, Esq., as we’d come to know the 2012 Heisman winner in his two outings vs. Alabama.
Apparently, Stoops and his staff spent the month of preparation between Bedlam and the Sugar Bowl perfecting what worked against Saban and Kirby Smart previously.
In no uncertain terms, Bob Stoops outcoached the most celebrated sideline general in the game, Nick Saban.
Knight’s 348-yard, four-touchdown night has him firmly in the preseason Heisman race. The last time Oklahoma boasted a genuine Heisman-contending quarterback was Sam Bradford in 2008, also the last season the Sooners played for the national championship.
Bob’s reunion with brother Mike, now in charge of the Sooner defense, enters Year 3. Working with a veteran corps that includes cornerstones such as linebackers Eric Striker (another Sugar Bowl hero) and Dominique Alexander, and defensive back Quentin Hayes, the third season should be the charm.
The pieces are in place for a magical season at Oklahoma. All it takes is Bob Stoops to continue summoning that Big Game charm.