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January 12, 2013

Championship hunger rumbles for Stoops, Sooners

NORMAN — After 14 seasons at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops understands the all-or-nothing culture that surrounds his Sooners.

Anything less than a national championship equates to a disappointing season in the eyes of many. To some degree, that includes Stoops.

"I hate it,'' he said Friday when asked about being out of the national title race again. "We've been pretty used to it. I helped create that and to me, it's the pulse here and I don't like it.''

The Sooners finished 10-3 for the second straight season and head into the winter smarting after a 41-13 throttling at the hands of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Stoops knows much of the focus this offseason will be on the three losses to teams that finished the season ranked in the top 12, but he still believes the status of his program is strong.

He'll readily point out that Oklahoma has won 10 games each of the last three seasons, something only five other programs can boast. In that timeframe, the Sooners won the 2010 Big 12 title outright and shared it this season with Kansas State. No other team in the conference has won more games, in league play or overall, than his Sooners in that span.

"People get bored with just winning the Big 12 championship. They want more. You've got to win the national championship,'' Stoops said.

It's been that way since he led Oklahoma to the championship after the 2000 season. The Sooners also played for the title after the 2003, 2004 and 2008 seasons.

"Every four years, or within four years, we're competing for the national championship - in the game. I don't mean just part of it - in the game,'' he said. "And even that isn't good enough if you don't win it. In the end, that's just how people are. I get it.''

So, while he sees the Sooners' final ranking of No. 15 as a sign the program is still solid, he's not satisfied with it because it's not No. 1. Going practically position by position on his team, Stoops' assessment was similar at nearly every spot: Good, but it can be better.

"Really, think about it: What's ever good enough?'' he said. "Nothing, unless you win them all.''

Stoops said he doesn't foresee any changes on his coaching staff, although that's always subject to change. He has canceled an upcoming recruiting weekend for high school juniors, choosing instead to focus on locking down the seniors he will be able to sign in February and bring in for next season.

There will be plenty of holes to fill, including a competition between backup Blake Bell and others to replace four-year starter Landry Jones at quarterback. With safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Tom Wort exiting early for the NFL draft, a maximum of four starters will be back on defense next season.

Stoops is still waiting to find out whether junior cornerback Aaron Colvin will return.

"I never mind playing guys we're going to sign in February. We've had a lot of good ones come in and make big contributions, so that may be the case to a degree,'' Stoops said. "But I think always, too, there's a lot of guys every year ... that people aren't seeing that we are trying to develop who come on and, `Wow! Who's this guy?'''

The Sooners will be counting on playmakers to emerge if they are to get back into the national title mix. And Stoops said he's not backing away from his statement before the 2011 season, when his team held the preseason No. 1 ranking, that it's time to bring another championship to Norman.

"You never know. We didn't seem very close when we had a shot at it in 2000. You never know when it's coming, and we're going to work hard for it,'' Stoops said. "We may try and make some improvements here through the winter and spring and hopefully have a chance to be better next year.''

He needed only to point to one of this year's participants in the BCS championship game to show how early expectations can be deceiving.

"Year to year, you never know who progresses, who doesn't. Obviously, Notre Dame was that story this year,'' Stoops said. "They weren't probably projected real high, did it right, had great team chemistry I'm sure, won some tight games and played well.''

One of those close calls came against Stoops' Sooners, who could find that same magical combination this season.

"In the end, we weren't quite good enough to win 11, 12 or 13 games,'' he said. "We were good enough to win 10 and have a part of a championship once again, for the second time in three years. So, that's where we're at.''

 

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