Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Maybe it all came too quickly for Bob Stoops.
The national championship in his second season as a coach back in 2000 and all of those early victories against top-ranked teams made Stoops appear bulletproof.
That image took another hit Thursday night with another BCS title-game loss. That's five BCS losses and counting, including three BCS title-game disappointments.
When Stoops looks back at Thursday's 24-14 loss to Florida with some perspective, he'll see that the better team won. The Sooners couldn't afford all of the red-zone problems as they left too many points on the field in the first half.
The maligned Oklahoma defense actually played pretty well before wearing down from the pressure of trying to contain Tim Tebow and all of Florida's speedy skill-position threats.
Now, the Sooners' struggles in big games are making them kind of like the Buffalo Bills of college football. And those kind of struggles could detract from the Big 12's season after the bowls finished.
Oklahoma will be underdogs next season in the South Division. The rivalry against Texas has never been more heated. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners fare in that position as they attempt to go for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.
But I bet Stoops burns for a chance at another BCS game.
Here are some other quick thoughts that came to me this morning as I was packing up after a week in Florida.
There's no doubt that Sam Bradford is ready for the NFL draft, but I still think it would help his future prospects by returning for another season in college. Another year of maturity and a chance to excel against pressure defenses would make him an even more marketable product next season. But he's clearly a first-round talent now.
Perhaps the most telling point of Oklahoma's loss in the BCS title game came when Chris Brown was stuffed on two-straight running plays in the second quarter from the Florida 1-yard line. What surprised me most was the quick snap play that offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson opted to try on fourth down. I would have figured that the Sooners could have gained a yard running behind their vaunted left side of the offensive line. But they failed on both plays in a momentum-turning play as heralded blockers Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper were whipped at the point of attack.
So much for those thoughts about Oklahoma's defense being "a joke." Brent Venables came up with a productive scheme that featured a couple of unexpected big plays against Tim Tebow before wearing down late in the game. The Sooners didn't lose Thursday night because of their defense.
I couldn't be happier for anybody winning a national championship than for Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney. The Gators got a huge lift from McCarney's defensive line Thursday night.
What little boost in national perception the Big 12 received after a pedestrian 4-3 bowl season came from the North Division, which was was maligned all season after a 3-15 record against South teams and another championship game blowout loss.
A funny thing happened in the bowls. Nebraska and Missouri showed a lot of pluck in comeback bowl victories and Kansas might have played better in its bowl game than any other Big 12 team. The South was a different story. Texas earned a dramatic victory over Ohio State, but had enough struggles against the Buckeyes to be lucky to have won the Fiesta Bowl. Texas Tech looked ill-prepared and played like it in its loss to Mississippi. Oklahoma State collapsed when Dez Bryant was injured and Oklahoma lost in the national title game. The conference's best teams are in the South, even if they didn't play like it in the bowls.
I was a little surprised, but not shocked, that Nebraska didn't crack either the AP media top 25 or the USA Today coaches' poll. I don't think most of the country realizes the turnaround that Bo Pelini was able to accomplish late in the season with the Cornhuskers. At the end of the season and the bowls, they were playing as well as any team in the Big 12.
Here's my quick picks heading out of the season if all of the teams would return their expected players. I'll reserve my right to change these picks after the NFL draft declaration day passes next week.
But right now, here's how I have the Big 12 set for 2009:
North: 1. Nebraska; 2. Kansas; 3. Colorado; 4. Missouri; 5. Kansas State; 6. Iowa State
South: 1. Texas; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Texas Tech; 5. Texas A&M; 6. Baylor.
Big 12 championship game: Texas over Nebraska.
Bowl teams: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Missouri.