Saturday, December 4, 2004
OU puts exclamation point on season
By Pat Forde ESPN.com
KANSAS CITY -- No apologies, no justifications, no excuses necessary. Oklahoma isn't slinking into the BCS championship game through the back door this year.
Back at the scene of their great pratfall of 2003, the Sooners quickly and ruthlessly established that there would be no repeat -- and, one would figure, no repeat of the controversy about whether they belong in the biggest bowl game. On a day when Auburn struggled to dispatch Tennessee and USC was extended for 60 minutes by UCLA, Oklahoma made the biggest statement of the three Orange Bowl contenders. The Sooners didn't have a single anxious moment Saturday night while crushing Colorado 42-3 in the Big 12 championship game.
If anything, Oklahoma's most complete performance of the year might have moved it up on voters' ballots to No. 1 or No. 2. They surely couldn't have dropped to No. 3 among voters who already had them in the top two.
Adrian Peterson may have won the Heisman on the night OU earned a spot in the Orange Bowl.
"I think we solidified us a spot (in Miami)," said fullback J.D. Runnels. "If we didn't, I don't know what would."
Freshly trampled Colorado coach Gary Barnett, the Big 12 coach of the year, is a true believer.
"I don't think there's any question about it," Barnett said. "We haven't played all the others but we sure played a good one today. They're a complete team."
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione agreed with Runnels, too. Castiglione was on the field postgame, an Orange Bowl sticker freshly pressed onto his lapel by one of the game's orange-blazered officials. Asked whether this game ended the top-two debate, Castiglione pointed at the scoreboard.
"That had the right punctuation mark at the end," he said. "Not a question mark. An exclamation point."
Here's the only question mark left after this game -- do we give the Heisman Trophy to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White or Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson?
This might have been Clean Sweep Night for Oklahoma. A 12-0 season, a conference championship, an Orange Bowl berth and a second consecutive Heisman winner might all have been cinched in Arrowhead Stadium. That's just the opposite of the feeling a year ago, when undefeated Oklahoma was shocked and defrocked 35-7 by Kansas State on this very field.
"It's been a year from today," Runnels said. "We didn't forget. Our whole offseason workouts were dedicated to finishing."
Added offensive tackle Jammal Brown: "Finishing was real important. That has been our motto through the whole year."
This was a finish with a flourish, although it's true that it was hardly an ascent of Everest for Oklahoma. The Buffaloes, surprise winners of the pathetic Big 12 North, provided only the limpest of opposition.
There was no Darren Sproles out there Saturday night for the Sooners to chase. Not even a Darren Stevens. In a lethal combination of relentless defense and relenting offense, Colorado amassed 46 yards on 44 offensive plays.
Oklahoma wasn't going to give the 22-point underdogs even a sniff of an upset. The Sooners rammed their first three drives into the end zone. Colorado produced a single first-half first down -- on a borderline roughing-the-passer call.
"I think we played with a sense of urgency from play one," Runnels said. "That's something we haven't done in every game this year, but from play one it was on tonight."
While the Buffaloes were being suffocated, Peterson and White both gave compelling final Heisman performances before being benched for the final 11 minutes.
Peterson rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns, breaking the NCAA record for 100-yard games by a freshman, then ate one of the oranges that came flying from the stands. White completed 22-of-29 passes for 245 yards, with three scores and two interceptions, then scrambled away from any questions about whether he'll become only the second repeat Heisman winner.
(Maybe the answer is to saw the sucker in half, giving the legs to Peterson and the arms to White. Bob Stoops certainly wasn't going to endorse one over the other.)
With any potential drama snuffed out of Arrowhead by early second quarter, most folks turned their attention to scoreboard watching. Oklahoma fans cheered the tight partial scores from the SEC championship game. In the press box, OU media relations director Kenny Mossman drifted through the dining area to eyeball Auburn for a few minutes. Big 12 media relations director Bob Burda kept others updated via two-way radio.
Even with a mismatch on the field and roughly 17,000 empty seats in Arrowhead, this was a potentially big night for the Big 12. Auburn's travails and Cal struggling against Southern Miss. The latter game might have increased the Big 12's chances of getting Texas into a BCS game at the expense of the Golden Bears.
(Kansas coach Mark Mangino was unavailable for comment on whether the officials rigged this one for the Longhorns.)
Oklahoma had felt besieged in the past month, as some media folks -- including the dastardly agenda setters at ESPN, as identified by Stoops -- were accused of fomenting an Auburn revolution among voters. Saturday night, the Sooners could feign indifference to the perceived snubs.
"I haven't had cable since last spring break," said defensive lineman Dan Cody. "So I don't watch much TV."
They understand that it's all worked out Oklahoma's way in the end. We won't know for sure until 5 on Sunday afternoon, but tell the chi-chi people on South Beach to make way for the Sooner Schooner. They're coming through the BCS front door, and they're coming with a swagger.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.