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Sugar Bowl 2014: Don't Look Now—Big-Game Bob Stoops Is Back with a Vengeance

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Don't Look Now—Big-Game Bob Stoops Is Back with a Vengeance
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"Big Game Bob" had turned into a nickname regarded as more farcical than complimentary. 

Bob Stoops, in his 15th season as Oklahoma's head coach, has won at least a share of eight Big 12 titles and a BCS National Championship in 2000-01. He's taken the Sooners to nine BCS bowl games, and earlier this season he passed Barry Switzer on the program's all-time wins list. 

But the reputation Stoops had built for winning games on the biggest stages had been knocked down a few pegs in recent years. The shine began coming off of the moniker when Oklahoma lost five BCS bowls in a row from 2004-09, including national title appearances in 2004, '05 and '09. There was also the unforgettable Fiesta Bowl against Boise State in '07. 

Stoops was also 1-4 against the SEC in bowls, including a 21-14 loss to a Nick Saban-coached LSU team in '04. So when Stoops referred to the SEC's dominance in college football as "propaganda" during this past offseason, it raised many eyebrows. It also caused more than a few people to point to the record books.  

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Yet, as time winded down in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans for the 2014 Sugar Bowl, it was unmistakable that Oklahoma's 45-31 win over Alabama was the biggest for the Sooners since the '01 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. 

The upset was magnificent based on the points spread alone. Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan had Oklahoma listed as a 16-point underdog heading into the game, the biggest in Big 12 history for the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners had already been double-digit dogs twice this season, against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma got clocked by Baylor 41-12 in November and stunned the Cowboys in the Bedlam Game 33-24 last month. 

The win over the Cowboys pushed Stoops' team to 10 wins. That piqued the interest of the Sugar Bowl enough to extend an invite, much to the chagrin of anyone wanting Oregon to fill the at-large berth. Despite having athletes on both sides of the ball who can match up with any team, Oklahoma was given almost no chance to win. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It was an understandable sentiment. Though Alabama had lost 34-28 to Auburn on the now-famous "Kick-Six" in an Iron Bowl for the ages, the Tide were still considered an elite team that lost on a special teams play that almost never pans out. 

Oklahoma, meanwhile, had been housed twice in the regular season (the other loss was to Texas, 36-20).

A major source of disgruntlement behind those losses centered around co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who incidentally enough was the starting quarterback when Oklahoma won its BCS National Championship. 

Replacing former quarterback Landry Jones with a combination of Trevor Knight and Blake Bell meant growing pains in 2013 for the Sooners offense, which had been one of the best in college football over the past several seasons. Oklahoma struggled to score consistently and oftentimes lacked an identity.

It wasn't until Knight returned from a knee injury in November that Oklahoma's offense began to find itself. Against Alabama, Knight played possessed and nothing like the one-dimensional quarterback that began the season. The redshirt freshman threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, dropping dimes to receivers down the field and throwing darts in the intermediate passing game. 

“He showed everybody what we've been seeing for a couple of years,” said Stoops of Knight, via The Oklahoman. “He has a chance to be really special.”

Knight should go into the offseason as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job for next season. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For as much criticism as Heupel has received, and much of it was deserved, he also merits praise for developing Knight as a passer and putting together a brilliant game plan against the Tide. Oklahoma called timely screen passes, conducted drives with tempo and attacked the perimeter of the field, all with success. 

So much is made of Saban having a month to prepare for an opponent and the success he has as a result. Well, how about Stoops?

In that vein, this should go down as one of Stoops' best coaching jobs at Oklahoma. Between inconsistent, revolving quarterback play and injuries to key defensive players like linebacker Corey Nelson, getting 11 wins for the ninth time is impressive. 

What's more is that, as ESPN's Ivan Maisel noted last month, Stoops joins former Penn State coach Joe Paterno as the only coach to win every major bowl (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar—and even the Cotton.) 

With great fanfare 19 years ago, Joe Paterno of Penn State became the first coach to win every major bowl (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and, for you oldsters, the Cotton). With a lot less fanfare, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma has a chance to match Paterno if the No. 11 Sooners can figure out a way to knock off No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops is 0-1 in the Sugar; Oklahoma lost to LSU a decade ago in the BCS Championship Game.

Mark that down as one of Stoops' quietest accomplishments, along with his 3-0 record against Alabama. As Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News notes, Stoops' first two wins against the Tide featured a pair of fake punts that earned Stoops his "Big Game Bob" nickname. 

It's only appropriate, then, that Stoops' third victory reminds us all that he can still win the big game. "Big Game Bob" is, at least for one night, a joke no longer.

 

Ben Kercheval is the Bleacher Report Lead Writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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