By CLAY HORNING
There’s a school of thought abound that says Oklahoma can’t win. That it can beat Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl, but still not strike a blow for hearts and minds.
If that’s really true, it’s an indictment of an idiotic college football nation much more than a descriptions of the fix the Sooners will find themselves in Jan 4 at Cowboys Stadium.
Indeed, this is very much the bowl game OU has been waiting for. Really. If the prospect of beating the Aggies — who took the SEC by storm in their inaugural trip through the alleged greatest conference on earth — carries no weight, than what exactly have other recent bowls done for OU?
Did it do much to see the Sooners beat a mediocre Iowa team at the Insight Bowl? Did it do anybody any favors when OU finally broke its BCS losing streak against a bad Connecticut team that backed into the Fiesta Bowl?
The year before, after a trying season that included four losses, the Sooner Nation finally finished a season victoriously when OU beat Stanford at the Sun Bowl, but what did the Cardinal or the venue do for anybody?
Two and three years before that, OU really couldn’t win. The Sooners played heavy favorites in consecutive Fiesta Bowls, against Boise State and West Virginia, a pair of games in which winning only amounted to breaking even. Losing both remain the greatest bowl disappointments of the Stoops era.
This is not that.
Iowa, UConn, Stanford, West Virginia nor Boise State upset the No. 1 team in the nation on the No. 1 team’s home field, as A&M has, before taking on OU. Nor did the Hawkeyes, Cardinal, Mountaineers or Broncos roll out a Heisman Trophy winner to lead their offense.
The only thing the Aggies aren’t is exotic. A Big 12 conference foe for so many seasons, it can be difficult to get your head around the idea of a Big 12-SEC Cotton Bowl matchup when the two teams doing the representing have been playing every season forever.
“It’s a little strange,” OU quarterback Landry Jones said.
Still, if A&M is not quite Notre Dame , Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Georgia nor LSU, neither does any other opponent OU might face stack up to the Aggies.
Think about this.
When was the last time OU failed to be favored in its bowl game? Against Stanford, maybe? Before that, what? LSU for the ‘03 national championship, or do you have to go all the way back to Florida State for the ‘00 title game, when the Sooners were 13-point dogs?
Anyway, it doesn’t happen very often and right now A&M is a 4 1/2 point favorite.
That’s hardly all.
Have we forgotten that the biggest name in college football is Johnny Manziel? Or that he’s leading just the kind of potent offense a Mike Stoops’ defense could make up for all past failings against.
Recall that defense remained a near-unquestioned strength of this team until Baylor ran wild, West Virginia ran wilder and Oklahoma State did everything pretty well against the Sooner defense but win.
That redemption back-in-Norman-again defensive coordinator Mike Stoops talked about all the way back on media day, for himself and for his unit, remains available.
“Any time you can knock off somebody that was on the Heisman, that legitimizes your defense,” Sooner defensive end R.J. Washington said. “We would love to go out … and show what kind of defense we really are.”
Look, the coaches, Bob Stoops and Kevin Sumlin are going to play this game up as much as they can. They did it Wednesday, together for a teleconference.
“I know our team understands the quality, what great people are operating the Cotton Bowl, what a great game it is,” Stoops said, doing his best to shill for the game, as though the pedigree of the organizers is what it’s all about.
But don’t let a silly quote like that get in the way of the truth. This is a good game. A really good game. It is a top-10 opponent that beat a No. 1 opponent. It will probably be the best attended bowl game this year, and but for national championship games in OU’s recent past, it will feel as big or bigger as the rest.
Can the Sooners win?
Sure they can. As long as they, you know, win.