Three weeks after the thrashing in Arizona, mystery still shrouds Oklahoma football's newfound bowl malaise. How did the Sooners become such January weaklings? Four straight BCS defeats, interrupted only by a Holiday Bowl escape, have raised such questions. Poor preparation? Over-rated to begin with? Foes too tough? Outcoached? Lack of motivation? The answer eludes all searchers, hidden in parts of all the above. The plague will dog Bob Stoops until he does something about it. Like wins. Stoops last week again admitted no clue on a diagnosis. Said he had chatted with Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, whose Buckeyes have been blown out in consecutive national-title games. Tressel told Stoops that Ohio State made wholesale changes in prep work for this Big Bowl compared to last year's. To no avail. Bowls are funny business. Week-long road trips. Played sometimes six weeks since the most recent game. Usually against unfamiliar foes. Peculiar situation, and Stoops will carry the burden until the Sooners win a big bowl. But Stoops can find solace in this: He's not alone. Many a memorable football coach has slumped in bowls. Georgia legend Vince Dooley lost four straight bowls, including a Cotton and Sugar, from 1974-78. He ended the streak by beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for the 1980 national title. Jackie Sherrill lost four straight at Mississippi State, Doug Dickey four straight at Florida and Charley McClendon lost four straight at LSU. John Cooper lost four straight at Ohio State, Mike Bellotti four straight at Oregon and Lloyd Carr four straight at Michigan, including three Rose Bowls. George Welsh, in the shadows at Navy and Virginia but one of the great coaches of the last 50 years, had two four-bowl losing streaks. But West Virginia's Don Nehlen trumped that, with an eight-bowl losing streak. Some old Sooner enemies had their bowl troubles. Fred Akers lost four straight bowls at Texas, Bill McCartney lost his first four bowls with Colorado and Texas A&M's R.C. Slocum went 1-7 in bowls from 1991-00, including four Cotton losses and one Sugar. A day after West Virginia routed OU, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer joined Stoops in losing four straight BCS game, though Beamer's four defeats date back to the 1996 Orange Bowl. But those are just stumbles. Mere oddities in the small sample of bowl games. Three coaches were masters at bowl bungling. Three coaches were so hapless in bowl stretches, they make Bob Stoops look like Mister January. Bear Bryant already was an Alabama legend in 1967, with a 5-2-1 bowl record and three national titles. The Crimson Tide lost 20-16 to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. No big deal. Then came a Gator Bowl loss to Missouri. And a Liberty Bowl loss to Colorado. Finally, a 24-24 Bluebonnet Bowl tie with Oklahoma's wishbone. Bryant was so taken with that OU offense, and so looking to change up Bama's fortunes, he adopted the ‘bone himself. The wishbone got Alabama to the Orange Bowl and a national-title shootout with Nebraska. The Huskers won 38-6. Then came a Cotton Bowl loss to Texas, a Sugar Bowl loss to Notre Dame for the national title and an Orange Bowl loss to Notre Dame. Eight years, 0-7-1 bowl record, including 0-5 in major bowls. Then, the Bear turned it around. His final eight bowls: 7-1, with two national titles and 5-1 in major bowls. Schembechler's bowl slump was worse: 0-7 from 1969 through 1978. Michigan was 0-5 in the Rose Bowl, 0-1 in the Orange (losing to OU) and 0-1 in the Gator. Here's the killer on Schembechler. No blowouts. Average margin of defeat in those seven bowl losses: 4.7 points. Largest margin of defeat: 14-6, to OU in the Orange and USC in the Rose. On New Year's 1981, Michigan beat Washington 23-6 in the Rose Bowl, and Schembechler returned to normalcy. He became what most coaches will become if given enough time: .500 in bowls. Schembechler was 5-5 in his last 10 bowls. But while Schembechler remained revered in Michigan and Bryant worshipped in Alabama, another coach's bowl disasters were not so easily forgiven. In seven straight seasons, 1987 through 1993, Nebraska lost a bowl game. A Fiesta, an Orange, another Fiesta, a Citrus then three straight Oranges. And Tom Osborne's defeats weren't all that competitive. Losses by 20, 24, 24, 22 and 13 points. Osborne was the coach who couldn't win the big one. An 8-13 bowl record. No national championships. A good coach, they said, not great. But the seventh of those seven straight bowl losses was a thriller, an 18-16 loss to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl. Osborne coached only four more seasons. In those years his teams went 60-2 and won three national titles. The Huskers were 4-0 in bowls, winning 24-17, 62-24, 41-21 and 42-17. Nebraska went from wretched in bowl games to regal. From woeful to epic. Better players? Sure. Better coaching? Maybe. Easier teams? No way. Who can explain it? Bowls produce strange streaks. Some are unflattering. If Bob Stoops wants to get high on that list, he's got some work to do.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops needs to figure out why the Sooners keep falling short in bowl games. BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN