NORMAN — It's been a while since this has happened in Tallahassee. But for top-ranked Oklahoma, Saturday's game at No. 5 Florida State is the kind of thing that has happened almost annually during the Bob Stoops era.
Stoops earned a nickname by winning games like this — going an astounding 9-1 against top-10 teams and 21-3 versus ranked foes.
But since falling to USC in the 2004 BCS title game, Stoops and the Sooners are 4-8 vs. the top 10 and 19-13 against ranked teams. Still impressive when measured against most other programs and coaches, but something short of "Big-Game Bob."
"You ever hear me call myself that?" Stoops said Tuesday when asked about the nickname. "You guys make up all kinds of things."
Stoops says every “big game” has different connotations.
“I find it funny, though, some big games are big games, then after the fact they're not big games,” Stoops said. “We played Missouri for the Big 12 championship when they're No. 1 in the country. We win and that wasn't a big game all of a sudden. You lose a game and that was a big one.
“It's funny how it changes from time to time. It's pretty good after seven or eight Big 12 championship games they became not very big when you win seven of them. It kind of fits the picture sometimes or it doesn't depending on how you want to write your story.”
Another chapter of that story will be added Saturday night, but the outcome is unlikely to change national perceptions — good and bad — about Stoops.
“Bob's obviously done a lot of really good things,” said Mike Kern, of the Philadelphia Daily News. “But all the BCS losses in particular have created some doubts around the country. That's just the way it works. The same thing happened to (Jim) Tressel at Ohio State.
“That doesn't mean he wasn't a really good, maybe even a great coach. But it is what have you done for us lately. And if OU loses this week, I'm sure all that will come up some more. It's human nature. Numbers are the numbers.”
Because of three national title game losses to USC, LSU and Florida, plus BCS bowl losses to Boise State and West Virginia, a meeting with No. 5 FSU is an opportunity to silence skeptics who wonder if Stoops will ever win a second national title.
“Ask me to pick one coach to coach the biggest game of the season and I'd probably go with (Nick) Saban or (Chris) Petersen ahead of Stoops. Maybe even Les Miles and his magic hat,” said Ralph Russo, Associated Press' national college football writer.
“But I don't think the Sooners' problems in big games recently should all be laid at the feet of Stoops. And I'd be fine with having him coach my team in a big game. I'm glad to know he's going to get my team to plenty of big games.”
A win Saturday would be the biggest nonconference win in the Stoops era.
OU hasn't defeated a top 10 nonconference team on the road since kicker Uwe von Schamann hit a last-second kick to stun Ohio State 34 years ago.
“That's the emphasis in the media because that's the thing that sells,” said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “But we've played a whole bunch of big games. We don't say, ‘OK, these are nonconference (games) and these are conference. We don't look at it that way.”
Under Stoops, the Sooners have defeated two No. 1's, two No. 2's and two No. 3's.
Many programs would celebrate one win over a top 10 program much less 13 in one decade.
But many of those wins were during Stoops' early years. The Sooners notched as many wins over top 10 opponents during that magical 2000 national title season as they've compiled since 2005.
Still, some analysts believe too much attention has been given to OU's national title game losses.
“I don't see this game as any referendum as Bob Stoops' capability of preparing a team for a big game,” said USA Today's Steve Wieberg. “It was a pretty big game in Norman a year ago and they seemed to come out OK.”
That's the other hot button topic.
Since the loss to USC, the Sooners are 3-8 against top 10 teams away from Norman.
Which is another reason Saturday's game in Tallahassee is an opportunity for the Sooners to make a statement.
“It's a huge game,” said linebacker Tom Wort. “We're facing a top five team at their place. We're excited to take the Sooner show on the road. Last year we were kind of young. This year we're much more mature and know what to expect.”
As Stoops often points out “big games” go beyond national title and BCS bowl games.
“Coach Stoops is a "Big game" coach because of all the conference championships he has won in one of the toughest leagues in college football,” said Fox Sports analyst Steve Physioc. “Crazy things can happen in (national) title games. But he gets there and that means plenty.”
Venables believes big games are big games regardless of whether it's Texas or Missouri, a bowl game or a nonconference opponent.
“Go right down the list, bang, bang, bang,” Venables said. “Do you choose a different path if a team is ranked 10th instead of No. 4? No. Or do you choose a different path if they're ranked 25th? I say that with respect to all the nonconference teams we've played and all the ranked teams we've played.”
Win or lose, Saturday's game won't swing the pendulum too far either direction. But it would keep the Sooners on track to compete for the national title.
“I find it interesting that virtually the same people that dubbed Bob “Big Game Bob,” are the same people now criticizing him,” said longtime TV broadcaster Ron Thulin. “I don't think he's slipped by any stretch as far as being a great coach.
“I don't think people realize how difficult it is to even get to a major bowl or have 10-, 11- or 12-win seasons. Just ask Mack Brown.”
The Sooners are 13-9 under Bob Stoops in games against top 10 opponents but are 4-8 since losing to USC in the 2004 national title game. Listed below are games OU has played against top 10 opponents in the Stoops era.
Year Opponent (ranking);result
2010 at Oklahoma St. (10);W 47-41
2009 Texas (3);L 16-13
2008 * Florida (2);L 24-14
2008 TEXAS TECH (2);W 65-21
2008 Texas (5);L 42-35
2007 *Missouri (1);W 38-17
2007 * West Virginia (9);L 48-28
2006 Texas (7);L 28-10
2006 * Boise St. (8);L 43-42 OT
2005 Texas (2);L 45-12
2005 * Oregon (6);W 17-14
2004 * USC (1);L 55-19
2004 Texas (5);W 12-0
2002 Texas (3);W 35-24
2002 IOWA ST. (9);W 49-3
2002 * Washington St. (7) W 34-14
2001 Texas (5);W 14-3
2001 at Nebraska (3);L 20-10
2000 at Kansas St. (2);W 41-31
2000 NEBRASKA (1);W 31-14
2000 * Kansas St. (8);W 27-24
2000 * Florida St. (3);W 13-2
* Big 12 title game or bowl game