CHANDLER, Ariz. — Oklahoma will enter this offseason on the high of a third consecutive bowl win.
And its veteran coach will go into 2012 without a tinge of regret for puffing air into expectations — before injuries and myriad other factors led to a 10-3 season that ended Friday night with a 31-14 victory against Iowa in the Insight Bowl.
“I never go overboard. Everyone else does,” Bob Stoops said Saturday morning, addressing reporters beside the team hotel's pool. “I can't stop who ESPN picks to be No. 1, or who you guys think ought to do what. Right?
“What am I going to do, call them up? ‘No, don't put us there. Put us down there at 10.'”
Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1. It'll likely end up in the final top 10, but the goal was to be playing Jan. 9 in New Orleans and not Dec. 30 in suburban Phoenix.
“You act like I put (expectations) out there,” Stoops said. “I didn't put them out there. I didn't put all that out there. Media does. I sit there and go, ‘What are they talking about?' But I can't come out and say that.”
Most notably, Stoops said multiple times before the season that it was “about time” for OU to win its eighth national championship.
“It's the truth, right?” Stoops said. “That's a big, bold statement — that we're going to win it?”
He said he was referring more to the time element, that the Sooners have traditionally won a national title about once a decade.
“We were on our 11th year, so it was about time,” he said. “That's what everyone's thinking. And they're restless. And it will be (about time) next year, too. I can say it next year, that it's about time.”
A surprise fruit of the 2011 season — and related to 2012 — was the Belldozer package, with hulking third-team quarterback Blake Bell bowling over defenders for yards, and touchdowns. He scored 13 of them on the ground, an OU freshman quarterback record, including three against Iowa.
That stat was enough to get him the Insight Bowl's offensive MVP trophy — something that Stoops said “shocked” him when he learned about it after the game. ESPN made the decision, he said.
Stoops was surprised because Bell was on the field for fewer than a dozen plays, rushing 10 times for 51 yards — including 21 on the last touchdown, in the final minute.
No offense to Bell, Stoops said, but he thought starter Landry Jones was more deserving. Jones' line (16 of 25, 161 yards, one touchdown, one interception) was nothing sterling, but Stoops said he put Bell and the offense in position for the scores.
That said, in addition to the last-minute score, an interception made the first short touchdown run possible.
“We love the guy and what he does is really special,” Stoops said of Bell. “But the other guy (Jones) has been out there, getting sacked, getting his tooth chipped and bringing us down there (to the goal line).”
The Sooners will now wait for Jones to determine whether will enter the NFL Draft. He said this week he will likely wait until the Jan. 15 deadline to decide. He said he has been frequently “going back and forth.”
Stoops has indicated he is OK with either choice for the junior from New Mexico, the school's all-time leading passer.
Jones was hamstrung in the bowl, and late in the year, by season-ending injuries to his No. 1 and No. 3 receivers. Ryan Broyles, the NCAA career receptions leader, was lost Nov. 5 to a knee injury. Jaz Reynolds took a shot to the kidney against Oklahoma State.
Those were just two of the more important injuries that impacted the Sooners during the course of the year. Losing starting running back Dominique Whaley in October was another. All-conference center Ben Habern, a captain, missed half the year with a broken arm.
And on and on.
“I don't trumpet that, but you're absolutely right it is (a big part of the recent narrative),” Stoops said. “Those years you win (championships), you usually have had very few of it to deal with. Or maybe they miss one game, you have a tight game and they're back. It's those kinds of things.”
Stoops still hung his hat on what, with Friday night's win, became OU's 33rd 10-win season — more than any program in the country (Alabama has 31).
“The general public, if I don't win the national championship, (it thinks) I need to be miserable,” Stoops said. “I have a different perspective. Anytime you win 10 games … let's look around the world, the country, and there's not a lot that do it consistently.
“No, I'm never pleased if we don't win some type of championship, meaning Big 12 or national. But I also have perspective of some of the difficulties we've gone through.”