NORMAN — Bob Stoops has made the point in recent weeks that Oklahoma, when it has not reached a Bowl Championship Series game, has really played pretty well.
And he's right. Following his first year, when the Sooners lost to Ole Miss in the final seconds of the Independence Bowl, OU is 3-0 in non-BCS games. That includes the Cotton, Holiday and Sun bowls in the past decade.
Here it is in another one, Friday's Insight Bowl against Iowa in Tempe, Ariz.
But, in a sense, is this even a game Oklahoma can truly win?
The Sooners are in salvage mode for a 9-3 season that was set up to be a national championship run.
And they're supposed to win. OU opened as a 16-point favorite, the largest spread in any of the 35 bowl games being played.
What's to be gained? Really, it could be a matter of the Sooners making sure nothing else is lost in 2011. An Insight win could be a big bandage for the season, a bridge toward healing as the proud program enters 2012.
“It doesn't erase anything that's happened,” Stoops said this past week. “You feel good about winning another bowl game. You feel good about winning your 10th game. This, that and the other, but it still isn't going to give us a championship.”
Not a national or Big 12 title, but athletic director Joe Castiglione did recently use the ‘C' word for this particular bowl game.
“It's a championship, in and of itself,” he said. “Our focus is to try to win the Insight Bowl and end our season on a positive note.”
There is seemingly a pride element for the Sooners, who have lost two of three – including that 44-10 blasting in Stillwater. It's been a long December of hearing about the season's shortcomings.
It's left some OU players a bit chippy – which maybe isn't altogether bad when the nature of the game is taken into consideration.
“Right now, you could call us a bunch of jokes or whatever,” sophomore linebacker Tom Wort said. “Until we fix it, that's what we're going to be. We've got something to prove.”
And what of a 10th win, something Wort and others mentioned?
In an adjusted goal structure, with no real championship to speak of, 10 wins is something that becomes important to a team. Sophomore lineman Gabe Ikard, among others, said 10-3 does sound significantly better than 9-4.
“If we go 9-4,” Ikard said, “it's going to be a hostile environment.”
Oklahoma would like to send off its seniors on an upbeat, but it's probably more important for the future, rather than the present and past.
“You want to go to the bowl game, have a positive experience, come out with a victory,” Ikard said. “That makes your off-season so much better, whether it's winter workouts or spring ball, summer workouts. It's one of those things where you're going to have a more positive attitude, coming off a victory.
“You want to get 2012 started off right, and you want to get that ball rolling again. You don't want to take another step back.”