Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops admitted Tuesday that keeping upperclassmen players â€œall inâ€ from the end of the season to the bowl game has been a challenge in the past.
â€œThat's a legitimate factor,â€ Stoops said during his pre-Fiesta Bowl press conference â€” the Sooners will meet Connecticut on Jan. 1.
â€œJuniors and seniors already with a foot out the door. We had a bunch of kids already graduate, they're on to the next step as soon as they walk out your locker room they're in to something different after that game. Or a junior that's going out early. And that is an issue that in these games can be hard to manage, too.
â€œIt's talking to them about it, reasoning with them to stay all in until after the game then make those decisions. Because I believe if they already know exactly what they're doing, subconsciously, they've got a foot out, instead of waiting.â€
Stoops also confessed that could have been a factor in any of OU's five straight bowl losses. In most of those games, the Sooners had several underclassmen that declared for the NFL Draft the following week.
â€œIt could have been,â€ Stoops said. â€œFor me to say definitely is not fair to say. But excuse or not, it hasn't helped maybe.â€
The bulk of this OU team, however, is first- and second-year players who aren't eligible for the NFL Draft.
And receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis appear to be the only juniors that have a decision to make on whether to jump early to the draft.
Putting the Sooners in a different situation from past BCS bowls. And perhaps that will make it easier on the coaching staff to keep this team more focused on the task at hand.
â€œIt's fair to say,â€ Stoops said. â€œAnd hopefully these guys will remain all in and focused, because they've been a great group that way. That's been their strength, their attitude and focus and willingness to work and look forward to the game.
â€œSo hopefully that will remain through these next few weeks.â€