NORMAN â€” Like it or not, part of Oklahoma's national reputation is of a program that folds on the BCS bowl stage.
A blight Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables says is â€œjustifiable.â€ And one he's not going to let the players forget as they prepare to meet Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.
â€œWe deserve all the criticism,â€ Venables said. â€œAnd I don't know about anybody else, but I'm (angry) about it. Our guys need to have some attitude.
â€œAnd whether or not they played in those games, that's the face of this program until we change it.â€
OU very nearly was the team of the 2000s. Beginning with the 2000 national championship, Bob Stoops' Sooners racked up nine 11-win seasons and seven Big 12 Championships.
But the Sooners' otherwise sparkling prestige has been contaminated by their five-game losing streak in BCS games: LSU in the Sugar, USC in the Orange, Boise State and West Virginia in the Fiesta and Florida in the Big Bowl. The Sooners haven't won a BCS game since Jan. 1, 2003, when they beat Washington State in the Rose Bowl.
â€œThey're not just talking about what a great job Coach Stoops has done here, winning seven Big 12 Championships in 12 years. They're not talking about great job, this is our eighth BCS appearance, what a wonderful job that is,â€ Venables said. â€œIn the end, nobody cares about the circumstances. Nobody cares about the Big 12 Championship. People are done patting us on the back. They're going to mock us and make fun of us until we do something about it.â€
Of course, Venables is using hyperbole. But listen in on national sports talk shows and there's some truth in what he's saying.
â€œWe've lost five BCS games in a row now. Going into it, we ought to be mad. We ought to be embarrassed. We're getting made fun of. And we ought to get made fun of,â€ Venables said. â€œI don't think anybody is talking about Oklahoma beating anybody's head in.
â€œThey're talking about how Oklahoma don't know how to win a BCS game.â€
Truth is, most people are in fact discussing OU beating the daylights out of the Huskies.
The Sooners are 17-point favorites, the largest point spread this bowl season. Every Oklahoman writer has picked OU to win. College football analyst Phil Steele has OU over UConn as his â€œmost confidentâ€ bowl selection.
This game, OU has a superb opportunity to restore some of its honor in the eyes of the country. The Sooners enter the Fiesta playing their best ball of the season, beating Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Nebraska in a row to capture the Big 12 Championship. And while UConn has won five straight, the Huskies did it in the lowly regarded Big East Conference, which doesn't have a single team ranked in the Top 20 of the BCS Standings.
Then again, the Sooners were one touchdown favorites over Boise State and West Virginia in the Fiesta, and lost both â€” which has only amplified the national championship losses to LSU, USC and Florida.
â€œWe have not performed well in these games,â€ Venables said. â€œI think that will be a common theme.â€
It's time, Venables says, for the Sooners to change that theme. Play with a chip on the shoulder. And restore that part of OU's reputation.
â€œWe ought take things to heart here, representing Oklahoma the right way and again putting those ghosts to bed,â€ Venables said. â€œThere are a lot of positives that can be drawn for going out and winning the game. At the same time, we need to have an edge to us. UConn feels disrespected? Well, we feel disrespected, too. Nobody is respecting us, telling us how great we are. All they're going to do is tell us is how terrible we've performed on this stage.
â€œAnd it's justified until we do something about it.â€